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Venezuela and the AFL-CIO


Well, well, Leo Casey's at work again: doing almost anything he can to "excuse" US imperialist aggression, this time in Venezuela.

[I apologize for such a long post, but the issue of international labor solidarity has long been an important issue for me. I respond to Leo Casey's e- mail message that was in response to an article recently published in "Labor Notes," and then post the original Labor Notes piece by Katherine Hoyt that drew his ire. This way, should anyone be interested, they can look at the entire series to help them figure things out.]

If one reads Casey seriously, he makes a case (1) for allowing Chavez to retain his presidency (thanks, Leo!) but that (2) opposing Chavez' interference in particular unions. It's a strong argument. In a perfect world, I would probably agree with a lot of what he says. But it's NOT a perfect world--as we all know--and it's not an ahistorical world, either, but Casey doesn't want to recognize that. So, with those blinders on, he thinks we should PRAISE the AFL-CIO for its act of international solidarity. In a fucking pig's eye!

With the benefit of reading the New York Times this morning--Christopher Marquis, "US Bankrolling Is Under Scrutiny for Ties to Chavez Ouster," April 25, 2002: A-8--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 United States channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to American and Venezuelan groups opposed to President Hugo Chavez, INCLUDING THE LABOR GROUP WHOSE PROTESTS LED TO THE VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT'S BRIEF OUSTER THIS MONTH (emphasis added).

"The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy [NED], a nonprofit agency created and financed by Congress. As conditions deteriorated in Venezuela and Mr. Chavez clashed with various business, labor and media groups, the endowment stepped up its assistance, quadrupling its budget to more than $877,000.

"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 American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the international arm of the AFL-CIO, to assist the main Venezuelan labor union in advancing labor rights.

"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 endowment'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 Cuba and Iraq--HAS TURNED TO THE ENDOWMENT TO HELP THE OPPOSITION TO MR. CHAVEZ."

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 Washington. That didn't fool too many people. But it wasn't really accountable'." (END OF ARTICLE)

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 counterpoint 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. As I detail in my book, KMU: BUILDING GENUINE TRADE UNIONISM IN THE PHILIPPINES, 1980-1994 (Quezon City, Metro Manila: New Day Publishers, 1996), pp. 116-125, 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 US foreign policy changed in the mid-1980s, and shows it is much more sophisticated than in the old days of "supporting dictators"--or at least it tries to be! I highly recommend this book!

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, American Center for International Labor Solidarity), or any of its overseas work. Nothing. But there IS a place where you CAN find out about ACILS' work: on the NED website!

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 . 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 Indonesia, and that "Ned programs focus on long-term effort to open up Cuba.")

So, any ties around Venezuela 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. (In plain language, imperialism, Leo.)

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. (Beth Sims' book, 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.)

In 2000, I published an article "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). I noted the qualitative improvement of AFL-CIO foreign operations under Sweeney as compared to Kirkland and George Meany before him.

[However, 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 US government; money from the latter is channeled through USAID (Agency for International Development) and the supposedly 'private' National Endowment for Democracy (NED).]

In this article, I also took an in-depth look at the AFL-CIO's American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) operations in creating the economic dislocation and turmoil in Chile that preceded the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. And I suggested that Sweeney was trying to overcome that legacy. I noted that Sweeney now recognized the need to build international labor solidarity to confront neo-liberal capitalism around the globe, and I argued that he and the AFL-CIO needed to "come clean" on their past before workers in any "third world" country could ever trust them. Both Judy Ancel and Sam Lanfranco responded to my piece. [My article and Ancel's response have since been posted on-line and in English by LaborNet Germany: for my article, go to
Since publication of my article, there has been a resolution created by the South County Labor Council (in and around San Jose, CA) and which was passed unanimously, that urged the AFL-CIO to "come clean" on the basis of my article. [See my report on this, "Building International Labor Solidarity One Central Labor Council at a Time," a Z Net Daily (e-mail) Commentary for October 21, 2000, which has also been posted on LaborNet Germany: change scipes2 to scipes 1.] Since San Jose, an even stronger resolution has been passed by the King Country (Seattle) Central Labor Council, the AFL-CIO "constituency group" Pride at Work, and the Washington State Labor Council. (See my December 12, 2000 piece on the Z Magazine web site, "Building International Labor Solidarity: Escalating the Struggle Within the AFL-CIO," at .]

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 US workers, when in reality, there has NEVER been any effort to educate, discuss or get support for their activities by their members. Almost all of their funding for foreign operations is externally-sourced--it is not from the membership. And they have used that money historically and, now, in Venezuela, to once again try to overthrow a democratically-elected government. (That is not solidarity, Leo: that is imperialism!)

The details of the coup will come out. But the parallels with AFL-CIO efforts in Chile are amazing-- see my "Come Clean" article to check for yourself.

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."

And, of course, this makes Leo Casey "wrong, wrong, wrong." Leo, quit apologizing for these bastards--they don't need your help, and they only make you look like an idiot, and another imperialist to boot.

In short, the AFL-CIO should not be praised for any efforts in Venezuela--especially under the rubric of "international labor solidarity"--but condemned. The return of labor imperialism is absolutely sickening.

In solidarity,

Kim Scipes
April 26, 2002

PS: Please feel free to pass on widely and/or post on any web site.

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