[OPE-L] Labor Imperialism Redux?

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu May 12 2005 - 10:29:19 EDT

From http://www.venezuelaanalysis.com.  Originally published in
_Monthly Review_.
    Labor Imperialism Redux?: The AFL-CIO's Foreign Policy
Since 1995

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, as it did in Venezuela, in April 2002.

  By: Kim Scipes - Monthly Review

Published: 10/05/05

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
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
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
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
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
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

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.
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).
These labor leaders were independent agents in the process
and advocated an approach different from that of the
administration, especially that of President Bush.
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
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
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
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
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.

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
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).
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.
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
Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George
Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New
York: Monthly Review Press, 1999).
Kim Scipes, 1989; Greg Andrews, 1991; David Nack, 1998;
Anthony Carew, 1998.
Kim Scipes, 2000.
Kim Scipes, 2004a, “AFL-CIO Refuses to ‘Clear the Air’ on
Foreign Policy, Operations.” Labor Notes, February. [Posted
online at
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
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
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
Kim Scipes, 2004b, “AFL-CIO in Venezuela: Déja Vu All Over
Again.” Labor Notes, April. [Posted online at

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
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
Tim Shorrock, “Labor’s Cold War,” The Nation, May 19, 2003,
“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

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
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.
The preceding two paragraphs originally appeared in Scipes,
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
Tim Shorrock, 2003.
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
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.
Edmund McWilliams, “There’s Still a Place for Labor
Diplomacy,” American Foreign Service Association, Foreign
Service Journal, July-August, 2001 (posted online at
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).
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
William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US
Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1996).

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