On March 6th, over 50 union members from several unions and activist allies picketed the headquarters of the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC. This was to demand that the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center immediately break off all ties with the misnamed National Endowment for Democracy or NED.
The NED is a leading component of the US Government’s efforts to maintain the US Empire, and the Solidarity Center is one of the NED’s four “core institutes,” along with the international wing of the Republican Party, the international wing of the Democratic Party, and the international wing of the US Chamber of Commerce. Involvement with the NED is one of the AFL-CIO national leaders’ efforts to use the name of American workers to undercut workers’ efforts around the world, while never informing rank and file members (and many of our leaders) of such practices.
This demonstration was the latest development in a series of actions that have placed increasing pressure on the AFL-CIO’s national-level foreign policy leadership. Labor activists have been working for years to transform the AFL-CIO’s foreign policy program from serving as “labor imperialism” to becoming a force for genuine international labor solidarity. To date, the AFL-CIO foreign policy leadership has refused to make such a change.
Changes from previous activities that were charged as being “labor imperialism” appeared to have been made upon John Sweeney’s assumption of the Presidency in October 1995. However, documented Solidarity Center activities in Venezuela established conclusively that the Solidarity Center was involved in bringing together its long-time right wing ally, the CTV (Workers Confederation of Venezuela), with the national business confederation, FEDECAMARAS, just prior to the attempted coup against democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez in April 2002: CTV and FEDECAMARAS leaders played prominent roles in the coup attempt. [This was a process that was very similar to AIFLD's (American Institute for Free Labor Development-the AFL-CIO's then-Latin American affiliate) operations in Chile in 1972-73, just before the coup against democratically-elected President Salvador Allende that led to the death of thousands and the establishment of the Pinochet Dictatorship.] Besides copies of reports of activities to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) about their activities in Venezuela, researchers found that the NED had provided the Solidarity Center with over $700,000 between 1997 and 2002 for its work in Venezuela. (See www.labornotes.org/archives/2004/04/articles/e.html .)
A resolution was passed unanimously by the 2.4 million member California AFL-CIO in July 2004 in its State Convention that condemned the AFL-CIO foreign policy program. Its “Build Unity and Trust with Workers Worldwide” resolution was forwarded to the AFL-CIO for the 2005 National Convention in Chicago. (See www.uslaboragainstwar.org/article.php?id=6394 .)
A detailed discussion of the AFL-CIO foreign policy program under Sweeney was published in May 2005. It concluded, “In short, there are good reasons to believe that under AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, labor’s foreign policy has reverted back to ‘traditional’ labor imperialism” (www.monthlyreview.org/0505scipes.htm .)
Following that, an in-depth report concerning the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its work in Venezuela was published in July 2005. This article also explained the Solidarity Center’s relationship with the NED. (See www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?sectionID=19&itemID=8268 .)
However, AFL-CIO national-level leadership worked to ensure that the California AFL-CIO’s “Build Unity and Trust” resolution would not reach the convention floor unimpeded. (See www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?sectionID=19&itemID=8150 .) Over 100 union members and our allies-a joint project of the Latin American Solidarity Committee and its Chicago affiliate, Organizing Group to Say No to the NED-demonstrated at Chicago’s Navy Pier on the hottest day of the year, urging support for “Build Unity and Trust,” and then marched over to the Sheraton Hotel, which was the headquarters for the Convention. Needless to say, the demonstration was ignored by AFL-CIO leaders. And then, on the Convention floor, Sweeney ally Gerald McEntee of AFSCME, refused to let speakers support the California resolution (www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?sectionID=19&itemID=8421 .)
Subsequently, Jeb Sprague has reported that the Solidarity Center had been operating in Haiti. They had passed on almost $100,000 to Batay Ouvriye Labor Center, an organization that had not opposed the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Sprague, however, had not claimed that Batay had been involved in the coup, which had been led by the United States, France and Canada. (See http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/scipes250106.html .)
The Washington demonstration on March 6 was a continuation of a campaign to force the Solidarity Center to break all ties with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Out of the National Solidarity Conference with Venezuela that took place in DC on March 4-5, union members and activists had launched the Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee, to mobilize support within AFL-CIO affiliated unions to break all ties with the reactionary NED.
The Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee initiated a demonstration in front of the National Endowment for Democracy offices on 15th Street. Interestingly, despite several contacts, the Washington Post refused to cover the demonstration, even though the NED offices are literally just across the street. A very spirited rally was held for over an hour on March 6th.
However, a suggestion was made that we should go to “another end of the funding pipeline,” and that was when the demonstration moved about four blocks to the AFL-CIO headquarters. Marchers were significantly present, and with a bullhorn, were able to adequately convey their demands that the AFL-CIO cut all ties with the NED. AFL-CIO leaders were said to be “outraged,” and apparently tried to get one participant fired from his union staffer job in an affiliated union, although to no avail. Needless to say, no AFL-CIO or Solidarity Center leader spoke to the protestors, although they had a building guard threaten a protestor carrying a Venezuelan flag who had stepped close to the building. Protestors took down their picket line after about 40 minutes of loud chanting and speeches.
There will be a special meeting sponsored by the Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee on Saturday evening at this year’s Labor Notes convention, May 5-7, 2006, in Dearborn, MI-see www.labornotes.org . Under the title, “International Labor Solidarity or Labor Imperialism?,” members will briefly share developments with others present and seek to expand participation in the Committee, as the next step in developing the campaign to end all AFL-CIO connections with the NED. More information can be obtained beforehand from the Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee at [email protected] . A web site is in the process of being developed to enhance communication, and hopefully, its launching will be announced at the meeting.
(Although most of the references above are to my own work, many of them contain references to the wide number of materials developed by a growing number of authors. Details are contained in many of the above-referenced articles, which can be downloaded from the Internet.)
Kim Scipes is a member of the National Writers Union and a long-time global labor activist in the US. He currently teaches sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana. His on-line bibliography on “Contemporary Labor Issues” can be accessed at http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes/LaborBib.htm. He can be reached at [email protected].