Between trade-union internationalism and nationalism: The International Metalworkers’ Federation during the dawn of the Cold War and European integration
This article analyses the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) and European integration, from the announcement of the Marshall Plan to the Schuman Plan. Focusing mainly on discussions about the future of the Ruhr area, the article examines the relationship between the international and the national levels of the trade-union movement, at the intersection of bordercrossing internationalism and nationally defined labour-market interests. The ambition is to go beyond the framework of the nation state to study an international trade secretariat as an arena for transnational discussions and exchanges of experiences.
A persistent theme in the IMF policy talks was a vision of a future European labour market with significant trade-union influence over production, where social issues would take priority over profit. The extent to which the process of European integration would include a social dimension was still considered an open question that could be influenced by international tradeunion struggle. As the Cold War developed, West European integration also appeared in the eyes of the social democrats in the IMF as an anti-communist bulwark. Integration of the economies in the west was considered in relation to the perceived need for stronger defence, which in the longer run could help preserve peace by warding off the threat from the east. Thereby, the Cold War substantiated the importance of trade-union internationalism, but at the same time the Cold War prevented its reach beyond the Iron Curtain and deepened the split between social democrats and communists in Western Europe.
However, it was not easy for IMF-delegates from Western Europe to agree on a collective standpoint, neither on the issue of European integration in general, nor on the issue of the Ruhr in particular. International socialisation of the Ruhr could, for example, be contrasted with cooperative solutions within the frames of the nation state. The trade-union interests that were articulated on international level were often connected to more general economic and political circumstances in different countries. Even though the trade-union narratives analysed in this article usually tried to embrace all metal workers organised in European social democratic unions, more or less tacit national dividing lines often characterised the discussions.