Current Location : Home -> NGO Forum  
Chinese Trade Unions on the Stage of People-to-people Diplomacy
                                       Zhang Guoxian
This year marks the 90th anniversary of All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which was founded on May 1st, 1925. A review of the Federation¡¯s international exchanges, from which historical experience can be summarized and drawn, is of pragmatic significance for further development of trade unions¡¯ foreign affairs with Chinese characteristics.
Foreign exchanges of Chinese trade unions are an important component of China¡¯s people-to-people diplomacy. All-China Federation of Trade Unions is endowed with internationalism since the day of its birth. It joined Red International of Trade Unions at the same time when it was founded, to which Chinese trade union leaders including Liu Shaoqi and Deng Zhongxia used to be permanent representatives. Its founding constitution of 1925 stipulated that the Federation was to ¡°represent workers nationwide to closely join international workers¡±. In October, 1945, Deng Fa participated in the founding congress of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as a representative of trade unions in liberated areas under the Communist Party¡¯s leadership. In June, 1946, Liu Ningyi attended an ITUC executive committee meeting in Moscow as a member of the committee.
The important role of trade unions in people-to-people diplomacy can be demonstrated by several important international activities carried out by the Federation around the founding of New China.
First, an ACFTU delegation visited the Soviet Union and Hungary in June and July, 1949, which stirred up a trend of Red China in East Europe and created favorable international atmosphere for the founding of New China. Second, a month after the founding of the People¡¯s Republic of China, the ITUC Asia-Australia Conference was held in Beijing between November 16th and December 1st, 1949. This was the first important international activity hosted by New China. Liu Shaoqi made an opening speech at the meeting and put forth the primary task for trade unions in colonial and semi-colonial countries, which posed profound and lasting influence for international trade union movement. ACFTU Vice-chairman Li Lisan spoke at the meeting and Chairman Mao Zedong held a banquet for heads of foreign delegations. The activity became an international stage for leaders of New China. Third, China-Japan relations deteriorated when the right-wing figure Kishi Nobusuke became Japanese Prime Minister in 1957. Trade between the two countries paused and Japanese SMEs which relied on import of Chinese goods experienced great difficulty. At the beginning of 1959, a leader of Japan General Council of Trade Unions visited China and signed a ¡°Supply Facilitation Agreement¡± with ACFTU, which is a precedent of governmental exchanges being facilitated by people-to-people contacts in China-Japan relations.
The international exchanges of Chinese trade unions have gone through 3 stages.
The first stage started in early 1950s. In 1952, Chairman Mao Zedong personally approved the Plan to Invite Foreign Trade Union Delegations to Celebrate International Labor Day on May 1st, 1952 submitted by ACFTU. For this activity, a principle of ¡°making friends and establishing contacts widely¡± was identified. Guests invited include friends from developing countries and representatives from International Confederations of Free Trade Unions as well as Independent Trade Confederations. Such practice of inviting a wide range of trade unions regardless of their ideological background set a good precedent and identified important principles for international exchanges of Chinese trade unions. In the following years, two Friendship Seminars between Asian and African trade unions were held during May Day celebrations on the basis of the same principles, which greatly promoted the unity of workers and trade unions between Asia and Africa, enlarged the influence of Chinese trade unions, and publicized New China in international trade union movement.  In the spring of 1954, ACFTU drafted A Few Proposals and Opinions on the Work of ITUC. The document comprehensively elaborated on our ideas and propositions about our work towards ITUC in the 10 proposals it proposed. Chinese trade unions embarked on the stage of international trade union movement independently through above-mentioned activities.
The second stage began after the initiation of Reform and Opening-up program. Deng Xiaoping proposed in his speech in the 9th ACFTU Congress that Chinese working class, while building their own country must remember the proletariat, the oppressed people and nations worldwide, and that we must further strengthen our unity with the working class and revolutionary people around the world to make our due contribution to the liberation of working class and progressive causes of humanity. After the Congress, the foreign exchanges of Chinese trade unions developed comprehensively. We not only resumed relations with trade unions in former socialist countries, developed favorable relations with trade unions in West European capitalist countries and consolidated ties with those in developing countries, but also established equal relations with the 3 major international trade union organizations. It was against such a backdrop that the International Labor Organization (ILO) allowed China to resume its activities in the organization on its 69th Conference in June, 1983. The ACFTU representative was elected a deputy worker member of the ILO governing body and reelected in June 1987.
In April, 1985, Comrade Deng Xiaoping met an American delegation of Trade Unions in Automobile Industry. He encouraged cooperation of workers and trade unions between the two countries and emphasized that ¡°we can put aside ideological issues, leave those things alone, just talk about friendship and things we can cooperate on¡±. His words further liberated mind and pushed trade unions¡¯ international work with Chinese characteristics to break through the restricted zone and embark on the world stage.
The new century ushered in the third stage. Under economic globalization, the socialist cause with Chinese characteristics has been developing continuously with the size of Chinese economy increasing year by year. The world has put more attention on China and its trade unions than ever before, which leads to unease on the part of someone. Some are worried that China¡¯s development would undermine their own interests and spread rhetoric about ¡°China threat¡±. Some are badmouthing China by creating theories about China¡¯s collapse. Under new circumstances, the development mode of Chinese trade unions needs wider recognition. In October, 2004, ACFTU initiated Forum on Economic Globalization and Trade Unions with the aim to widely unite friendly trade unions, forging partnership instead of alignment and to cope with new challenges and problems in international trade union movement. The Forum has been held for 10 consecutive times and greatly expanded the influence of Chinese trade unions. Comrade Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the Forum in February, 2010, in which he said that the Chinese government supports Chinese trade unions to expand exchanges, strengthen cooperation and enhance friendship with union organizations in various countries and the international community to work together towards the full recovery of world economy, and to make greater contribution to building a harmonious world with lasting peace and common prosperity. With strong support of the Chinese government, the trade unions in China have trained over 2000 union cadres from developing countries and offered unconditional assistance to their counterpart organizations in those countries. The ACFTU has actively participated in the capacity-building of ILO with the view to establishing contacts and spreading favorable image. Such efforts have won us wide support. In June, 2011, the ACFTU representative was elected a worker¡¯s member in the governing body of the International Labor Office in the 100th ILO Conference for the first time in history and reelected with high support in 2014.   
The following observations can be made from decades of development in the international exchanges of Chinese trade unions.
China¡¯s development is the precondition. Foreign affairs are the extension of domestic work. The background for the above-mentioned 3 stages of development is great victories in our revolution, construction and reform. In 1950s, the victory of Chinese revolution greatly encouraged workers and people in countries under colonialism and semi-colonialism and changed the pattern of the world. The Chinese people who became independent and strong attracted attention from all over the world. The great development of our foreign affairs after the initiation of Reform and Opening-up Program was achieved under the background of important progress attained and high expectation of international community due to China¡¯s reform.  In the new period when China rose peacefully with its people experiencing continuously improving living standards and increasing national comprehensive strength, its long-term social stability has been widely acknowledged by trade unions in various countries across the world.
Independence is the guarantee. Independence is the foundation to build and strengthen the party and the country. It is the cornerstone for China¡¯s diplomatic policies of peace. Adherence to the principle of independence means that China¡¯s affairs should be decided by Chinese people, and socialism with Chinese characteristics as well as diplomacy of peace must be adhered to. The principle of independence and establishing wide contacts governing our international activities was identified after decades of exploration. It suits realities of Chinese trade unions and constitutes an important part of trade union¡¯s work with Chinese characteristics. During the early years of New China when the two camps were in cold war, we prioritized friendship and unity with trade unions in the Soviet Union and socialist countries, which was necessary due to our needs to consolidate our newly-won independence. But in the meantime we made judgment of situation independently rather than rely on the Soviet Union and the ITUC, which enabled us to accumulate experience and win strategic preemption for the ensuing changes in international situation.
The ITUC expressed its wish to have ACFTU back in the Confederation in the early days of Reform and Opening-up. In 1983 the Soviet Union sent a congratulation message to the ACFTU 10th Congress for the first time after 1966, while the relations between ACFTU and trade unions in the West entered ¡°honeymoon¡±. The Secretary General of International Confederations of Free Trade Unions extended an invitation to ACFTU Vice-chairman Luo Gan to join its affiliated industrial unions, and offered to provide them with substantial technical assistance via ILO. Although olive branches were extended from all sides, ACFTU adhered to the principle of not joining any international organization while maintaining extensive contacts with the 3 major trade unions and various national trade unions, which for another time won us strategic preemption for the change in 1989.
Openness and inclusiveness are the routes we must take. The working class is internationalist in nature. Such a nature is determined by the common historical status and destiny of the working class. The struggle of working class in one country can not succeed without sympathy and support of international working class. As a component of the world trade union movement, we trained a great number of trade union leaders and cadres who knew revolution and armed struggles through Red International of Trade Unions in our revolutionary period. In the early years of building socialism, we established a basic system of socialist trade unions by learning from counterparts in the Soviet Union and East European countries. In the new period of Reform and Opening-up, Chinese trade unions have been earnestly drawing experience and practice from foreign trade unions which are working under the condition of market economy. Terms such as ¡°collective bargaining¡±, ¡°trilogue¡±, ¡°social partner¡± and ¡°decent work¡± were imported and became familiar expressions among Chinese. There is no doubt that Chinese trade unions are open organizations which are committed to learning. As China continues to develop peacefully, Chinese trade unions will attract more attention from international trade union movement. We are willing to introduce our success story to the world and win greater international recognition with notions such as ¡°safeguarding rights in development¡±, ¡°employee assistance and support¡± and ¡°win-win between labor and capital¡± so as to make our theoretical and practical contribution to the world trade union movement, which is also the contribution of our international work to people-to-people diplomacy.
              (Zhang Guoxian, Member of the Standing Committee of CAFIU¡¯s Executive Council, Head of the International Department of All-China Federation of Trade Unions)
Copyright © 2007 Chinese Association for International Understanding. All rights reserved.
4, Fuxing, Haidian District, Beijing TEL£º£¨010£©83907345 / 83907341 FAX£º£¨010£©83907342