U.S. Labors Own Central Intelligence Agency
Reviewed by Bob Mattingly
Workers of the World Undermined:
By Beth Sims, South End Press, Boston, MA, 1992. $9.00, paper.
Like many leftists the author had become distressed by the labor federations known or suspected foreign policies and overseas activities. Her research turned-up a network of labor operations intertwined with the foreign policy apparatus of the U.S. government More specifically, the foreign arms of the AFL-CIO, often called institutes, have historically provided a channel through which the CIA could penetrate foreign labor sectors. They have offered a useful cover for intelligence operatives and supported undercover operations. Additionally, AFL-CIO operatives have been identified as intelligence agents who operated with the direct assistance of U.S. embassies and the CIA overseas.
One wonders then in what sense does the labor federation remain a private, independent organization of workers? Whats certain is that the organization doesnt finance much of its overseas labor operations. Sims reports that Washington paymasters finance just under 100 percent of the AFL-CIOs foreign operations. Current estimates of Washington payments for the AFL-CIOs overseas operations are about $15,000,000 a year. But it seems reasonable to suspect that not all monies and assignments are honestly recorded. Sims writes that before the 1955 merger with the CIO, AFL president George Meany headed a labor advisory program that operated out of the State Department, citing The Political Role of International Trades Unions (1983) by Gary K. Busch.
Ms. Sims tries her hardest to present a balanced account of her findings, and notes that the AFL-CIO is [not] always a stooge for big business, and the federations union-building activities do help favored unions fight economistic (sic) battles against particular employers. Still, a page later she reports that the federation and its institutions have sabotaged workers unity, promoted conservative and apolitical trade unions, and built parallel unions to sap the strength of more broad-based and progressive labor organizations.
For example, in June 1986 the White House asked for and got the AFL-CIOs help to deal with the presence of radical labor unions [in Haiti] and the high risk that other unions may become radicalized. But Sims rightly notes that the radicalization of the Haitian labor force seems a quite reasonable response to Haitis dire poverty The federation also helped set-up a Haitian labor body, a cosmetic formality that permitted Haitian and U.S. assembly plants duty free access to the U.S. market under the U.S. sponsored Caribbean Basin Initiative.
Following the 1983 U. S. invasion of Grenada, says Sims, a U.S. team recommended that an AFL-CIO institute should assume responsibility for restructuring and training the nations unions. Redirecting union radicalism and strengthening democratic labor leaders were the objectives of the program. In Chile, during the CIA-backed coup that murdered the nations president, Salvador Allende, the federations institute-trained communications and maritime workers kept lines open for the military. In addition to Latin America, Ms. Sims briefly discusses the federations worldwide foreign affairs and dealings.
Foreign policy and business unionism
Ms. Sims concludes that the federations perspective on foreign policy is deeply rooted in its domestic practice of business unionism. She doesnt attempt to explain at length the development of business unionism or the organically associated profound bureaucratization of American unions; but she knows business unionism when she sees it, when she cites a statement given congress by a then top federation official (William Doherty) that sums up the unions chief occupation overseas and, come to think of it, at home. Our collaboration [with business] takes the form of trying to make the investment climate more attractive and more inviting. Union negotiators mean the same thing when they warn workers not to demand too much, not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, not to snivel about take-aways and be grateful that the union got them a job.
When John J. Sweeneys New Voice slate replaced the Kirkland/Donahue administration, many progressives felt that for the first time in many years, they had some space to participate in and rally support for the policies of the AFL-CIO. Perhaps those progressives still think that way. But suspicions about the AFL-CIOs current activities in Venezuela are strengthening doubts of other labor lefts who from the first counseled waiting to see if the New Voice slates actions aligned with their words.