Labour & Trade Union News

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)

Read more ...

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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