AFL-CIO Foreign Policy in Venezuela


[Speech made at a Labor Assembly in Geneva, June 12, 2005]

Brothers, Sisters, Friends and Comrades in the unending struggle for the rights of workers, equality, peace and democracy,

Thank you for this great honor of speaking here today with such a working class international assembly. I come to you with letters of representation from my own union, Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 in San Jose, California, the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in San Jose, and the San Francisco Labor Council. I am pleased beyond words to have been invited to participate here by leaders of the Union Nacional de Trabajadores de Venezuela (UNT) (Venezuelas’ National Workers Union) – to join them in their struggle against the complaint raised by the joint voice of FEDECAMARAS, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce in Venezuela and the CTV, that nation’s old labor federation. Their boss-union collaboration is a marriage that could never be heaven blessed and can only be consummated in a warmer, subterranean climate.

I am Vice President of a 2500 member local union of pipe trades workers. I’m a plumber by trade, retired after thirty eight years as a rank-and-file worker in construction. I’m not a scholar. I have no university degrees, but for many years I have and worked on the issue of AFL-CIO intervention in the political and trade union life of sovereign nations, with most attention to the effect on workers and their organizations in Latin America. Whatever other factors may be involved, the FEDECAMARAS-CTV collusion against the UNT and the Bolivarian Republic, led President Hugo Chavez, is an ugly outgrowth of intervention by ACILS, the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity subsidized by the Bush administration, whose policy, in Venezuela, it parallels.
 
For over fifty years the interventionist work of the AFL-CIO has been financed by agencies of the U.S. Government. Among those agencies are the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Agency for International Development and some other agencies. In recent years, most ACILS funding comes from U.S. taxpayers through NED, the National Endowment for Democracy. Formerly, Latin American labor intervention operations were manipulated by AIFLD, the American Institute for Free Labor Development, which worked hand-in-hand with ORIT, the InterAmerican Regional Labor Organization. Three other AFL-CIO “institutes” operated on other continents. AIFLD operations, strengthened sellout unions and attacked militant unions, paving the way for transnational corporate globalization and influencing regime changes with disastrous results for workers.

An AFL operative, Serafino Romualdi, was a founder of ORIT. His clandestine work in Guatemala, fifty one years ago, was pivotal in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. It resulted, through ensuing decades, in the deaths of uncounted tens of thousands of workers. Romualdi later set up AIFLD, whose work under his protege, William C. Doherty Jr., was critical to the Pinochet putch against democracy in Chile, unleashing terror, torture and death for seventeen years. Over three thousand lives were taken. I fear that US. government manipulations in Venezuela duplicate its work in Chile in 1973.

These issues have been on my mind many years. It began in 1973 when I learned that the AFL-CIO was part of what happened to democracy in Chile. I was outraged – simply outraged. As the facts came clear, I saw that our Federation’s role was fundamental to that coup. It could not have happened without us! In my city, we organized and welcomed hundreds of Chileans from Pinochet concentration camps. They had suffered torture and lost husbands, wives, children and lovers – their lives torn asunder. I told them though their tears that when the U.S. workers learn the grief our AFL-CIO collaboration causes, we would end that treason to the workers and to what we stand for. We’re still working on it and our California resolution against such collaboration may strike a blow at the July AFL-CIO convention.

I mention this hsitory because AIFLD had the same boss-labor collaboration as we see with FEDECAMARAS and the CTV. Bosses from the biggest U.S. corporations with interests in Latin America sat on AIFLD’s Board of Directors. Representatives of the CTV, already a client of AIFLD in the sixties, sat on that same Board with the bosses. A CIA whistle blower identified both Romualdi and Doherty as CIA agents who funneled U.S. federal money into their so-called “solidarity” operations. Of AIFLD’s work, Doherty said: “Our collaboration (with business) takes the form of trying to make the investment climate more attractive and inviting.”

Though discussion of this history has never been welcome in the AFL-CIO, delegates to the 2004 Convention of the California Labor Federation, representing 2.4 million workers demanded unanimously that the AFL-CIO “fully account for what was done in Chile and Venezuela and other countries where similar roles may have been played in our name, and to describe, country by country, exactly what activities it may still be engaged in abroad with funds paid by government agencies and renounce any such ties that could compromise our authentic credibility and the trust of workers here and abroad and that would make us paid agents of government or of the forces of corporate economic globalization.”

Full accountability will be difficult. For example, they’ve ransacked the Chile file. In 1975 Luis Figueroa, head of Chile’s Labor Federation, blamed AIFLD for “fourteen years of treason” in Chile. The record of that fourteen years in the AFL-CIO archives amounts to twenty-four pages of disparate letters and notes.

We had new hope when John Sweeney became AFL-CIO President in 1995. Stanley Gacek, of his International Affairs Department, flatly told us in San Francisco on November 15, 1997 that AFL-CIO work abroad “does not follow a corporate or government agenda.” Today AIFLD and the other institutes are gone, but ACILS still relies on the Bush administration, receiving its cash mostly through NED, the National Endowment for Democracy, for its work, in 40 countriues, including Venezuela. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the law establishing NED admitted in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” (“Rogue State” Bill Blum)

It’s ironic that the word “Solidarity” is in ACILS’ name. Our South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council says: “We believe that international labor solidarity must come from the heart of the workers in one country to the heart of workers in another country – a…reciprocal relationship.” There’s no solidarity when labor becomes a go-between, laundering funds and resources from the Bush administration and passing them to groups abroad. That role is more appropriate for government agents – agents of empire.

In Venezuela, ACILS reflects the policies of George W. Bush and his union busting neoconservative cronies. My union says it is dishonest that “ACILS received a 2002 grant of $116,001, awarded by the NED under Å’the authority contained in P.L. 98-164, as amended…and Grant No. S-L MAOM-02-H-0054 between the United States Department of State and the National Endowment for Democracy..,’ part of $703,927 that had been granted by NED to ACILS between 1997 and 2002 for ACILS’ work in Venezuela. During 2001 NED granted $154,377 to ACILS as part of a massive increase in NED funding that year to $877,000 for activities which coincide directly with the efforts of the Bush administration leading toward the April 11, 2002 coup in oil rich Venezuela”

It shames us that: “according to ACILS’ VENEZUELA: QUARTERLY REPORT 2001-045 January to March 2002, Å’The CTV and FEDECAMARAS…held a national conference on March 5…to identify common objectives as well as areas of cooperation…the culminating event of some two months of meetings and planning…during which the two organizations announced a Å’national accord’…The joint action further established the CTV and FEDECAMARAS as the flagship organizations leading the growing opposition to the Chavez government’” – THIRTY SIX DAYS PRIOR TO THE APRIL 11, 2002 COUP!

My union is offended that ACILS boasts that they “helped to Å’support the event in planning stages, organizing the initial meetings with…FEDECAMARAS… Solidarity Center (ACILS) provided assistance for the five regional preparatory meetings …held between January 22nd and March 1st… The March 5 national conference was financed primarily by counterpart funds,’” ACILS money. Our Labor Council wants to know why “ACILS…is operating…as part of the Bush administration’s drive for regime change in Venezuela, a replay of the Nixon administration’s bloody collusion in crimes in Chile over 30 years ago.”

With this background, there should be no surprise when we learn that AFL-CIO representatives use their influence, in line with the Bush strategy, to promote the false complaint of FEDECAMARAS and their historic ally, the CTV, which went fifty years without a democratic election of leadership.

Bush strategy is to isolate, demonize and destroy the government of Hugo Chavez . They supported and lost the coup, the oil lockout, the Referendum. Now they claim denial of workers Å’ rights. They do what they can to undercut the support given the Chavez government by the Venezuelan working class, led by the UNT. It is the same pattern cut by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and AIFLD in Chile.

FEDECAMARAS’ complaint diverts attention from its criminal and treasonous role in shutting down the oil industry and in the aborted 2002 coup d’etat against an administration which has won the overwhelming support of the people through six faultlessly democratic elections. FEDECAMARAS must hunger to regain lost control of oil and government favors, and CTV must grieve its lost ability to broker the needs of the workers to management and government.

We are heartened that their complaint failed at the March ILO meeting and was postponed. After March, ACILS worked to squeeze the following words from ORIT: “The Congress of CIOSL/ORIT reaffirms its concerns with the complaint against the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela insofar as its practices violate trade union freedoms.” The fact that ORIT’s presiding officer is a Vice President of the AFL-CIO did not hamper ACIL’s efforts to elicit ORIT’s support for the FEDECAMARAS-CTV complaint. Another fact: the President of ORIT along with John Sweeney and various top officers of the AFL-CIO and ACILS take their place in the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy (ACLD). The “Labor Diplomacy” leader is Tom Donahue, formerly President of the AFL-CIO. The role of the State Department and its committees is solely support of the Bush foreign policy – a collaboration as unjustifiable as ORIT’s backup to the FEDECAMARAS’ attack.

My local union twice sent me to Colombia, where I saw our brothers and sisters going about their daily union business in the face of death threats. In 2004 the ILO reported 186 murdered Colombian union leaders. They were assassinated with impunity by paramilitary death squads that work hand-in-glove with the military which receives billions from Bush. I saw desperate fear in the eyes of a Coca Cola worker when he learned his family was menaced by paramilitaries in Bogota. I consoled a woman in Barrancabermeja whose husband, son and son-in-law were cut down in a soccer field massacre a block from her home. A poster on her wall said “make love to fear.” I interviewed a television union representative in Bogota who lost six members of his family.

I have also been part of a solidarity delegation to Caracas and mixed among the members of the UNT to find the most exuberant rank-and-file expressions of democracy and loyalty to unionism that I have ever encountered. Last May Day proved one difference between the UNT and the CTV. While only a few hundred people attended the CTV event, joining in jubilant celebration of International Workers’ Day, the Chicago Martyrs, their own Federation and the Bolivarian Revolution.

The explosion of democracy I witnessed in Venezuela the day of the Referendum last August resonates worldwide. It is an insult to reason that the ILO even considers disciplining Venezuela with a Commission of Inquiry, while the need for ILO attention cries out in bleeding pain from our sisters and brothers in Colombia.

And in the San Francisco Labor Council AFL-CIO, where the delegates meet, with calloused hands and in sweaty work clothes , unlike the calloused souls and fine suits of the AFL-CIO’s foreign service staff, the workers proudly declare that their Council:
“…Opposes the complaint initiated by…FEDECAMARAS…This Complaint has been endorsed and supported by employers’ associations in 23 countries, including the United States…Convening of an ILO Commission of Inquiry is designed to undermine the very progress of the labor movement within present-day Venezuela.

“Today in Venezuela, workers are participating in a democratic, transparent and inclusive process to strengthen the organization of labor groups. The Venezuelan Constitution protects a worker’s right to organize, the freedom of association and collective bargaining.

‘We recognize and respect the right of Venezuelan workers to determine their own processes and procedures in accordance with the ILO mission to promote social justice, human and labor rights.’

The workers in San Francisco note that: “the California Federation of Labor adopted a resolution opposing NED funding by the national AFL-CIO for the purpose of promoting U.S. government policy in Venezuela. Opposition to the ILO Commission of Inquiry on Venezuela by the U.S. labor movement is part of the same struggle to promote a new foreign policy by labor that is independent from U.S. State Department objectives.”

My brothers and sisters, this struggle is not just for Venezuela. The Bush strategy advanced by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV could lead to a new Chile,new Iraq – or worse. It is part of a struggle for our own peace and security and the rights of workers and our families everywhere. When they touch Venezuela, they touch us all.

This false complaint deserves full hearted denunciation by workers and unions worldwide.

BURY THE COMPLAINT!
AN INJURY TO VENEZUELA IS AN INJURY TO ALL!
AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL!
HANDS OFF VENEZUELA!

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