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LABOR TUESDAY! for June 10, 2003

Which side are you on in Venezuela, John Sweeney?
By Charles Walker

Global Women's Strike, an international grassroots organization of women social justice activists, in April addressed a provocative open letter to AFL-CIO top John J. Sweeney. They asked that the U.S. labor federation go "back to the basic trade union principle that an injury to one is an injury to all internationally."

The letter writers state that the AFL-CIO has hidden from the U.S. rank-and-file its collaboration with the U.S. State Department. They charge that the U.S. union leaders' supported the heads of the Workers Confederation of Venezuela (CTV), who in turn backed the rich and racist Venezuelan upper classes' 2002 attempt to overthrow the government of President Hugo Chavez, through the federation's American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS).

The CTV called for an oil workers political strike against the Chavez government, but according to union officials, cited by the activists, the strike was supported by just 3,000 directors and managers, "out of 35,000 employees, including 18,000 professionals and specialists." The CTV also backed a "general strike," that was actually a bosses' lockout, supported by the banks, by opposed by most unions, including those that "represent 60-70% of bank workers."

"Like every other union bought off to represent employers' interests, CTV has a long history of corruption," the letter asserts. "It had close ties to Accion Democratica, one of the two political parties that took turns in power for 40 years and that between them kept 80% of the population of Venezuela in poverty, deprived of its huge oil revenue while they - party leaders and supporters - themselves shared in its wealth."

The letter reports that a new Venezuelan labor federation, the Workers Bolivarian Forces (FBT) earlier sent a letter to the AFL-CIO alerting the U.S. labor officials "to the anti-working class activities of the CTV leadership" and inviting the AFL-CIO representatives "to come and meet women and men workers in the informal economy, unemployed people and the people of Venezuela, the real protagonists in this struggle."

To date, the AFL-CIO has "turned a deaf ear" to the new Venezuelan labor federation's plea to come and see what is going on. The letter writers don't have high expectations that their letter will receive a better reception from Sweeney and Co.

American labor writer and commentator Harry Kelber too has been trying to talk to the AFL-CIO's director of International Affairs, Barbara Shailor, but so far all Kelber has got is the runaround. "When I've tried to reach her," Kelber recently wrote, " I was told that she was either at a meeting, on the phone or out of town or the country. And she never returned my repeated calls. That may be because she considers me an old crank and an annoying critic."

Kelber says that Shailor "insists on conducting her department's relations with the labor movements of other countries in virtual secrecy. In the years she has held the job, she hasn't issued any press releases or public statements or published a newsletter or brochure or described her activities in AFL-CIO publications and Web sites. While Shailor makes reports to members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, summaries of those reports are never revealed to union members, who haven't the slightest idea of what her department is doing and what commitments are being made in their name."

Kelber doesn't mention the Venezuelan events, but he does mention the widely held belief that AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department, then under former federation president Lane Kirkland, "worked with the CIA to overthrow the democratically-elected Chilean government in 1973."

Moreover, Kelber says that with U.S. government financing, "AFL-CIO operatives collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency to undermine foreign governments and unions that were considered hostile to American business interests or were thought to be pro-Communist, even to the point of setting up and financing dual unions in those countries.

Kelber reports that Sweeney's Solidarity Center (ACILS) "gets the same substantial annual funding from government agencies that Kirkland received." Furthermore, that "Solidarity Center is closely linked with the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department," headed by the impossible to reach Shailor and appointed by the "New Voices" Sweeney.

The Venezuelans and the Global Women's Strike group, like Kelber, may also get the runaround from the AFL-CIO. But there can be no doubt that their letters were sent to the right address.

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