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
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
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.