Labor’s China Syndrome


the upcoming AFL-CIO convention in Chicago in July 2005, thousands
of labor activists will stand up to question their president John
Sweeney’s failed labor leadership and his policy of accepting
money from the notorious National Endowment of Democracy (NED),
a supposedly independent private organization, which is fully funded
by the U.S. government and known for its ties to the CIA in many
covert and overt campaigns against other countries. 

many articles have been published focusing on NED’s connections
with U.S. covert operations around the world, few have discussed
NED’s ties to U.S. labor or the connections of AFL-CIO’s
American Center for International Labor Solidarity (commonly
known as Solidarity Center) with NED funding or NED relations with
the CIA’s covert operations against Venezuela or with their
recent covert and overt campaigns against China. 

many labor rank-and-filers, the connections between organized labor
and the U.S. State Department are hard to believe. Behind the scenes
the AFL-CIO does have a very close relationship with certain high-ranking
members of the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence communities and
has directly supported neo-liberal/neo-con policies since World
War II, regardless of who has been in the White House. 

such beneficiary of behind the scenes AFL- CIO support is the Advisory
Committee on Labor Diplomacy (ADLP), a little-known agency of the
State Department. It was created in May 1999, during the Clinton
era, and has become very active since the Bush II presidency. The
ADLP has proclaimed itself to be an “advisor” for the
secretary of state and the president of the United States on the
“resources and policies necessary to implement labor diplomacy
in a manner that ensures U.S. leadership is promoting the objectives
and ideals of U.S. labor policies” (according to its charter). 

to its website, it has several “open to the public” meetings
a year. In addition to John Sweeney, its key committee members include
some of the most right-wing, neo-con, and anti-communist elements
of the U.S. labor movement, including: 

  • Thomas
    R. Donahue

    vice-chair of the NED, former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO
    from 1979 to 1995 and AFL-CIO president in 1995. Donahue is known
    for his close association with the anti-communist right wing of
    U.S. organized labor. 

  • Ray Marshall:

    Board member of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID), which
    is comprised mainly of intellectual members of the anti-communist,
    neo-conservative coalition. 

  • John Joyce:

    member of the Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America,
    better known as PRODEMCA, founded in late 1981. According to its
    promotional literature, the organization was established in order
    to support “incipient democratic processes” in Central
    America. Its projects have focused primarily on Nicaragua, especially
    on the construction of anti-Sandinista media and public relations
    campaigns, and on support for the political opposition inside
    Nicaragua. In carrying out these campaigns, PRODEMCA relied on
    funding from Carl Channell’s National Endowment for the Preservation
    of Liberty (NEPL). NEPL was one of the important conduits for
    funds from the contra supply network coordinated by Oliver North.
    Joyce is also the chair of the AFL- CIO’s Military Affairs
    Committee and is on the USO World Board of Governors. 

  • Frank P.

    Former executive vice president of the General Electric Company.
    He is also a board member of the United States Council for International
    Business (USCIB), a powerful elite business trade group promoting
    neoliberal policies. 

  • Anthony G.

    Washington Office of the International Labor Organization
    (ILO). Between 1983 to 1992 he served as coordinator for International
    Labor Affairs at the Agency for International Development and
    was special assistant to three secretaries of state. ILO was known
    for their close ties with the CIA in launching covert operations
    to overthrow foreign governments under the guise of “humanitarian
    aid” to Central America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. 

  • William Lucy:

    Secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, an AFL-CIO executive council member,
    oversees the International Affairs Department (IAD) for the executive
    council. The IAD, along with the Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC),
    was historically known for its adherence to a militant anti-communism,
    which aligned it with the long-term political objectives of Washington.
    Last May, AFL-CIO announced they will close the IAD office in
    Washington, DC.

Labor Imperialism 


much of its history, the AFL-CIO and other U.S. labor organizations
have worked with CIA and multi-national corporations to overthrow
the democratically-elected governments, collaborated with dictators
against progressive labor movements, supported reactionary labor
movements against progressive governments, worked with corporate
America to organize racist and protectionist campaigns against foreign
countries, and encouraged racist campaigns against immigrant workers. 

When John Sweeney became the AFL-CIO president in 1995, he promised
to end former President Lane Kirkland’s legacy of connections
between labor and the CIA and created the Solidarity Center in 1997
to foster a new era of international labor solidarity. But the Center,
supposedly a pro-labor organization, is one of the four major grant
recipients of money from the NED, along with three other key right-wing
neo-con think-tanks. The others are: the Center for International
Private Enterprise (CIPE), the International Republican Institute
(IRI), and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs

These four groups make for a strange combination of purpose: labor
rights, free enterprise, right-wing Republican “values,”
neo-con and neo-liberal economic policies. Yet, just like the anti-communist
cold warriors of the past, this new generation’s labor/far
right alliance works against progressive labor movements around
the world, supporting multinational corporate interests while wearing
a mask of “liberal-left labor activism.” Solidarity Center
uses the NED grant money to create ideological guidance and logistical
support for activist labor groups and anti-globalization movements
across the country, promoting “international labor campaigns”
with hidden CIA and U.S. government agendas. 

One such example: during the recent failed U.S.-backed Venezuela
military coup in April 2002, according to an April 25, 2002 report

New York Times

’ Christopher Marquis, the Solidarity
Center received $154,377 from NED to give to the Confederation of
Venezuela Workers (CTV), the union that led the work stoppages that
galvanized the opposition to Chávez’s government. The
CTV’s leader, Carlos Ortega, is known to have worked closely
with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessperson behind the failed
coup attempt to overthrow President Chávez. 

According to a March 11, 2004


article by Juan Forero,
prior to the coup, the NED channeled nearly $350,000 to the Solidarity
Center and the international wings of the Republican and Democratic
parties—the International Republican Institute, and the National
Democratic Institute for International Affairs—that ran workshops
and training sessions and offered advice to three Venezuelan political
parties—Democratic Action, Copei, and First Justice—as
well as the CTV union. 

Solidarity Center’s operations in Venezuela, far from benefitting
labor in any way, are focused solely on overthrowing the democratically
elected president of Venezuela, who is seen by the U.S. as an enemy,
and on protecting the interests of U.S. multinational corporations
(in this case, oil companies) with the covert help of the AFL-CIO.
So long as no U.S. jobs are lost, Solidarity Center maintains silence
with regard to its role in the Venezuela debacle. 

In contrast with the secretive AFL-CIO Venezuela operations, attacks
on China are open and above- board. Many union leaders have pandered
to the protectionist sentiments of their members instead of educating
them on the need for international solidarity against corporate
rule. At a time when U.S. corporations are shipping jobs overseas,
instead of holding the corporations and the government policy accountable,
big labor chooses to work with the very corporations responsible
for the U.S. job losses and participates in blindly attacking China
as a job stealing, union busting monster, at the expense of members
of the working class on both sides of the ocean. 

Big labor’s
China bashing campaign is nothing new. Historically, with a few
notable exceptions, most union and federation leaders do not base
their policies and actions on furthering class solidarity, but instead
follow the path of least resistance to achieve dubious short-term
goals. Their periodic outbursts of racism and protectionism, such
as direly-worded warnings against immigration and the industries
abroad that dare to compete with U.S. companies, follow in a direct
line from the U.S.’s 19th century anti-China campaigns and
the Chinese Exclusion Act, both brought to us courtesy of U.S. big

A new right-wing/labor
alliance against China is emerging and this alliance is hijacking
the labor and anti-globalization movements in order to attack China.
Even today, the AFL-CIO and its president, John Sweeney, maintain
a policy of refusing to meet and talk with the All-China Confederation
of Trade Unions (ACFTU, which has approximately eight times as many
members as does the AFL-CIO) on the grounds that it is a puppet
of the Chinese Communist Party. 

As many labor activists
are aware, the biggest problem of labor’s cold war against
China is not labor’s failing effort to protect U.S. jobs, it
is that labor has been co-opted into becoming a front for U.S. multinational
corporations’ ambitions to control China, with grants from
NED to achieve it. 

According to the
latest information on the NED website, in 2003 it gave $3,413,163
to 26 projects related to China. The Solidarity Center receives
only a tiny portion of these funds ($65,160, or 1.91 percent); the
majority of the funding for labor’s China campaign comes from
different AFL-CIO member organizations. However, the biggest current
project in labor’s campaign against China is not an attempt
to protect U.S. jobs, it is the formation of a mysterious coalition
to protect U.S. currency. 

The China Currency
Coalition is “an alliance of industry, agriculture, and worker
organizations whose mission is to support U.S. manufacturing by
seeking an end to Chinese currency manipulation and forcing China
to devalue its currency” (according to their website). 

Members of the
Coalition come from organized labor, business, and trade groups,
and neo-con/neo-liberal think-tanks. Forcing China to raise the
value of the Yuan and thus make it more costly to buy Chinese products,
in order to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, will obviously
not have the desired effect of forcing manufacturers to relocate
manufacturing jobs back to “cheaper” U.S. factories. Such
a strategy is completely unrealistic, but the few voices in the
western media who recognize this seem unable to prevent leaders
of big unions from joining with big business to lobby Congress. 

Who will be the
beneficiary if China is made to revaluate its currency? Certainly
not U.S. and Chinese working people. Many economists point out that
the biggest winner in such a scenario would be Wall Street currency
speculators who have been sending billions of dollars in “hot
money” to Hong Kong and China, waiting to profit handsomely
from the possible revaluation. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis
it is estimated that currency speculators like George Soros and
others pocketed millions, even billions, of dollars from the Asia
currency devaluations at the expense of Asian people’s life

All this is not
to say that the Solidarity Center doesn’t do some good work,
but with its acceptance of NED money and the AFL-CIO’s right-wing
policies, it’s not helping the working class across the world
advance labor rights or fight for a better life for workers. Rather,
Solidarity Center’s activities, covert and overt, serve the
opposite goal: to prolong the oppression of working people and to
promote the interests of multinational corporations and U.S. government. 

Siu Hin is an activist living in California.