AFL-CIO and Venezuela: Return of Labor Imperialism, or a Mistaken Reaction?
AFL-CIO and Venezuela: Return of Labor Imperialism, or a Mistaken Reaction?
There has been considerable debate and discussion recently on labor-related e-mail lists concerning possible AFL-CIO involvement in the recent attempted coup to overthrow President Hugo Chavez of
This effort is an attempt to report what has been going on--admittedly by a partisan of one side--and to share developments to date. The intensity of response is due to a number of labor activists' long-standing efforts to convince the AFL-CIO that it should not undermine radical unions in other (mostly "third world") countries--amazingly and consistently paralleled to US Government efforts--and that instead, that the AFL-CIO should be building international labor solidarity with workers around the world. While this labor imperialism developed to the greatest extent during the AFL-CIO presidencies of George Meany and Lane Kirkland, especially between 1962-1995, the election of John Sweeney to the presidency in 1995 and his subsequent efforts to get rid of the worst of the International Affairs Department staff suggested that there might be significant change in their foreign operations of the AFL-CIO that actually might match the newly progressive rhetoric of President Sweeney One of the key changes was the creation of ACILS (American Center for International Labor Solidarity) and the centralization of foreign operations under its control, and the appointment of (long-time progressive) Barbara Shailor to head ACILS. Reports about labor participation in the coup in
[I apologize for the length of this message, but I have been asked to present a single account of the overall debate/discussion of this issue. I include major parts of my original messages. For an annotated reference list of some of the most important writings on the subject, please go to the end of this message. Also, please excuse any cross-postings of this message, and any repostings.}
One should be careful in approaching this issue: quite frankly, there is still a lot unknown about what actually took place on the ground. But suggestions are not good. And, of course, as details become available, our understandings will be strengthened--this effort today is an effort to ascertain the situation today.
The recent discussion began when "Labor Notes" published in its May 2002 issue an article by Katherine Hoyt titled "Concerns Over Possible AFL-CIO Involvement in Venezuela Coup Led to February Picket." Hoyt certainly suggested that the AFL-CIO had been involved, but did not have much evidence in her article, and she did not approach the AFL-CIO to get its side of a conference with CTV leaders that she had reported.
Leo Casey of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, an AFL-CIO affiliated union) responded over various labor and solidarity lists to Hoyt's article, criticizing her lack of evidence for her article. But then Casey went over the top, and argued that we should PRAISE the AFL-CIO for its efforts to support the CTV, claiming that it was an example of international labor solidarity.
After Casey's e-mail posting, the New YorkTimes ran a piece by Christopher Marquis that discussed
SCIPES' Response to Leo Casey: e-mail posting of
[In this article] "we find some very interesting material, which is suggestive but not a smoking gun about labor, but IS a smoking gun about the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the connection which I will explain below. The article begins "In the past year, the
"The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy [NED], a nonprofit agency created and financed by Congress. As conditions deteriorated in
"While the endowment's expressed goal is to promote democracy around the world, the State Department's human rights bureau is examining whether one or more recipients of the money may have actively plotted against Mr. Chavez. ***
"Of particular concern is $154,377 given by the endowment to the
"The Venezuelan union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, led the work stoppages that galvanized the opposition to Mr. Chavez. The union's leader, Carlos Ortega, WORKED CLOSELY WITH PEDRO CARMONA ESTANGA, THE BUSINESSMAN WHO BRIEFLY TOOK OVER FROM MR. CHAVEZ, in challenging the government" (emphasis added).
That's all the article says about ACILS or labor. It does, however, report that NED gave the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs--which the article identifies as being the foreign policy wing of the Democratic Party--a grant for $210,000 "to promote the accountability of local government." And NED gave the International Republican Institute--the foreign policy wing of the Republican Party--$339,998 for "political party building." The International Republican Institute's Preisident, George A. Folsom, publicly endorsed the coup against Chavez. The article went on to say, "The institute has close ties to the Bush administration, which had also embraced the short-lived take over; Lorne Craner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, is a former president of the organization."
The article later states "Mr Sabatini--it had earlier identified Chris Sabatini as "the endowments's senior program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean"--acknowledged that THE ENDOWMENT [NED--KS] HAD HURRIEDLY INCREASED ITS OUTLAYS IN VENEZUELA IN THE LAST YEAR...."
The article continues, "The Bush administration, which has made no secret of its disdain for Mr. Chavez--and his warm relations with nations like
The article then talks about NED, with its annual budget of $33 million, and talks about how it is helping freedom and democracy around the world. Blah, blah, blah.
"But critics say recipients of endowment aid do not have the same accountability that government programs require, WHICH OPENS THE DOOR FOR ROGUE ACTIVITIES AND FREELANCING. THE AGENCY OVERREACHED, THESE CRITICS SAY, IN CHILE IN 1988 AND IN NICARAGUA IN 1989, WHEN ENDOWMENT FUNDS WERE USED TO SWAY THE OUTCOMES OF ELECTIONS" (emphasis added).
"Barbara Conry, an analysis at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the organizing philosophy behind the endowment was flawed.
"'You end up with the worst of both worlds,' she said. Everybody knew it was directly funded by
So, what do we get out of this article. That NED, a US Government founded and funded operation, drastically increased (QUADRUPLED) aid to Venezuelan "democrats" in the past year, against a regime that refused to follow US government orders and positions, and that $155,377 went through ACILS, of the AFL-CIO, and another $210,500 went through the Democrats and another $339,998 went through the Republicans. (Since a total of $877,000 was disbursed, I presume the balance--$171,125--went through the Center for International Private Enterprise, as it is the fourth "leg" of NED, although that was not reported in this article.)
Now, after reporting all of that--and with all the "qualifications" that we were only wanting regime change by constitutional methods, blah, blah--the article suggests that this was a rogue operation of NED, implying that they really are "good guys" and this was just a "mistake."
Well, without going into great detail, there needs to be some understanding of NED. And then, we need to understand ACILS organizational connection.
First of all, NED was founded under that strong labor supporter and great democrat, Ronald Reagan, in 1983. At least in its early years, another truly great democrat, Henry Kissinger, was on its Board of Directors. (Lane Kirkland, and ahem, Albert Shanker of Casey's union, the AFT, were also board members of NED in early years.) I could go on, but you should get the drift: the NED is simply NOT concerned with real democracy and people's empowerment--in reality, it is all but totally opposed--and any argument to the contrary from their side should be laughed at (or puked on, as you wish).
One more piece of evidence on this: according to the journal, "International Labour Reports" (No. 33, May-June 1989), between 1983-1989, the NED through the AFL-CIO's Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) gave the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines more money than any other labor organization in the world (almost $6 million): TUCP was a creation of the Marcos Dictatorship, and was at the centerpoint of efforts to keep Marcos in power, particularly through opposing the radical KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno) Labor Center. In 1987-89, the main federation affiliate of the TUCP fought a local union of the KMU, trying to decertify the KMU local from representing the 10,000 mine workers at Atlas Mines, the largest copper mining complex in all of Asia at the time: this TUCP federation allied with death squads--I am not exaggerating!--mine management, the local government, and the Philippine Constabulary to challenge the KMU local. [In a 13 union competition to represent the workers, the KMU local won 68% of the vote!)
For more detail on the NED, see William Robinson's excellent book PROMOTING POLYARCHY: GLOBALIZATION, US INTERVENTION, AND HEGEMONY (Cambridge University Press, 1996). Despite the very academic title, it is extremely well written and straightforward to read. Bill Robinson details how
In short, NED is scum.
Now, what is the AFL-CIO's connection to NED, if any? If you look on the AFL-CIO's web site, you see no mention of its international operations: nothing about ACILS (again,
I will warn you, it takes a little bit of sleuthing to find where it mentions ACILS on this web site, but to make it easy, go to <www.ned.org/about/how.html>. Go down the page to the section, "Applying a multisectoral approach." That section begins, "NED's unique multisectoral approach is characterized by its FOUR CORE INSTITUTES: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, the AMERICAN CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY, and the Center for International Private Enterprise, which represent the two major American political parties, the labor movement, and the business community, respectively" (emphases added).
[Note: since NED redesigned their web site right after I had denounced ACILS involvement in NED at a labor educators' conference in Milwaukee in 2000 where ACILS people were present--whether in response to my comments or sheer coincidence, I do not know--they may change their web site again once this message gets distributed. I have a printed version from today of the page I refer to above.]
So, not only have Lane Kirland and Albert Shanker been on the Board of Directors of NED, but ACILS is one of the four core institutes of this operation. This is under John Sweeney and the New Voice administration--not of days gone by! (By the way, on the same page, the NED brags of its work in
So, any ties around Venezeula between ACILS and NED are not accidental, but are core organizational connections, and that they were/are clearly designed to lead to a regime change.
Now, if you do not find my arguments convincing, let's look at yet another approach as we consider Casey's claim that AFL-CIO activities should be praised as "international labor solidarity." The AFL-CIO has a long history--beginning with the AFL during World War I under Samuel Gompers!--of trying to subvert labor movements around the world.
[I then referred to an article I had published on the AFL-CIO's foreign operations, and responses by Judy Ancel and Sam Lanfranco, and then subsequent efforts whereby official resolutions were passed by AFL-CIO affiliated organizations in support of my article: details are in the reference section. I continued,,,,]
Despite my article, Ancel's and Lanfranco's responses, and resolutions passed within AFL-CIO organization, to the best of my knowledge, the AFL-CIO has ignored this call. It seems fair to conclude that they are hiding something.
And what they are hiding--and which they don't want their members to know about--is that they are acting as though they represent
The details of the coup will come out. But the parallels with AFL-CIO efforts in
Do we have the smoking gun yet? (Some might argue we don't need one with all of this information.) No, we don't. Is it there? I think it IS there, and certainly there is enough that has already come to light that, in face of the AFL-CIO's refusal to "come clean" on past and current operations, that we must conclude it IS there, until the AFL-CIO "comes clean" in such detail prove us wrong. I hope the AFL-CIO will "come clean" on this and other operations, and prove me wrong: this is one thing that I'd love to be proven wrong--but all evidence suggests they are "guilty, guilty, guilty."
END OF SCIPES' April 26th Response to Leo Casey
However, the New York Times article stimulated a statement from the AFL-CIO about its efforts in
Stan Gacek of the AFL-CIO sent the below to me, and asked that I read and distribute. I do so, as I believe everyone should have as much information as possible from which to develop any understanding or position of their own. However, I have also responded after the AFL-CIO statement, raising some questions that I believe STILL need to be addressed.
I apologize for any cross-postings.
The AFL-CIO and Worker Rights in
The AFL-CIO has maintained a relationship of mutual solidarity with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), the national labor central representing over 90 percent of the organized Venezuelan work force.
Recently, the AFL-CIO has supported the CTV's process of internal democratization and its defense of freedom of association against the attacks of the ChÃ¡vez government.
From the moment he took office in 1999, Hugo ChÃ¡vez led an assault on freedom of association, attempting to weaken or eliminate the principal institutions of Venezuelan civil society, including the unions. His methods included public calls for the "destruction" of the CTV, suspension of collective bargaining in the public sector and the petroleum industry by decree, threats to freeze union bank accounts, and formation of a parallel "Bolivarian Workers' Front." ChÃ¡vez's attack on the CTV culminated in a December 2000 referendum on internal union governance in which all citizens- including non-union members such as business people and the military, could vote. The referendum was condemned by the International Labor Organization and by the international trade union movement. In the end, the vast majority of the population abstained from voting.
In the midst of this assault, the CTV conducted an impressive process of internal democratization with the assistance of the AFL-CIO and the
In October and November 2001, CTV members across the country voted at 9,100 polling places in the first one-member-one vote, secret ballot union election in Venezuelan history. The resulting leadership, headed by Carlos Ortega of the petroleum workers, is the most pluralistic in the CTV's history, with nearly all the parties of the left included. While the government attempted to prevent the balloting in several locations, independent observers from the
The AFL-CIO has been joined by the worldwide labor movement, including the European unions, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and the World Confederation of Labor, as well as the ILO, in supporting our overall program of defense against the attacks on freedom of association in
It was these very attacks on freedom of association that led to a number of the collective actions and demonstrations that occurred this month. It was such attacks, along with the country's miserable economic performance (16% unemployment), that caused the CTV to join with Venezuela's business sector to put forward a ten-point plan for dialogue, with elimination of poverty as the first objective.
Strikes and demonstrations are legal forms of protest. While we unequivocally condemn the coup attempt of April 12th to dissolve democratic institutions that appears to have been engineered by a small group of military officers with the support of some powerful right-wing businessmen, there is no evidence that the CTV or its leaders went beyond the democratic expressions of discontent. In fact, the CTV, along with the vast majority of Venezuelans, refused to recognize the short-lived regime of Pedro Carmona, and rejected his decree dissolving the country's democratic structures. The AFL-CIO will continue to support the CTV, and we will continue to condemn actions by the government of Venezuela, or any other government, that restrict workers' freedom of association in violation of international law. We also condemn any and all coups and unilateral seizures of power which destroy and undermine democratic institutions, including in
The AFL-CIO believes that other priorities of the ChÃ¡vez Administration, including agrarian reform and assistance to
The AFL-CIO condemns the violence committed against all of those participating in the demonstrations in
END OF AFL-CIO STATEMENT
The below is by Kim Scipes:
I am delighted to see the AFL-CIO statement. It certainly suggests that that may have NOT been involved in any nefarious activities in
(1) WHY IS THE AFL-CIO DOING ANYTHING IN
While it appears that one difference in AFL-CIO foreign policy under John Sweeney (and ACILS) is that they do not try to develop operations in every country around the world, and thus they are only in SOME countries, they have never indicated why they are involved in some and not others. I think they have to give a detailed listing of EVERY country they are operating in (or have operated in since 1995), and the rationale for being there, the unions and/or groups they are working with, etc. Specifically, I would like to know why they are in
(2) WHY DOES THE AFL-CIO HAVE ANY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY?
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was created under Ronald Reagan in 1983. I has featured such luminaries as (arguably the leading war criminal alive in the world today) Henry Kissinger on its Board of Directors, although Henry seems to no longer be on the Board. Both Lane Kirkland, former head of the AFL-CIO, and Albert Shanker, former head of the American Federation of Teachers, served on the Board at one time.
The NED was one of the developments in
"The strategists drew several essential conclusions regarding future
Robinson convincingly argues that "political aid" was qualitatively developed in the early 1980s by the US Government, far beyond any level previously advanced. I continue quoting from Robinson:
"Political aid programs were sporadic and underdeveloped in the post World War II period. Those programs that did exist were managed by the CIA." [He then talks some about CIA operations, such as
"Yet there was something clumsy about these operations. the political aftermath of covert operations seemed to create new, more complex problems over the long term. The CIA could destabilize quite well but, its detractors, argued, it was not good at creating stability.
"Thus, while CIA intervention has continued, a more specialized, sophisticated entity with a focus on political operations, a long-term vision, and a strategic agenda came into existence with the creation of the NED in 1983. This new entity would not only play the role of skillful political surgeon, but it would overcome the taint associated with the covert political operations that the CIA had been carrying out abroad. Specifically, NED would take over much of the funding and political guidance for political parties, trade unions, business groups, news media and civic organizations that the CIA had traditionally supplied. The NED'S work [Robinson then quotes from the
"... the NED was created in the highest echelons of the
I don't think it is necessary to quote further. I urge all people who are interested in understanding
But, to return to my question to the AFL-CIO, noting that ACILS is not just "associated" with NED, but that NED itself states that it is one of the four core institutes of its operations: I quote again, this time from the NED website <www.ned.org/about/how.html>, under the subheading of "Applying a multisectoral approach: "NED's unique multisectoral approach is characterized by its FOUR CORE INSTITUTES: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, the AMERICAN CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY, and the Center of International Private Enterprise, which represent the two major American political parties, the labor movement, and the business community, respectively" (emphases added).
So, again, WHY DOES THE AFL-CIO HAVE ANY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY?
(3) WHY HAS THE AFL-CIO NEVER GIVEN A DETAILED AND HONEST ACCOUNTING OF ITS PAST AND CURRENT OPERATIONS TO ITS MEMBERSHIP??? What is it hiding?
It may be that the AFL-CIO's membership, once presented with an accurate and honest accounting of the Federation's foreign operations, would approve of what the Federation is doing overseas, although I doubt it. But the Federation has never even attempted to educate its membership, much less asked for their feedback, participation, involvement, etc., much less their approval.
In fact, despite resolutions passed by the South Bay Labor Council (in and around San Jose, CA), the King County, WA (Seattle area) Central Labor Council, the national gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender constituency group Pride at Work, and the Washington State Labor Federation, each calling for the AFL-CIO to "come clean" on its past and present foreign operations, the AFL-CIO leadership has refused to do so. If the AFL-CIO's foreign operations are NOT sleazy (or worse), then why won't it come out and honestly discuss its operations??? What is it hiding?
There has been much in the mass media lately about the scandals in the Catholic Church. I think we have a similar scandal in the labor movement.
We must keep this in social context. The reality is that the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions are operating in a social context in which they are very weak. Labor needs all the allies it can garner, both within the
One of the things that is currently taking place is the increasing global consciousness of activists around the world, and particularly within the
AFL-CIO foreign operations have long been of particular concern to activists. The initial moves of the Sweeney Administration in this area were seen as positive, and its one of the reasons that Labor has broadened its support to groups outside of labor, allies that they previously had not had. Activities in Venezuela, AND ESPECIALLY ORGANIC TIES WITH THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY (sic), threaten this very support--support that is crucial to workers' struggles in today's social context.
The AFL-CIO leadership, including its Executive Council and other involved leaders, seem not to recognize this dagger at the throat of the recently developed support for Labor, and especially at the throat of international labor solidarity. They think issuing a press statement will solve all their problems, that a corporate-style "damage control" effort will bail them out. I suggest that it will not. As has the Catholic Church suffered for its attempts to take such a path, I fear Labor will be hurt by taking the same path. I think taking such a path will betray the interests and the well-being of AFL-CIO members. And I abhor that.
The well-being of workers in the
If you support this perspective, please pass this message far and wide, post on web sites, etc. Talk with your friends at work, and your local, national, and international labor leaders. Tell them that, for the sake of the well-being of the US labor movement and labor around the world, the AFL-CIO must cut all ties with the National Endowment for Democracy, and that the AFL-CIO must "come clean" on their past and present labor operations. The AFL-CIO must end their current 20 year "delay" in opening Federation files, and open immediately ALL international files. And the AFL-CIO must make a complete, accurate, honest and PUBLIC accounting of all its foreign operations, from its founding in 1886 to today, and send that to each and every member of each affiliated national and international union: this specifically must include a country-by-country accounting of all operations currently taking place (such as in Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico, as well as Venezuela). Anything less can only hurt US workers more.
Kim Scipes Chicago
To date (May 1), there has been no subsequent response from the AFL-CIO or further details about any possible AFL-CIO involvement in the coup efforts. We await future accounts--and hope fervently that the AFL-CIO has NOT returned to its policies of labor imperialism.
Kim Scipes ________
For those who are looking for additional resources, I provide an annotated reference list:
The AFL-CIO has a long history--beginning with the AFL during World War I under Samuel Gompers!--of trying to subvert labor movements around the world. (Beth Sims' WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNDERMINED: AMERICAN LABOR'S ROLE IN US FOREIGN POLICY--Boston: Sound End Press, 1992, is the best book to date on AFL-CIO foreign policy overall.)
The most complete description of efforts by a labor center supported by the AFL-CIO in its efforts to eradicate a militant union's presence in a workplace is in my book on the KMU Labor Center of the Philippines: I detail the efforts by the leading affiliate of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) to remove a KMU-affiliated local from the 10,000 member workforce of Atlas Mines in the late 1980s, then the largest copper mining complex in all of Asia. According to the journal "International Labour Reports," the TUCP received more money (almost $6 million) from the AFL-CIO than any other labor center in the world between 1983-89,and was the key labor project of the Marcos Dictatorship. The TUCP affiliate joined with mine management, local government officials, the Philippine Constabulary and a death squad--I am NOT exaggerating!--to try to defeat the KMU-affilate, but despite having several leaders killed, wounded and/or shot at, the KMU affiliate received 68% of the vote in a 13 union contest! See Kim Scipes, KMU: BUILDING GENUINE TRADE UNIONISM IN THE
The most recent scholarly material on AFL-CIO foreign operations, including a fairly complete bibliography, is in an "Interactive Forum," published by the "Labor Studies Journal" in 2000. I wrote a piece arguing that, if the AFL-CIO under John Sweeney really did want to build international labor solidarity with workers around the world, then the AFL-CIO should "come clean" on its past foreign operations in all their aspects because without this, overseas workers could never trust the AFL-CIO in light of its widely known imperialist history. My argument focused primarily on the 1962-1995 period, and because the article was stimulated by the arrest in Britain of Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet, provided what I believe is the most complete account of AFL-CIO operations in destabilizing the Chilean economy, which led to the coup on September 11, 1973. This article detailed the structural relationship between the AFL-CIO and the US State Department, especially including the CIA, as well as the funding for its foreign operations by the US Government. My article was responded to by Judy Ancel and Sam Lanfranco. Ancel's article is important because she talks about problems in union efforts to build international labor solidarity with Mexican workers along the border during the period of Sweeney's presidency. See Kim Scipes, "It's Time to Come Clean: Open the AFL-CIO Archives on International Labor Operations," "Labor Studies Journal," Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer 2000: 4-25, and responses by Judy Ancel (pp. 26-35) and Sam Lanfranco (pp. 36-39). My article and Ancel's response have been posted, in English, on the web site of LabourNet
[In footnote #1 of the article, I wrote, "While I applaud changes made to date under Sweeney, I suggest there are many more still needing to be implemented. There is still insufficient transparency regarding foreign operations and, as [Barbara Shailor, the head of ACILS] reports (151), the Solidarity Center (ACILS) is being funded by the AFL-CIO and the
My "come clean" article stimulated several efforts to formally get the AFL-CIO to detail its past foreign operations, and some of the material has been posted on web sites: LabourNet
Subsequently, both the King County Labor Council (in and around