Inspiring, Impressive, Upbeat: ITF Congress Kicks-Off in Bulgaria

Congress got off to a triumphant start yesterday with a cavalcade of welcome from the Bulgarian hosts and a line up of national and international guests.

MUA National Secretary and ITF President at ITF Congress 2014 opening. Picture: Mac Urata

A troupe of traditional bagpipe players, renowned folk singer Valya Balkanska and a rendition of the Bulgarian national anthem were all met with enthusiastic applause by the near on 2000 congress participants who packed out the hall for the opening ceremony. Bulgarian youth volunteers joined eurovision stars Elitsa & Stoyan to release ‘one big can of Bulgarian whoop arse’, in the words of ITF president Paddy Crumlin.

Speaker after speaker delivered messages of protest, creativity and enthusiasm for the struggles ahead. All interspersed with examples of the best of Bulgarian culture.

FTTUB president Ekaterina Yordanova began the session by welcoming the friends from 116 countries who, she said, had helped make a dream come true. She proudly introduced Professor Georgi Biznashki, Bulgaria’s prime minister, who told the audience: “It is of paramount importance that the ITF supports the UN and the organisations that seek peace and social justice, and the congress slogan – From global crisis to global justice: transport workers fighting back – is proof of that willingness.”

There was fighting talk too from Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, who said: “Together we are the largest democratic force on earth.”

On Gaza, to widespread applause, she stated: “To target civilians is against international law. The killing must stop. The blockade must end.”

She also promised a joint fight against Qatar and FIFA and the evil of forced labour. She wished the ITF well in its fight back against injustice, saying, “I know the mighty ITF can and will deliver.”

Guy Ryder, International labour Organization director-general was another welcome guest, and delivered the ILO’s best wishes for the success of the ITF’s work “at the cutting edge of trade union internationalism”.

He spoke of the global crisis caused by incompetence and excess in financial markets.

“This is what transport workers are fighting back against,” he said, before wishing the delegates “good luck with the fight back”.

The final word went to ITF president Paddy Crumlin. “Everything we do is essential to the quality of human life” he said. “We are everywhere and we demand justice!” Then, after a rousing cinematic overview of how the past four years have seen uprisings against injustice and how a newfound consciousness has led to the questioning of the power of corporations in a system that does not work for people, he told the audience “I declare the congress open.”

Below is Paddy's opening address: