The American Center for International Labor Solidarity (Solidarity Center) receives 90% (nearly $30 million) of its annual revenue from U.S. government agencies, but less than 2% ($600,000) from the AFL-CIO, the presumed owner of the organization.
Solidarity Center was established by the AFL-CIO in 1997 to help labor federations around the world work together to combat aggressive multinational corporations. Instead, it has become a virtual subsidiary of the U.S. State Department.
While the Solidarity Center keeps its relations with the U.S government secret, it surely must pay a price to the government for the millions of dollars it receives to keep it in operation. The State Department is not known for zeal in promoting international labor solidarity. It requires other advantages, which Solidarity Center seems eager to supply.
It may explain why AFL-CIO President John Sweeney ordered a blackout of any criticism, or even mention of President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, despite mounting public criticism. Even in the final days of the 2004 presidential election, when Bush was particularly vulnerable on his foreign policy, Sweeney saw to it that AFL-CIO unions maintained their strict silence.
The Solidarity Center played an important role in the Bush administration’s efforts to overthrow the elected government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. It served as a conduit for the conservative National Endowment for Democracy to deliver $154,377 to Carlos Ortega, president of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CVT), who called mass work stoppages to undermine the Chavez government.
Available records show that even after the failed coup, the National Endowment for Democracy contributed $116,000 to Solidarity Center every three months, from September 2002 to March 2004. In return, the Center was required to submit five quarterly reports containing information that its benefactors wanted.
Solidarity Center has offices and staff in at least 26 countries that include Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Croatia, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. American workers have no idea why Solidarity Center should be in these countries or how their presence serves the cause of international labor.
The truth is that Solidarity Center is there to act as the eyes and ears of the U.S. State Department and to try to manipulate local labor movements in behalf of American government policies and corporate interests, so that it could play the same role it played in Venezuela.
The Center spends large amounts of money and time cultivating a select group of foreign labor leaders, inviting them to Washington to spend three months educating them in the principles of American democracy and the free market economy. The more prominent ones may receive a stipend or financial assistance to their unions or whatever will help make them a friend of American labor and the U.S. government, especially in a crisis, as in Venezuela.
No one takes Solidarity Center’s wildly exaggerated claims for its achievements seriously. Here’s a sample: “The Solidarity Center is preventing and resolving conflicts worldwide by breaking down race and class barriers, building relations that can bridge ethnic and racial divides and providing training and education that give workers needed job skills and the opportunity for a better future.”
When are we going to reclaim the Solidarity Center for the purpose it was originally formed: to help build international labor solidarity in an era of globalization?
Our weekly “LaborTalk” and “The World of Labor”columns can be viewed at our Web site: www.laboreducator.org. Harry Kelber’s e-mail address is: email@example.com.