AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders are helping develop U.S. State Department policy regarding labor through an initiative called the Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy (ACLD). AFL-CIO leaders have participated in ACLD since its beginning in May 1999.
Top AFL-CIO officials have been involved in the committee, including John Sweeney and Linda Chavez-Thompson, as well as William Lucy, Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME, an AFL-CIO Executive Council Member, and oversees the International Affairs Department (IAD) for the Executive Council. Former AFL-CIO President (and long-time Secretary-Treasurer), and Board Member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Thomas R. Donahue, chairs the ACLD. Another participant from Labor is the former President (1979-1999) of the Bricklayers, John Joyce.
In addition, Barbara Shailor, Director of IAD; Philip Fishman, Assistant Director of the IAD; and Harry Kamberis, Executive Director of the Solidarity Center (also known as the American Center for International Labor Solidarity) have each attended regularly as “Members of the Public.” In fact, of the six meetings held since October 4, 2001, Sweeney and Kamberis have each attended all six meetings; Lucy, Joyce and Fishman, four out of six; Shailor, three; and Chavez-Thompson, one out of six. The ACLD is obviously a major project for AFL-CIO foreign policy leaders.
The ACLD is an effort to restore a process in the State Department known as “Labor Diplomacy.” In reading reports and meeting minutes from its website, it is clear that the State Department is using U.S. labor leaders to help them target overseas unions for political purposes-and that these labor leaders readily and actively participate. It is the State Department through which funding for the so-called National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is channeled, although there is no mention of this connection on the AFL-CIO website.
(For more background, see my expose of AFL-CIO operations in regard to the Venezuelan coup in April 2002, which were funded by the NED, in the April 2004 issue of Labor Notes; and for the rebuke of AFL-CIO foreign operations by the California State AFL-CIO, see the September 2004 issue of Labor Notes.)
These labor leaders have helped prepare and adopt two reports to the Secretary of State. The September 2000 report focused on the importance of labor diplomacy, suggested ways to institutionally support such efforts within the State Department, and promoted worker rights in the context of economic globalization. The second report, submitted in December 2001, was titled “Labor Diplomacy: In the Service of Democracy and Security.” This latter report focused on “the role of labor diplomacy in promoting U.S. national security and combating the global political, economic and social conditions that undermine our security interests.”
There is a lot of talk within these reports of the importance of labor rights and democracy but, as can be quickly seen, workers’ rights anywhere are only important if they help advance U.S. security. While great concern is expressed again and again in the report for US national security, concern for the well-being of the world’s workers and any possible expressions of mutually beneficial, solidarity-based action by the AFL-CIO are all-but-absent. This is not a good basis for building international labor solidarity.
The AFL-CIO leaders do not question U.S. foreign policy at all — see Office of the White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html — nor do they question the billions of dollars being spent on the invasion of Iraq.
Only the affiliated national and international unions can decide if this is acceptable or not. But at a time when labor is in crisis, when the times call for truly inspired leadership, working with the Bush Administration or any other against workers in the U.S. and around the world, seems to be shortsighted at best.
Kim Scipes is a former rank-and-file member of the Graphic Communications International Union, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers, is currently a member of the National Writers Union/UAW. He currently teaches sociology at Purdue University North Central and can be contacted at email@example.com. He thanks Chris Townsend, a national level staff member of the United Electrical (UE) workers, who alerted him to the existence of the ACLD.