News and Analysis

Venezuela PdVSA president Rafael Ramírez talks to the National Assembly
According to PdVSA president Ramírez, 90% of the transnationals participating in operating agreements, have committed tax evasion, cheating the Venezuelan state out of $3 billion in taxes and $1 billion in royalties.
Credit: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN

Venezuela’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Rafael Ramírez, appeared before the Venezuelan National Assembly today in order to expose the abuses committed by transnational corporations in Venezuela's oil sector and to inform the Venezuelan people that with the opening of the petroleum industry to foreign companies, during the 1990’s, "a true assault was carried out against Venezuelan petroleum."

Ramírez explained that over the course of the past decade and a half, foreign investment amounted to an assault "coordinated by international institutions of oil consuming nations and the large transnationals, who in complicity of the oligarchy and their political representatives conspired against the Venezuelan state, causing their subsequent economic and social crisis."

Ramírez, who is also the President of Venezuela's state owned petroleum company, PdVSA, offered his testimony before a Special Commission that has been formed to investigate the irregularities detected by the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum in the drawing up and the execution of service agreements.  These service agreements, signed between the former management of PdVSA and transnational oil companies, such as Chevron Texaco, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and Repsol, were signed between 1992 and 1997, the years of years of the so-called "petroleum opening."

Currently transnational oil companies produce about 500,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) via these service agreements and another 600,000 bpd of extra-heavy oil as part of joint ventures with PdVSA, in the Orinoco Oil Belt. According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, PdVSA produces the remaining 2 million bpd, for a Venezuelan total of about 3.2 million bpd. However, analysts opposed to the government and its oil policy, contend that PdVSA produces only 1.4 million bpd or 600,000 less than the government claims.

In the course of renegotiating the 32 service agreements, it has come to light that, according to Ramírez, 90% of the transnationals have committed tax evasion, cheating the Venezuelan state out of $3 billion in taxes and $1 billion in royalties. “Some of these companies haven't paid taxes for years,” said Ramirez, adding, “They are mocking our laws. This is an unacceptable situation. We can't permit this.”

“As we will see, this is not about isolated or fortuitous incidents,” Ramírez assured, affirming that on the contrary, “this is a strategy that unfolded since the nationalization of PdVSA in 1976 and is oriented towards taking control over PdVSA for transnational interests.” Ramirez summarized the essence of the "well planned and designed," petroleum opening as a "Trojan Horse." 

In October of last year, the Chavez government announced that transnational oil companies that had service agreements with PdVSA that were signed in the 1990’s, must now be converted into joint ventures, in which foreign companies are limited to a 49% stake in any project, reserving the majority share for PdVSA. Also, in April of this year, the Venezuelan government raised the royalties that companies in the Orinoco Oil Belt must pay, from 1% to 16%. So far all oil companies operating in Venezuela, except for ExxonMobil, have accepted the new terms.

Ramírez asserted that "with the petroleum opening, the transnational capital tried to expropriate the handling and the sovereign use of our main natural resource: petroleum," converting it from a natural resource of the Venezuelan state into a natural resource at the disposal of the consumer countries of the world.

According to the PdVSA president, the collapse of Venezuela’s oil revenue in the 1990’s is attributable to earlier government efforts to sweep away state control over the oil industry.  “They were prepared to turn over our energy resources to transnational capital and to yield it to privatization and those who wanted to impose their version of globalization on Venezuela,” he said.

New attacks

In reference to the recent opposition media’s reporting of supposed problems in the oil industry, Ramírez testified that Venezuela's oil industry is now being attacked by the same people who initiated the economic sabotage of December 2002 to February 2003, which effectively shutdown the oil industry for that time and caused losses of over $14 billion. Ramirez said that the former oil industry managers are resisting the control Venezuela’s government is exerting over its own industry by engaging in a disinformation campaign. 

Ramírez requested that an investigation be carried out in order to determine who is responsible for undermining PdVSA's independence and recommended that the National Assembly adopt a firm and united position with respect to the scandal.

“The game is over with the 32 contracts and now the truth will be made known," said Ramirez. He left the revising of the 32 service agreements and the actions of the transnational companies in the hands of the National Assembly, stating that "this is an affair that the National Assembly must rule on and propose pertinent actions to take."  He also recommended that other state entities such as the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and Venezuela's tax agency Seniat should be involved in the evaluation. According to Ramirez, half of the 32 service agreements are money losing ventures for Venezuela, where PdVSA pays more to transnationals for oil production than it can recoup from the sales of that oil.

Ramirez also highlighted irregularities in the extra-heavy oil production joint ventures, saying that Sincor, which is a joint venture with France’s Total, has violated its contract repeatedly, exploiting a far larger area than it is supposed to. Currently there are five extra-heavy oil joint ventures, about which Ramirez said, “We have found irregularities in all.” The other four companies involved in the joint ventures are Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron, British Petroleum, and ConocoPhillips.

Ramirez also pointed out that Citgo Corp, the subsidiary of PdVSA operating in the United States, had overpaid taxes in that country, and that PdVSA would work to recuperate these taxes in accordance with the U.S.-Venezuelan Double Taxation Treaty.

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April 13th marked the third anniversary of the defeat of a coup against the democratically elected presidency of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In honor of the event there were massive local celebrations and an international solidarity conference: “Encuentro Mundial de Solidaridad con la Revolution Bolivariana”. Solidarity activists came from over 20 countries. The majority were from other Latin American countries. Canada had a strong delegation. The delegation from the U.S was quite small; A few from California, a strong delegation from Boston, some from Florida and Chicago. It is not clear if this small turnout is due to lack of publicity or lack of awareness of the importance of the Venezuelan revolution in the U.S. Participants chose one of eight workshops: Agrarian reform, housing, worker management, citizen participation, alternative media, indigenous people, women or education. Each workshop was held in a different part of the country. There were also hundreds of Venezuelan activists participating in the conference who were able to use the conference for a discussion of their current challenges. The following observations are mainly a reflection of the citizen participation workshop which I attended.

The revolution that is unfolding in Venezuela today is the leading edge of a massive social and political shift to the left that is happening throughout Latin America from Chile right up through Mexico. The past decade of globalization (what they call “neoliberalism”) has brought increased poverty and economic decline throughout the region. The result has been a shift away from governments beholden to the free market towards leaders and parties representing the poor and working people who are the overwhelming majority.

This process has gone the furthest in Venezuela. In the early years of his presidency Chavez was a supporter of the “third way”, a reference to attempts to build an alternative to both the capitalist and the old Stalinist economic models. He and others in the leadership now speak openly and often about their conclusion that the capitalist model is a dead end (sometimes quoting the pope) with no future in Latin America and that socialism is the only road forward.

How this new direction towards socialism will unfold remains to be seen but there are some indications that it will be a dynamic new road that may be a model for all of the Americas. What is most often discussed is desire to build a socialist society marked by a massive increase in popular democratic involvement. The forms of this new democracy are still being worked out. There has been a massive increase in local community councils and cooperatives to address economic and social organization at the local level. The conference was a forum for activists throughout Latin America who are involved in similar efforts to increase democratic participation under more difficult circumstances.

Education is a primary weapon in raising the cultural and political awareness in the poorest communities. There is a literacy campaign along with a series of “missions” aimed at enabling people to return to school and finish high school. A whole new university; “Universidad Simon Bolivar” has been built to massively expand college opportunities for students who had no access to the privileged university system before the revolution.

Local democratic participation is woven through the new national constitution that was enacted in the wake of Chavez’s election in 1999. In order to get many new services a local community has to organize itself, discuss and vote on its priorities and often form local cooperatives to carry out the work. They speak openly about the limitations of classic representative democracy where one can only hope that an elected official remains honest and does the work for the people. As another local leader put it, “Sometimes laws are not the answer, we have to empower people”. This is in contrast to the historical culture of Venezuela that was marked by passive complaining and demanding the government do something for you.

Part of the impetus for this massive expansion of democratic institutions is the fact that when Chavez was elected in 1999 he did it with a weak newly created party called the MVR- Movement for the Fifth Republic. While popular, the party is underdeveloped. Some fear it is used by many to get elected or to get jobs. The old state apparatus, with thousands of functionaries used to the old ways of doing little is still intact and a major obstacle to social change. As one activist put it, “We have won the government but not the state”. Rather than a purge, the strategy has been to set up a parallel government that provides direct social services to the poor (social service “missions”, clinics, food distribution, schools, microcredits, etc.). Community councils that provide organization and representation down to the level of block committees are being set up to take over aspects of local administration. Through this process two very important things are taking place: Whole new layers of the population are learning what it means to be active empowered citizens and a new layer of leaders in the government and the economy is being trained.

In addition, there are now increasing efforts to turn major workplaces over to workers management. This effort began in some industries that had gone bankrupt (a major paper mill). It is now spreading to major state owned industries. In addition to nationalized oil the country has major aluminum, mining and iron ore industries owned by the state. These industries were run poorly and often corruptly even during the past 6 years of the Chavez presidency. A “revolution within the revolution” is now underway to eat away at the old corrupt modes of management and turn these industries into dynamic producers of wealth, jobs and resources that can profit the whole society. The road chosen has not been to simply choose better managers or better bureaucrats. In the major aluminum factory - Venalum there has been discussion, debate and elections to choose a new leadership of the plant from the ranks of the workers in the past month. The goal is for a workers management that will revive production, efficiency and integrity in the plant. Most importantly a new model of plant management and new layer of leadership from the shop floor has a chance to emerge. This process is complex, difficult and being done with few healthy precedents. There will be many mistakes along the way. The key is to have the time needed for such a major transformation to develop.

Che Guevara spoke often about the problems of a bureaucratically planned economy in the model of the old Soviet Union. He advocated the development of a conscious and politically active population. Through the conference discussion and in projects around Venezuela you can see this process unfolding. Often the major players are women. Chavez makes it a point to highlight the development of women as leaders when he speaks. The Venezuelans do not feel they are reinventing the wheel. They are openly looking to the experience of others for examples. When the mayor of the mountain city of Merida was discussing the multiple problems they were facing he stated “If we have a problem, it has probably been solved somewhere else in Latin America”. In his opening speech to the conference, Chavez called the Bolivarian revolution, “A humble daughter of the great revolutions of the world.” When talking of deeper cultural change you often heard of the need to change from a mentality of “me” to one of “we”.

The issue of how the leadership of this revolution is organized and how it is developing a coherent theory to lead is complex and challenging. It is clear that the role of Chavez is significant. His popularity is rising. His image is seen often. He has a regular 5 hour television variety show called “Alo Presidente” that is used to educate the country about the challenges and prospects of the political process.

This is not just a cult of personality around a strong man/caudillo in the model of Juan Peron. There are thousands of dedicated politically revolutionary activists who are advancing the ideas and organization of the revolution throughout all sectors of society (except the wealthy). The organizational forms are diverse. There are “Bolivarian Circles” which are loose groupings of activist with modest organizational success. There are activists in the missions doing community organizing day in and day out. There are students who have their organizations. There are two other left parties that support Chavez that do not appear to have much of a mass base. There are activists in the workplace, the best of which have built a whole new pro-revolutionary national union federation. So when one asks, where do people go for political organization and discussion, the answer is most often that they go to work organizing.

The opposition held a rally to commemorate the coup on April 13th. There were fewer than a thousand present. By all reports the opposition appears demoralized. They have played their strongest cards and lost. Chavez predicts they will attempt to distort next years’ election. For that reason he is campaigning for 10 million votes as a goal to gain a mandate to continue the revolution.

There are a number of features of the revolution in Venezuela that can work to enhance the potential for this revolution to survive both internally and against what will be rising pressure from the United States:

1) This is a deep thorough ongoing revolution that is in progress. This is not simply the election of another left populist government. There is a mobilization of a significant part of the population to fight for its class interest. It could be defined as a “Workers and Farmers Government”.

2) The Chavez leadership is a break from the models of Social Democracy and Stalinism that could set an example of a revolutionary direction for the rest of the continent. It is typical to see posters of Chavez flanked by Bolivar on one side and Che on the other. Because of the position of Venezuela geographically and economically Chavez can play a role in the region that is more significant that that of Fidel and the Cubans.

3) The presence of oil at such a price has resulted in the immediate rise in living standards. The size of the nationalized industries inherited by the revolution means that they have the economic base to fund social programs and build broader support for the revolution. This power allowed them to withstand a massive capitalist strike in 2002 (similar to the strike that sank Allende in Chile). The government can also set up parallel economic institutions that undercut the capitalists such as the state owned food stores.

4) This economic base means that there is the potential to buy time desperately needed to develop a new revolutionary layer of society capable of administration of the state. There is less of a need to prematurely nationalize industries or collectivize land that outpaces the ability of the new society to effectively build a new administration of the economy.

5) The defeat of the coup provided the opportunity to purge the army of a substantial amount of its counterrevolutionary currents. The fact that the army can now be expanded to defend the revolution and at the same time help in social and economic development makes this a radically different road than Chile where the army led the counterrevolution. Plans are to increase the reserves from 200,000 to 500,000.

6) This revolution is embedded in a rising tide of left political movement from Chile to the Rio Grande. This is its most powerful defense and major impediment to imperialist intervention as the Bush administration openly bemoans.

7) This revolution has happened without a bloodbath, without mass public executions, without the need for a repressive state that curbs civil liberties and with massive democratic election victories. This robs the opposition and the Bush administration of cannon fodder in the propaganda war against the revolution. Many spurious charges have and will be invented by the opposition of course.

8) There are sectors that want to push the revolution forward at a faster pace. This is true among farmers wanting land frustrated by the slow pace of land reform. It is true among workers in the fight for workers control in a variety of industries. But the frustration appears to be correctly focused on the obstacles of the old state apparatus and the rich. This avoids the problem of a rise of ultra-left pressure that can then provoke a crack down from the new state.

9) The popularity of Chavez within the unique history of the Venezuelan left appears to be a gravitational force for political unity that is holding down splits and sectarian battles that can hamper leadership development (as in Nicaragua).

10) The oil wealth is allowing Venezuela to do what Che advocated which is trade based on human need rather than the market. Chavez has signed a trade agreement favorable to Cuba. He is trading oil for pregnant cows with Argentina, etc. This along with efforts to build a Pan-American trading bloc is building a regional political and economic bulwark against future U.S. intervention.

11) For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union a new model of socialism is emerging that has the potential to be an example and an inspiration for all of the Americas.

For further analysis of the Bolivarian revolution the Monthly Review articles by Marta Harnecker and others are excellent. Richard Gott’s “In the Shadow of the Liberator” is an extensive history of Chavez’s political development. He is soon to come out with a new history of the revolution. www.Venezuelanalysis.com  and www.Handsoffvenezuela.org provide current news and analysis from the perspective of defenders of the revolutionary process..

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Over the weekend Hands Off Venezuela supporters were in Brighton raising solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution at the Amicus Policies and Rules Conference. Supporters of the campaign within the union campaigned for closer links between Amicus members and the solidarity work with the Venezuelan revolution in Britain.

As part of this campaigning work the Hands Off Venezuela supporters in the union organised a fringe meeting on Saturday evening to highlight the revolutionary process in this Latin American country and to rally support for Venezuela against the threat of imperialist intervention on the part of the USA. There was a thorough debate at the meeting with those taking part asking a lot of questions about what is happening in Venezuela.

On Sunday May 15, a delegate for General Industries, and also a Hands Off Venezuela supporter, Espe Espigares presented a resolution that appealed to the conference and the union as a whole to pledge support for “the revolutionary movement of the Venezuelan people in their struggle for socialist equality and justice” and also for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

She explained how the USA is pointing the finger at Venezuela as rogue state, but she answered this by giving facts and figures about what the Bolivarian revolution is actually achieving for the poor masses, including the literacy campaign, healthcare etc. And she added that these are the kinds of policies we would like to see here in Britain, and therefore it is the duty of the labour movement in Britain and throughout the world to support the Venezuelan revolution.

This resolution was passed with a massive 521 votes in favour. This represents 97% of the conference delegates. On the basis of this resolution the Hands Off Venezuela campaign can now officially circulate its message of solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution among the members of one of the biggest trade unions in Europe with 1.2 million members. The Chair of the conference explained that the Venezuelan question was a very important issue and it is important that the union is now taking it on board. 

During the 5-day conference delegates and some Brighton based supporters of the campaign collected hundreds of signatures for the “Open letter to US trade unions”. Importantly, among the signatories were Derek Simpson, the General Secretary of the union, as well as several members of the NEC, including Bill Spiers, Meurig Thomas, John Oliver, Steve Davison (Chair of Amicus), Dave Hutchinson, Jane Stewart, Colin Walker, Dean Taylor, Eddie Grimes and Howard Turner. Among the international visitors C.H. Venkatachalam, the General Secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ association also signed up.

This decision of Amicus comes after a number of other important unions in Britain have already pledged support for the Bolivarian revolution and for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Amongst those is the railway workers union RMT, the firefighters FBU, the transport union TGWU, the journalists union NUJ and the college lecturers union NATFHE.

Now we need to build on this successful intervention at Amicus conference and reach out to more trade unions with the message of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

Here we publish the text of the resolution that was passed.

Resolution 97 for the Amicus Policy Conference 2005


This Conference deplores the intents of the United States to intervene in the internal life of Venezuela. Two attempts have been made to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Hugo Chavez and behind these attempts has been the hand of the CIA. Conference pledges its support to the revolutionary movement of the Venezuelan people in their struggle for socialist equality and justice. Furthermore Conference pledges support to the “Hands Off Venezuela Campaign” which seeks to promote awareness of what is happening in Venezuela.

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Hands Off Venezuela supporters went up to sunny Southport (Merseyside) to raise awareness of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution amongst the members of one of the most militant unions in the TUC. Between May 10 and May 14, we held a stall and leafletted the conference. FBU conference was a very good chance to present our “Open letter to US trade unionists”, and FBU President and Hands Off Venezuela sponsor Ruth Winters appealed to the delegates to sign it and to circulate it in their branches. New General Secretary Matt Wrack also signed the appeal. If it is true that just a minority of delegates knew about Venezuela and its revolution, delegates were very sympathetic and supportive of our cause once we explained to them what was going on. We sold some literature and got our message across to the FBU delegates. Now the task is to publicise the struggles of the Venezuelan masses in all FBU branches, so next year all delegates will be very aware of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign and why we must support our Venezuelan brothers and sisters.

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In February, the Hands off Venezuela website published a letter issued by the UNT referring to an attack by FEDECAMARAS, the employers’ association of Venezuela, which had presented a complaint to the ILO alleging that the Venezuelan government has violated Trade Union freedoms and the right to strike. The appeal we launched helped to gather support for the UNT. Here we publish a Joint Communiqué Issued by the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT) and the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC) on a partial victory in this struggle.

Geneva, Switzerland -- March 23, 2005

Earlier today -- Wednesday, March 23 -- the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) examined the Complaint issued by FEDECAMARAS, the employers' association of Venezuela, that sought to condemn the Venezuelan government for alleged violations of labor rights.

The ILO Governing Body concluded it could not reach an opinion on this Complaint given that all members of the Employers' Group (IOE) were at the same time signatories to the Complaint and members of the Committee on Trade Union Freedoms, and thus could not be both accusers and judges.

The ILO Governing Body has decided to postpone the examination of this Complaint until its session of November 2005, following the meeting of the Committee on Trade Union Freedoms that will take place at the yearly International Labor Conference of the ILO in June 2005, with a newly elected group of members.

The UNT and ILC are pleased to announce the declaration presented to the ILO's Governing Body by the Workers' Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), which states in part:

"The ILO Workers' Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC) takes note of the fact that the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has responded in a timely and ample way, with all the facts in hand, to the charges leveled against it. The reply and the facts demonstrate that the FEDECAMARAS Complaint against Venezuela has no merit ... Therefore, given the fact that this point has been debated sufficiently, the ILO Governing Board should declare that the Complaint is groundless and does not merit the creation of a Commission of Inquiry. The Complaint, in fact, should simply be closed and filed."

The UNT and ILC believe this is a first positive result that points in the direction of a formal rejection to the Complaint issued by FEDECAMARAS.

The UNT and ILC believe that the international campaign launched in support of the "Open Letter to ILO Workers' Group" issued by the UNT last February has obtained a first and significant result. This Open Letter demonstrates, moreover, that it is the employers' association in Venezuela that violates labor rights in that country.

We call upon all the members of the ILO Worker's Group to support the statement by GRULAC and to reject altogether the Complaint by FEDECAMARAS against Venezuela.

We also call upon all supporters of trade union and democratic rights the world over to publicize this joint Communiqué and to continue to solicit endorsers in support of the UNT's "Open Letter."


Marcela Maspero, on behalf of the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT)
and Daniel Gluckstein and Luc Deley, on behalf of the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC)

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Reproduced from Monthly Review

Throughout much of its history, the AFL-CIO has carried out a reactionary labor program around the world. It has been unequivocally established that the AFL-CIO has worked to overthrow democratically-elected governments, collaborated with dictators against progressive labor movements, and supported reactionary labor movements against progressive governments.1 In short, the AFL-CIO has practiced what we can accurately call “labor imperialism.” The appellation “AFL-CIA” has accurately represented reality and has not been left-wing paranoia.

“Labor imperialism” did not begin with the merger of the AFL-CIO in 1955. It actually began under the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in the early twentieth century, before the First World War, under federation president Samuel Gompers. The AFL engaged in counteracting revolutionary forces in Mexico during that country’s revolution, actively worked to support and defend U.S. government participation in the First World War, and then led the charge within U.S. foreign policy circles against the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the AFL led an effort to establish a Pan-American Federation of Labor (PAFL) after the First World War to control labor movements throughout the Western Hemisphere, and most importantly, in Mexico. As shown by Sinclair Snow in his 1964 study of the PAFL, the effort to establish the PAFL was underwritten by a $50,000 grant to the AFL from the Wilson administration.2

Although most foreign efforts ended with the death of Gompers in 1924, they were revived during the Second World War. The AFL was particularly active in Europe, initially against the Nazis but then against the Communists, who had been leading forces in the various resistance movements against the fascists. After the Second World War, during the “Cold War,” AFL operatives engaged in extensive efforts to undermine Communist efforts in Italy and France in the late 1940s, and then in long-term efforts to advance U.S. interests against the Soviet Union on the continent. These efforts were funded through the U.S. government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and they involved participation in the drug trade, including the notorious “French Connection,” when the CIA cut off funding.3

AFL operations in Latin America were also revived after the Second World War. Initially, they worked through ORIT—the Latin American regional organization of the anticommunist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)—and helped to overthrow the government of Guatemala in 1954. After the successful Cuban Revolution, however, the successor AFL-CIO established its own Latin American operation in 1962, the American Institute for Free Labor Development or AIFLD, to better respond to “challenges” within the region. Among other activities, AIFLD helped lay the groundwork for the military coups against democratically-elected governments in Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973, while also interfering in the Dominican Republic and British Guinea.

These efforts in Latin America were paralleled in Africa and Asia. The African-American Labor Center (AALC) was established in 1964 and was later involved in actions against the anti-apartheid forces in South Africa. In 1982, the AFL-CIO gave its George Meany Human Rights Award to apartheid collaborator Gatsha Buthelezi, who had created a labor center (United Workers of South Africa) specifically to undercut the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the rest of the liberation movement.

In 1967, the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) was established. AAFLI was particularly active in South Korea, and then provided massive funding in the Philippines to help the government of Ferdinand Marcos in his battle against the forces challenging his dictatorship. Between 1983 and 1989, the AFL-CIO provided more money to the Marcos-created Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) to use against the progressive labor organization Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) than it gave to any other labor movement in the world, including Poland’s Solidarnosc. These efforts against progressive labor in the Philippines included supporting the largest affiliate of the TUCP in its efforts against a KMU affiliate at Atlas Mines, including active collaboration with a death squad.4 These operations continued at least through the 1980s. AAFLI also provided money to a TUCP leader serving in the Philippine Senate to get him to vote for retention of U.S. bases when that issue was before their Congress. AAFLI was active in Indonesia as well.

In short, reactionary labor operations were carried out by the AFL-CIO throughout the Cold War tenures of presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland.5 Considerable opposition to these operations did develop within the labor movement by the mid-1980s, and this opposition was at least one factor in developments that led to the election of John Sweeney to the presidency of the AFL-CIO in 1995.

When John Sweeney was elected to the presidency of the AFL-CIO in October 1995, there was hope among labor activists that he would radically reform the AFL-CIO’s foreign policy. Sweeney’s initial efforts were encouraging. By 1997, he had disbanded labor’s semi-autonomous regional “institutes”—AAFLI, AALC, AIFLD, and the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) operating in Europe—and replaced them with a centralized organization, headed by a long-time progressive, with an encouraging name: American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), better known today as the “Solidarity Center.” Sweeney also removed many of the long-time cold warriors from the International Affairs Department. And these changes, along with some positive efforts to support workers’ struggles in several developing countries, were a qualitative improvement over the preceding regimes of George Meany and Lane Kirkland.

However, certain events in recent years have called into question the depth of the AFL-CIO’s foreign policy reforms. Three such events stand out: the AFL-CIO’s refusal to open the books and clear the air with respect to its past operations; ACILS’s involvement in Venezuela concerning attempts to overthrow the government of the radical Hugo Chávez; and the federation’s support of and participation in a new Cold War–like labor agency of the federal government. Let us look at each of these in turn, with the caveat that it is important to understand their multiple interconnections.

Labor activists have fought the reactionary foreign policy of the AFL-CIO and some member unions (which have had their own foreign policy operations) from the beginning. These challenges have ebbed and flowed over time. Of particular importance were the publication of analyses of labor’s foreign policy in the 1960s, and then forcefully within the labor movement itself in the 1980s, as labor activists successfully kept labor from backing a possible Reagan-initiated invasion of Nicaragua.

These early analyses tended to argue that AFL-CIO activities had been formulated outside the labor movement, by the CIA, the White House, and/or the State Department. In other words, they explained labor’s foreign policy efforts as a consequence of factors external to the labor movement.

However, beginning with an article published in 1989 by this author in the Newsletter of International Labour Studies, researchers—working independently and buttressed by solid evidence—began to contend that foreign policy was developed within the labor movement, on the basis of internal factors. While not arguing against considerable evidence that AFL-CIO foreign operations have worked hand in hand with the CIA, or that AFL-CIO foreign operations have benefited U.S. foreign policy as a whole or supported initiatives by the White House or the State Department, this new approach has established that labor’s foreign policy and its resulting foreign operations, while funded overwhelmingly by the government, have been developed within and are controlled by officials at top levels of the AFL-CIO.6

These foreign operations have not been reported to rank and file members for ratification but, instead, have been consciously hidden—either by not reporting these operations or, when they have been reported, reporting them in a manner that distorts them. Thus, labor leaders have been operating internationally in the name of American workers, their members, while consciously keeping these members in the dark. Most AFL-CIO union members to this day have no idea of what the AFL-CIO has done and continues to do overseas, nor that its actions have been funded overwhelmingly by the U.S. government.

Efforts by labor activists, then, have been both to propagate academic findings about AFL-CIO operations to rank-and-file union members while carrying out their own research and investigation, and disseminating their findings to rank-and-file members. Ultimately, the efforts have been designed to educate the membership and to encourage them to reclaim their good name in international labor, while hindering or stopping efforts by AFL-CIO leaders to continue their antilabor efforts.

These oppositional efforts within the labor movement have intensified since 1998. Fred Hirsch, one of the first persons to expose labor’s foreign operations, and colleagues tried to pass a “Clear the Air” resolution through the South Bay Labor Council (in and around San Jose, California) to memorialize the twenty-fifth anniversary of the U.S.- and AIFLD-backed coup in Chile of September 11, 1973, and to celebrate the formal passage of a resolution by the Labor Council in 1974 (over the opposition of then AIFLD head, William Doherty), based on Hirsch’s work, which exposed and condemned AIFLD activities in Chile. However, local events sidetracked the “Clear the Air” effort at the time, and it did not get formally presented.

In 2000, the British government’s arrest and deportation of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Chile provided a chance for U.S. trade unionists to reflect on the future direction of AFL-CIO foreign policy.7 The AFL-CIO did not take the opportunity to do so, but as activists once again criticized the federation’s role in the Chilean coup, Fred Hirsch and his colleagues renewed their efforts to advance the “Clear the Air” resolution. They were able to get the resolution passed by the South Bay Labor Council, and it was forwarded to the California Federation of Labor, the statewide AFL-CIO organization, for consideration at its 2002 biannual convention.

The resolution presented was about to be passed when what looked like a “deal” was offered to the California federation’s Executive Committee: a meeting of California labor activists would be arranged with AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders to discuss these issues in a more deliberative fashion if the resolution under consideration was “watered down.” The arrangement was accepted and the watered-down resolution was passed by the convention. However, it was understood at the time that should the meeting prove unsatisfactory, activists would reinstate their efforts.

It took more than fifteen months before the promised meeting took place, in October 2003. When it occurred, AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders basically put on a dog and pony show rather than interact on substantive issues, greatly displeasing rank-and-file participants. They failed to honor the request of the California activists to gather information and report on any and all labor operations currently taking place around the world on a country-by-country basis.8

As efforts to get the AFL-CIO to own up to its past continued to meet with resistance, disturbing rumors began to circulate implicating the AFL-CIO in attempts to overthrow the left-wing government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.9 One of Chávez’s antagonists was the conservative and often pro-employer Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV). The CTV played a key role in the April 2002 coup attempt against Chávez. As I pointed out in an April 2004 article on the situation in Venezuela:

According to a report...by Robert Collier of The Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America (CWA) in May 2004, the CTV has worked with FEDECAMERAS, the nation’s business association, to carry out general strikes/lockouts in December 2001, March–April 2002, and December 2002–February 2003. Collier reports that according to many published reports and interviews that he has conducted in the country, “...the CTV was directly involved in the [April 2002] coup’s planning and organization.”
Professor Hector Lucena, another labor observer, reports that these April actions were led by the CTV and joined by FEDECAMERAS. Christopher Marquis of The New York Times reported on April 25, 2002, “...the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers led the work stoppages that galvanized the opposition to Mr. Chávez. The union’s leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman who briefly took over from Mr. Chávez, in challenging the government.” Further, Collier reports, “For months before, CTV Secretary-General Carlos Ortega created a tight political alliance with FEDECAMARAS leader Pedro Carmona, and they repeatedly called for the overthrow of Chávez. “In short,” Collier concludes “...in Venezuela, the AFL-CIO has...supported a reactionary union establishment as it tried repeatedly to overthrow President Hugo Chávez and in the process, wrecked the country’s economy.”10

Upon examination, labor and solidarity activists found numerous ties between the AFL-CIO, particularly the federation’s Solidarity Center (ACILS), and the CTV. AFL-CIO leaders had shepherded officials of the CTV around Washington, D.C. just before the coup. Activists associated with the Venezuelan Solidarity Center, using the Freedom of Information Act, unearthed documents and reports to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—a U.S. State Department-funded operation that is ostensibly independent although headed by a number of people with long-term involvement in U.S. foreign policy efforts—that detailed ACILS’s efforts in Venezuela between 1997–2002.

Some of the documents specifically included reports by U.S. labor operatives detailing their specific involvement in uniting the business community (under FEDECAMARAS) with the Catholic Church and the CTV, and helping them develop their common program against the democratically-elected regime of President Hugo Chávez. For example, in ACILS’s January–March 2002 quarterly report to NED, we find:

“The CTV and Fedecamaras, with the support of the Catholic Church, held a national conference on March 5 to discuss their concerns, perspectives and priorities regarding national development and to identify common objectives as well as areas of cooperation.” The conference was the culminating event of some two months of meetings and planning between these two organizations. “The joint action [producing a “National Accord” to avoid a supposedly “deeper political and economic crisis”] further established the CTV and Fedecamaras as the flagship organizations leading the growing opposition to the Chávez government.”
“The Solidarity Center helped support the event in the planning stages, organizing the initial meetings with the governor of Miranda State and the business organization, FEDECAMARAS, to discuss and establish an agenda for such cooperation in mid-January.” The report continued to detail more of their efforts, concluding with the comment that, “The March 5 national conference itself was financed primarily by counterpart funds.”11

Less than thirty days after the March 5 conference, the CTV and FEDECAMARAS launched a national general strike to protest the firing of oil company management, and the coup attempt—in which CTV and business leaders played central roles—took place.

Concluding that ACILS played no role in the turmoil that rocked the country would require us to ignore the central role being played by CTV and FEDECAMARAS leaders in that turmoil—leaders with whom Solidarity Center representatives were in regular contact. It would also require us to ignore the $587,926 that was provided by NED to ACILS between 1997 and 2001—$154,377 in 2001 alone—to pay for work with the CTV. Along with another grant from NED in September 2002 for $116,001 to work with CTV for another six months—later extended another year—we find, according to NED’s own data, that between 1997 and 2002, NED provided over $700,000 for ACILS work in Venezuela.12

The growing evidence of AFL-CIO involvement in the Venezuelan coup stimulated activists to join together and mobilize in efforts to condemn AFL-CIO foreign operations. A resolution, titled “Build Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide” emerged from the 2004 California AFL-CIO Convention Resolution Committee. “Build Unity and Trust” combined the original “Clear the Air” resolution from the South Bay Labor Council along with resolutions that had been passed by the San Francisco and Monterrey Bay Labor Councils, and resolutions submitted by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 1493 (San Mateo), the statewide California Federation of Teachers (CFT), and the San Francisco Labor Council for transparency in National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funding. “Build Unity and Trust” was passed unanimously by delegates at the California State Convention in July 2004. The actions of AFL-CIO national level foreign policy leaders had been rebuked by the largest state affiliate of the AFL-CIO, whose members comprise one-sixth of the entire AFL-CIO membership.13

The California State Federation action followed those by the Washington State Federation, the AFL-CIO gay/lesbian/transgender constituency group “Pride at Work,” and the National Writers Union, each of which had previously condemned AFL-CIO foreign operations.14

The AFL-CIO’s non-response to calls to “clear the air” and the evidence concerning its Venezuelan operations are not very hopeful signs for those who have hoped that the federation has abandoned its old ways. But do these events signal a return to labor imperialism, or are they aberrations from the new course chosen by John Sweeney and his allies? To help answer this question, it will be helpful to look at a third event: labor’s participation in the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on Labor and Diplomacy (ACLD).

The ACLD is an initiative of the U.S. State Department.15 Some of what it does can be found on its Web site, where minutes of meetings and two formal reports are posted. A careful perusal of this material establishes several things:

  1. The ACLD is an initiative of the U.S. State Department, established for the purposes of advancing U.S. foreign policy. It was begun under the Clinton administration, but it has continued into the Bush administration.
  2. Top-level labor foreign policy leaders, including the president and executive secretary of the AFL-CIO (John Sweeney and Linda Chávez Thompson), the head of the AFL-CIO Executive Council’s Committee on International Affairs (William Lucy), the head of the International Affairs Department and an assistant (Barbara Shailor and Phil Fishman), and the executive director of the Solidarity Center (Harry Kamberis), each actively participated in meetings and the work of the ACLD, as have people who formerly operated at high levels of the U.S. labor movement but are now working in some other capacity (one such former official is Thomas R. Donahue, long-time NED board member and former secretary-treasurer and president of the AFL-CIO who ran against Sweeney in the 1995 election).
  3. These labor leaders were independent agents in the process and advocated an approach different from that of the administration, especially that of President Bush.
  4. This work has not been reported in any labor publications, as far as I have been able to discover, nor put on the AFL-CIO’s Web site.

The ACLD was established on May 20, 1999, when its charter was approved by under secretary of state for management, Bonnie R. Cohen. The purpose of the committee is clear:

The purpose of the Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy...shall be to serve the Secretary of State...in an advisory capacity with respect to the US Government’s labor diplomacy programs administered by the Department of State. The Committee will provide advice to the Secretary and the President. The Department of State will work in close partnership with the Department of Labor to enhance the Committee’s work and US labor diplomacy activities. Specifically, the Committee shall advise the Secretary on the resources and policies necessary to implement labor diplomacy programs efficiently, effectively and in a manner that ensures US leadership before the international community in promoting the objectives and ideals of US labor policies now and in the 21st century.

While it is not clear where the idea for the initiative that became ACLD developed, a strong argument was made for the revitalization of labor diplomacy by Edmund McWilliams, the director of international labor in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.16 McWilliams, recognizing the key service provided by the labor movement to the U.S. government during the Cold War, said that:

Labor diplomacy, those aspects of U.S. foreign relations that relate to the promotion of worker rights and, more broadly, democratic society, was a vital element of a successful U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. At the time, labor offered significant political support to the U.S. Government in its efforts to contain and defeat communism. In the years after the Cold War, labor diplomacy has been relegated to the sidelines by foreign policy makers; at the same time, the fight for worker rights has become even more important as globalization has produced new challenges for workers. It is time that a vibrant labor diplomacy can be a valuable component of U.S. foreign policy once again....(emphases added)

McWilliams points out that “During the Cold War, a vigorous labor diplomacy...implemented by State Department labor officers, USAID and USIA...was critical to U.S. foreign policy.” He notes that the unions “rallied” to the government’s call for a struggle against communism, “and offered political support to shore up Western governments.” However, “U.S. labor’s role in U.S. foreign policy and U.S. labor diplomacy more generally lost much of their purpose following the collapse of communism.”

The idea of a revitalized labor diplomacy policy, however, is seen as alleviating the worse aspects of globalization, which has “produced new challenges for workers.” McWilliams notes that, “The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights established that worker rights are human rights,” although he also recognizes that these goals are still unmet in both the developed and developing countries. He recognizes problems such as “flexible” labor markets, privatization, and downsizing—the latter “encouraged by international financial institutions and our own bilateral assistance programs”—leave workers “to adjust to new economic conditions without benefit of social safety nets or job retraining.” Additionally, he notes that “globalization encourages companies to invest in countries where labor standards are lowest, potentially pushing some countries that embrace higher stands for workers right out of economic competition.” In short, McWilliams recognizes at least some of the serious impacts that globalization is having on developing countries and their workers, and wants U.S. labor’s voice reinvited into foreign policy discussion so they can present these concerns.

He argues:

...today, labor could play just as significant a role in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy as it did during the Cold War. Many of the goals that U.S. foreign policy seeks to promote—democracy, human rights, political stability, and social and economic development—are the same ones that labor also embraces. (emphasis added)

McWilliams goes on to elaborate the contributions that unions make in societies around the world. He argues that “Trade unions in many countries are uniquely placed to articulate social as well as labor concerns responsibly and coherently” and, accordingly, “...trade unions and workers can be valuable allies for U.S. diplomacy.”

McWilliams appears to recognize that U.S. foreign policy has weaknesses that must be addressed. In this case, he argues that globalization is doing harm to the world’s workers, that it is a mistake to ignore these escalating problems, that U.S. labor—particularly because of its relations with labor around the world—is uniquely capable of presenting labor’s concerns to foreign policy makers, and that labor should be reincorporated into the government’s foreign policy processes:

The U.S. would benefit from engaging international labor in the pursuit of shared goals such as democratization, political stability and equitable economic and social development. An alliance between the U.S. and labor today would focus on worker rights, including ensuring that economic development is not based on the exploitation of child labor, forced labor or employment that discriminates against women and minorities, and on economic justice, ensuring that globalization’s benefits flow to all and not simply to the few best placed to profit from it. A revitalized labor diplomacy today would foster democratic freedoms by shoring up fragile democracies, just as the U.S. labor alliance of the Cold War era did. (emphasis added)

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recognized the strength of the argument, even before McWilliams published it. After receiving the first report by the ACLD—“A World of Decent Work: Labor Diplomacy for the New Century”—and having a couple of months to evaluate its recommendations, Secretary Albright stated at the November 8, 2000, meeting of the ACLD, “I am absolutely convinced after four years of doing this job that we can’t have a successful U.S. foreign policy without effective labor diplomacy.” She also added: “And becoming a part of the US Government may not have been something you intended in this way, but I do believe it has been a very important partnership.” (emphasis added)17

The ACLD, although initially only expected to last for two years, was continued by the Bush administration. However, where the first report—during the Clinton administration—addressed “the importance of labor diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy and the promotion of worker rights in the context of economic globalization”—by its second report in late 2001 (that is, after September 11, 2001), the focus had shifted to “the role and importance of labor diplomacy in promoting US national security and combating the global political, economic, and social conditions that undermine our security interests.” (emphasis added) This emphasis can further be seen in the title of the ACLD’s second report, “Labor Diplomacy: In the Service of Democracy and Security.”

There is a lot of talk in the second report, just like in the first one, about the importance of labor rights and democracy. However, one only has to read a little into the second report to see that workers’ rights are important only if they help advance U.S. security:

The war on terrorism provides one more example of why labor diplomacy functions are so important. Working conditions that lead to misery, alienation, and hopelessness are extremely important in the constellation of forces responsible for terrorism, especially when demagogues blame the United States, globalization or other external forces. Policies to improve these conditions are necessary components of strategies to prevent and counter terrorist activities. Effective labor diplomacy is important in informing American analysis and shaping its policy to combat the conditions that breed terrorism around the world. (emphasis added)

Further, the 2001 report argues, “...the promotion of democracy needs to be part of any sustainable U.S.-led effort to combat terrorism, promote stability and ensure national security.”

The report discusses “Trade Unions in Muslim Countries.” It notes, “These unions are a political battleground because they are proxy political institutions and instruments for controlling the hearts, minds and jobs of workers in these countries.” (emphasis added) Further, they note the role of ACILS in these unions:

As the U.S. Government-supported programs of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (Solidarity Center) already demonstrate, a policy that aims to cultivate union leadership at the enterprise and industrial sector levels represents the most promising approach to inculcate modern economic thinking and democratic political values among workers in Muslim countries. (emphases added)

So, without beating the issue to death, it is clear that by the second ACLD report, ACLD members are seeing labor diplomacy as a vital part of U.S. foreign policy and national security efforts, and they are encouraging the Bush administration to address areas of concern that they have identified.18 This certainly includes conditions that they believe facilitate terrorism, and particularly within the Muslim world. And yet, they state that labor has already been working within the Muslim world, trying to win “the hearts and minds” of workers in these countries. But while great concern is expressed—again and again in the report—for U.S. national security, concern for the well-being of the world’s workers and any possible expressions of mutually-beneficial solidarity-based actions by the AFL-CIO are all but absent.

Now, obviously, there is a contradiction that can be seen in McWilliams’s argument, and it is one advanced throughout almost all of the government’s foreign policy public documents. The evidence presented in this paper has shown that labor’s role in the Cold War was terribly reactionary. It acted against democracy in a number of societies and labor movements as well as internally within the U.S. labor movement itself as it sought to maintain U.S. hegemony in the world. McWilliams acknowledges and even celebrates the close ties between labor and government during that period, and argues for their reestablishment. And yet he claims that the shared interest of labor and the government is to “spread democracy.” How can these contradictory claims/realities be resolved?

To do this, it is useful to turn to William Robinson’s Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention and Hegemony.19 In an excellent analysis of U.S. foreign policy, Robinson argues that this policy began shifting in the mid-1980s from supporting any dictator who promised fealty and control of “his” people to intervening actively in the “civil society” of targeted nations for the purposes of building support among the more conservative politicians (including labor leaders), and for linking their interests with the United States. Key to this are “democracy-promoting” operations. However, while using the rhetoric of “popular” democracy—the one-person, one-vote grassroots-driven version that we are taught in civics courses and supposedly exists here—the United States is, in fact, promoting polyarchal or top-down, elite-driven, democracy. This polyarchal democracy suggests that citizens get to choose their leaders when, in fact, they only get to choose between those presented as possible choices by the elites of that country. In addition, viable solutions to social problems can only emerge from possibilities presented by the elites. In other words, polyarchal democracy only appears to be democratic; in reality it is not.

And institutionally, the United States projects this polyarchal democracy through its “democracy-building programs,” especially through USAID and the Department of State. State, in turn, channels its money and its efforts through the National Endowment for Democracy, upon which the 2001 report comments: “The National Endowment for Democracy (a government-supported but independent agency) funds its four core grantee institutions, including the Solidarity Center, as well as a large number of grantee groups around the world.”

This understanding provides a means to “decipher” government reports. When they promote “democracy” and claim it is one of the four interrelated goals of U.S. foreign policy—along with stability, security, and prosperity—in reality, it is a particular form of democracy, a form of democracy that has no relation to the popular democracy that most Americans think of when they hear the word. When labor leaders use the term “democracy” in this manner, they are collaborating with the government against workers around the world, both in the United States and overseas.

Where does all this leave us? The AFL-CIO’s unwillingness to clear the air appears to be not an oversight or a mistake. It seems a conscious decision because foreign policy leaders fear a backlash from union members should their long-lasting perfidy become widely known, as they should.

The AFL-CIO, through its American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), was actively involved with both the CTV and FEDECAMARAS in Venezuela before the April 2002 coup, and these organizations both helped lead the coup attempt. ACILS was given over $700,000 by the National Endowment for Democracy for work in that country between 1997 and 2002. These efforts and receipt of the money were not reported to AFL-CIO members and, in fact, the AFL-CIO has actively worked to keep these operations from being known, despite a growing number of AFL-CIO affiliated organizations formally requesting this information. These activities and receipt of this money has not been reported in any labor press, including its own Web site, by the AFL-CIO. And this intentional refusal to address member organization concerns has also been formally condemned by a number of AFL-CIO affiliates.

As if that weren’t bad enough, labor leaders also have been actively participating in the State Department–initiated Advisory Committee for Labor Diplomacy (ACLD), which has been designed to advance the labor diplomacy efforts of the United States. While considerable benefit to the U.S. government has been established, there has been no or little benefit to workers either in the United States or in the rest of the world. Again, there has been no transparency by the AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders. Active involvement in the ACLD has taken place not only under the Clinton administration but also under the Bush administration. In short, there are good reasons to believe that under AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, labor’s foreign policy has reverted back to “traditional” labor imperialism.

In light of these findings, it seems obvious that any of the current efforts to “reform” the AFL-CIO are doomed to failure unless they explicitly address the return of labor imperialism at the highest levels of the federation. While certainly not the only issue of importance, it is one of the most important, and this cannot be sidestepped should meaningful change be sought. Should this continue to be the case, it is clear that labor activists must consider their own future actions in regards to AFL-CIO foreign policy. The well-being of workers in the United States and around the world—and our allies—will be deeply affected by the choices made.


  1. Kim Scipes, “It’s Time to Come Clean: Open the AFL-CIO Archives on International Labor Operations.” Labor Studies Journal 25, no. 2, Summer 2000: 4-25. [Posted online in English by LabourNet Germany at www.labournet.de/diskussion/gewerkschaft/scipes2.html.]
  2. Kim Scipes, “Trade Union Imperialism in the US Yesterday: Business Unionism, Samuel Gompers, and AFL Foreign Policy.” Newsletter of International Labour Studies (The Hague), No. 40-41, January-April 1989: 4-20; Greg Andrews, Shoulder to Shoulder? The American Federation of Labor, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1924 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991); David Nack, “The American Federation of Labor Confronts Revolution in Russia and Early Soviet Government, 1905 to 1928: Origins of Labor’s Cold War.” Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of History, Rutgers University, 1998; Sinclair Snow, The Pan-American Federation of Labor (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1964).
  3. Anthony Carew, “The American Labor Movement in Fizzland: The Free Trade Union Committee and the CIA.” Labor History 39, no. 1, 1998: 25-42; and Douglas Valentine, “The French Connection Revisited: The CIA, Irving Brown and Drug Smuggling as Political Warfare.” Covert Action Quarterly, No. 67, spring-summer, 1999: 61-74.
  4. International Labour Reports, “National Endowment for Democracy: Winning Friends?” May-June 1989: 7-13. Kim Scipes, Chapter 5 in KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (Quezon City, Metro Manila: New Day Publishers, 1996, and available online at www.kabayancentral.com/book/newday/mb1009609.html.)
  5. Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999).
  6. Kim Scipes, 1989; Greg Andrews, 1991; David Nack, 1998; Anthony Carew, 1998.
  7. Kim Scipes, 2000.
  8. Kim Scipes, 2004a, “AFL-CIO Refuses to ‘Clear the Air’ on Foreign Policy, Operations.” Labor Notes, February. [Posted online at www.labornotes.org/archives/2004/02/articles/b.html.]
  9. There is now considerable evidence of U.S. government involvement, especially through the so-called National Endowment for Democracy (NED), in the events leading up to the coup in Venezuela. For some of the best articles available, see Karen Talbot, 2002, “Coup-making in Venezuela: The Bush and Oil Factors” (online at www.globalresearch.org/view_article.php?aid=506926235); Harley Sorenson, November 17, 2003, “National Endowment for Democracy’s Feel-good Name Belies Its Corrupt Intent,” San Francisco Chronicle (online at www.commondreams.org/scriptfiles/views03/1117-06.htm); Bart Jones, April 2, 2004, “US Funds Aid Chavez Opposition,” National Catholic Reporter (online at www.ncronline.org/NCR_Online/archives2/2004b/040204/040204a.php); William Blum (no date but obviously 2004), “US Coup Against Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, 2002” (an excerpt from his book, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire, online at http://members.aol.com/essays6/venez.htm); Eva Golinger, 2004, “The Proof Is in the Documents: The CIA Was Involved in the Coup Against Venezuelan President Chavez” (online at www.venezuelafoia.info/english.html); and Phillip Agee and Jonah Gindin, March 23, 2005, “The Nature of CIA Intervention in Venezuela” Venezuela Analysis (online at www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=7513&sectionID=45).
  10. Kim Scipes, 2004b, “AFL-CIO in Venezuela: Déja Vu All Over Again.” Labor Notes, April. [Posted online at www.labornotes.org/archives/2004/04/articles/e.html.]

    For a piece by the Assistant Director of the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department, comparing the situation between Brazil and Venezuela, see Stan Gacek, 2004, “Lula and Chavez: Differing Responses to the Washington Consensus,” in New Labor Forum 13, no. 1, spring, and found online at http://forbin.qc.edu/newlaborforum/html/13_1article3.html. For a knowledgeable response to Gacek, see Robert Collier, 2004, “Old Relationships Die Hard: A Response to Stan Gacek’s Defense of the AFL-CIO Position on Venezuela” in New Labor Forum 13, no. 2, summer.

    For other articles on possible AFL-CIO involvement in the April 2002 coup and questioning AFL-CIO activities in Venezuela in general, see Katherine Hoyt, 2002, “Concerns Over Possible AFL-CIO Involvement in Venezuelan Coup Led to February Picket,” Labor Notes, May (online at www.labornotes.org/archives/2002/05/b.html); Jamie Newman and Charles Walker, 2002, “Cloaks and Daggers: The ‘AFL-CIA’ and the Venezuelan Coup,” Washington Free Press, No. 58, July/August (online at www.washingtonfreepress.org/58/cloaksDaggers.htm); Global Women’s Strike, February 26, 2003, “Appeal to US trade unionists on behalf of workers in Venezuela/Open Letter to John Sweeney, President of AFL-CIO,” online at www.globalwomenstrike.net/English/AppealtoUSUnionists.htm; Tim Shorrock, “Labor’s Cold War,” The Nation, May 19, 2003, www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030519&s=shorrock; “Letters” (responding/commenting on Shorrock’s article), The Nation, July 7, 2003: 2, 23; and Alberto Ruiz, 2004, “The Question Remains: What Is the AFL-CIO Doing in Venezuela,” ZNet, online at www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=5074&sectionID=45.

    For recent analyses of the reaction by workers and their unions to the CTV’s class collaborationist politics, see Jonah Gindin, 2005, “A Brief Recent History of Venezuela’s Labor Movement: Re-Organizing Venezuelan Labor” online at www.iisg.nl/labouragain/documents/gindin.pdf; and Steve Ellner, 2005, “The Emergence of a New Trade Unionism in Venezuela with Vestiges of the Past” in Latin American Perspectives, March-April. For a personal account of developments in Venezuelan labor, from a woman who formally served on the executive board of the CTV and who withdrew and now sits on the executive board of the new, pro-Chavez UNT (Union Nacional de Trabajadores-National Workers’ Union) labor center, see Marcela Maspero, 2004, “What Does the Union Nacional de Trabajadores Stand For? New Trends in Venezuelan Labour,” November 28, online at www.iisg.nl/labouragain/documents/maspero.pdf.
  11. The documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act have been posted on the Venezuelan Solidarity Committee’s Web site at www.venezuelafoia.info. To access these reports from ACILS to NED, go to the box on National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and click on “ACILS-CTV.” There you will find Quarterly Reports from the Solidarity Center to NED, and these extend from July-September 2000 to July-September 2003. Quotes in this article are from the January-March 2002 Quarterly Report, and are identified at CTV-02.jpg and CTV-03.jpg.
  12. The preceding two paragraphs originally appeared in Scipes, 2004b.
  13. Kim Scipes, 2004c. “California AFL-CIO Rebukes Labor’s National Level Foreign Policy Leaders.” Labor Notes, September: 14. (Article introduced in newsletter, carried in whole on Web site at www.labornotes.org/archives/2004/09/articles/h.html. A more complete, un-edited, version of this article is at www.uslaboragainstwar.org/article.php?id=6394.)
  14. Tim Shorrock, 2003.
  15. Material on ACLD is available online at www.state.gov/g/drl/lbr/c6732.htm. At this site, which is for ACLD under the Bush Administration, are minutes for meetings of October 4, 2001; November 14, 2001; December 19, 2001; September 18, 2002; May 2, 2003; and November 17, 2003, along with the ACLD’s Second Report to the Secretary of State and the President of the United States, and the ACLD’s Charter. When one clicks on the “Archive” button on this page, it takes you to ACLD material developed during the Clinton Administration, at www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/labor/acld_index.html. The involvement of labor’s foreign policy leaders was first reported in Kim Scipes, “AFL-CIO Foreign Policy Leaders Help Develop Bush’s Foreign Policy, Target Foreign Unions for Political Control,” Labor Notes, March 2005, www.labornotes.org/archives/2005/03/articles/e.html. As noted, my attention was drawn to ACLD by Chris Townsend, a national-level staff member of the United Electrical (UE) workers, whom I thank again.
  16. Edmund McWilliams, “There’s Still a Place for Labor Diplomacy,” American Foreign Service Association, Foreign Service Journal, July-August, 2001 (posted online at www.afsa.org/fsj/julaug/mcwilliamsjulaug01.cfm).
  17. Madeleine K. Albright, “Remarks by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at Meeting of Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy” (transcript), November 8, 2000 (posted online at www.usembassy.it/file2000_11/alia/a011090q.htm. After leaving the State Department, Ms. Albright became the head of the International Democratic Institute, one of the four “core” institutes of NED (US Senator John McClain heads the International Republican Institute, another “core” institute).
  18. To see examples of their work, see ACLD Minutes, May 2, 2003 (online at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/28922.htm), and ACLD Minutes, November 17, 2003 (online at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/28877.htm).
  19. William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

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May Day 2005 in Venezuela was an historic event. Some reports talk of up to one million people marching in the UNT demonstration (as against a few hundred at the CTV rally). The mood was upbeat with the recent victories at Venepal (now Invepal), CNV (now Inveval), and the main slogans referred to the debate about socialism and workers' co-management. We provide here some links to reports about May Day from Venezuelanalysis.com, Vheadline, Venezuela Solidarity and Marxist.com. Some excellent pictures of the day can be found on the aporrea.org web site and the Radio Nacional de Venezuela picture gallery.


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This letter was passed by the Executive Board of AFSCME Local 444 in Oakland CA yesterday. It is the same letter that Carpenters Local 713, Hayward CA passed.

AFSCME Local 444  believes that the foreign interests of Corporate America and those of ordinary working class people are not the same. Big business has always attempted to undermine the living standards of working people through its foreign policies. We believe our movement can be strengthened globally by fighting for higher pay and better conditions for all workers around the world.

In 2002 the Bush administration was implicated in the coup attempt against Venezeula's democratically elected government. Venezuela is one of the world's biggest producers of oil and its current government refuses to follow the dictates of the big US oil companies that have robbed American workers for so long. Local 444 opposes any moves by the Bush administration to overthrow or undermine the democratically elected government in Venezuela.
The US trade union movement should build direct links and solidarity with working class people and the genuine workers' unions in Venezuela and internationally for our common economic benefit.

In solidarity,

Reggie Moore
President, AFSCME Local 444
Oakland CA

Adopted by Local 444 Executive Board 5-5-05

cc Central Labor Council of Alameda County AFL-CIO

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Below is a motion passed as an open letter by Carpenters Local 713 (Alameda County), a local of 4,000 members in the San Francisco Bay area.

Carpenters Local 713 believes that the foreign interests of Corporate America and those of ordinary working class people are not the same. Big business has always attempted to undermine the living standards of working people through its foreign policies. We believe our movement can be strengthened globally by fighting for higher pay and better conditions for all workers around the world.

In 2002 the Bush administration was implicated in the coup attempt against Venezuela's democratically elected government. Venezuela is one of the world's biggest producers of oil and its current government refuses to follow the dictates of the big US oil companies that have robbed American workers for so long.

Local 713 opposes any moves by the Bush administration to overthrow or undermine the democratically-elected government in Venezuela. The US trade union movement should build direct links and solidarity with working class people and the genuine workers' unions in Venezuela and internationally for our common economic benefit.

Submitted by Rob Rooke, delegate Carpenters Regional Council
Passed by Local 713 Thursday April 28th at Local's Union Meeting

Cc Alameda Labor Council

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