AFL-CIO Foreign Policy in Venezuela
by Fred Hirsch
[Speech made at a Labor Assembly
in Geneva, June12, 2005]
ZNet, June 18, 2005
Brothers, Sisters, Friends and Comrades
in the unending struggle for the rights of workers, equality,
peace and democracy,
Thank you for this great honor of speaking
here today with such a working class international assembly. I
come to you with letters of representation from my own union,
Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 in San Jose, California, the South
Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in San Jose, and the San Francisco Labor
Council. I am pleased beyond words to have been invited to participate
here by leaders of the Union Nacional de Trabajadores de Venezuela
(UNT) (Venezuelas' National Workers Union) - to join them in their
struggle against the complaint raised by the joint voice of FEDECAMARAS,
the Federation of Chambers of Commerce in Venezuela and the CTV,
that nation's old labor federation. Their boss-union collaboration
is a marriage that could never be heaven blessed and can only
be consummated in a warmer, subterranean climate.
I am Vice President of a 2500 member
local union of pipe trades workers. I'm a plumber by trade, retired
after thirty eight years as a rank-and-file worker in construction.
I'm not a scholar. I have no university degrees, but for many
years I have and worked on the issue of AFL-CIO intervention in
the political and trade union life of sovereign nations, with
most attention to the effect on workers and their organizations
in Latin America. Whatever other factors may be involved, the
FEDECAMARAS-CTV collusion against the UNT and the Bolivarian Republic,
led President Hugo Chavez, is an ugly outgrowth of intervention
by ACILS, the AFL-CIO's American Center for International Labor
Solidarity subsidized by the Bush administration, whose policy,
in Venezuela, it parallels.
For over fifty years the interventionist work of the AFL-CIO has
been financed by agencies of the U.S. Government. Among those
agencies are the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of
State, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Agency for International
Development and some other agencies. In recent years, most ACILS
funding comes from U.S. taxpayers through NED, the National Endowment
for Democracy. Formerly, Latin American labor intervention operations
were manipulated by AIFLD, the American Institute for Free Labor
Development, which worked hand-in-hand with ORIT, the InterAmerican
Regional Labor Organization. Three other AFL-CIO "institutes"
operated on other continents. AIFLD operations, strengthened sellout
unions and attacked militant unions, paving the way for transnational
corporate globalization and influencing regime changes with disastrous
results for workers.
An AFL operative, Serafino Romualdi,
was a founder of ORIT. His clandestine work in Guatemala, fifty
one years ago, was pivotal in the overthrow of the democratically
elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. It resulted, through ensuing
decades, in the deaths of uncounted tens of thousands of workers.
Romualdi later set up AIFLD, whose work under his protege, William
C. Doherty Jr., was critical to the Pinochet putch against democracy
in Chile, unleashing terror, torture and death for seventeen years.
Over three thousand lives were taken. I fear that US. government
manipulations in Venezuela duplicate its work in Chile in 1973.
These issues have been on my mind many
years. It began in 1973 when I learned that the AFL-CIO was part
of what happened to democracy in Chile. I was outraged - simply
outraged. As the facts came clear, I saw that our Federation's
role was fundamental to that coup. It could not have happened
without us! In my city, we organized and welcomed hundreds of
Chileans from Pinochet concentration camps. They had suffered
torture and lost husbands, wives, children and lovers - their
lives torn asunder. I told them though their tears that when the
U.S. workers learn the grief our AFL-CIO collaboration causes,
we would end that treason to the workers and to what we stand
for. We're still working on it and our California resolution against
such collaboration may strike a blow at the July AFL-CIO convention.
I mention this hsitory because AIFLD
had the same boss-labor collaboration as we see with FEDECAMARAS
and the CTV. Bosses from the biggest U.S. corporations with interests
in Latin America sat on AIFLD's Board of Directors. Representatives
of the CTV, already a client of AIFLD in the sixties, sat on that
same Board with the bosses. A CIA whistle blower identified both
Romualdi and Doherty as CIA agents who funneled U.S. federal money
into their so-called "solidarity" operations. Of AIFLD's
work, Doherty said: "Our collaboration (with business) takes
the form of trying to make the investment climate more attractive
Though discussion of this history has
never been welcome in the AFL-CIO, delegates to the 2004 Convention
of the California Labor Federation, representing 2.4 million workers
demanded unanimously that the AFL-CIO "fully account for
what was done in Chile and Venezuela and other countries where
similar roles may have been played in our name, and to describe,
country by country, exactly what activities it may still be engaged
in abroad with funds paid by government agencies and renounce
any such ties that could compromise our authentic credibility
and the trust of workers here and abroad and that would make us
paid agents of government or of the forces of corporate economic
Full accountability will be difficult.
For example, they've ransacked the Chile file. In 1975 Luis Figueroa,
head of Chile's Labor Federation, blamed AIFLD for "fourteen
years of treason" in Chile. The record of that fourteen years
in the AFL-CIO archives amounts to twenty-four pages of disparate
letters and notes.
We had new hope when John Sweeney became
AFL-CIO President in 1995. Stanley Gacek, of his International
Affairs Department, flatly told us in San Francisco on November
15, 1997 that AFL-CIO work abroad "does not follow a corporate
or government agenda." Today AIFLD and the other institutes
are gone, but ACILS still relies on the Bush administration, receiving
its cash mostly through NED, the National Endowment for Democracy,
for its work, in 40 countriues, including Venezuela. Allen Weinstein,
who helped draft the law establishing NED admitted in 1991: "A
lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the
CIA." ("Rogue State" Bill Blum)
It's ironic that the word "Solidarity"
is in ACILS' name. Our South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council says: "We
believe that international labor solidarity must come from the
heart of the workers in one country to the heart of workers in
another country - a...reciprocal relationship." There's no
solidarity when labor becomes a go-between, laundering funds and
resources from the Bush administration and passing them to groups
abroad. That role is more appropriate for government agents -
agents of empire.
In Venezuela, ACILS reflects the policies
of George W. Bush and his union busting neoconservative cronies.
My union says it is dishonest that "ACILS received a 2002
grant of $116,001, awarded by the NED under the authority contained
in P.L. 98-164, as amended...and Grant No. S-L MAOM-02-H-0054
between the United States Department of State and the National
Endowment for Democracy..,' part of $703,927 that had been granted
by NED to ACILS between 1997 and 2002 for ACILS' work in Venezuela.
During 2001 NED granted $154,377 to ACILS as part of a massive
increase in NED funding that year to $877,000 for activities which
coincide directly with the efforts of the Bush administration
leading toward the April 11, 2002 coup in oil rich Venezuela"
It shames us that: "according to
ACILS' VENEZUELA: QUARTERLY REPORT 2001-045 January to March 2002,
The CTV and FEDECAMARAS...held a national conference on March
5...to identify common objectives as well as areas of cooperation...the
culminating event of some two months of meetings and planning...during
which the two organizations announced a national accord'...The
joint action further established the CTV and FEDECAMARAS as the
flagship organizations leading the growing opposition to the Chavez
government'" - THIRTY SIX DAYS PRIOR TO THE APRIL 11, 2002
My union is offended that ACILS boasts
that they "helped to support the event in planning stages,
organizing the initial meetings with...FEDECAMARAS... Solidarity
Center (ACILS) provided assistance for the five regional preparatory
meetings ...held between January 22nd and March 1st... The March
5 national conference was financed primarily by counterpart funds,'"
ACILS money. Our Labor Council wants to know why "ACILS...is
operating...as part of the Bush administration's drive for regime
change in Venezuela, a replay of the Nixon administration's bloody
collusion in crimes in Chile over 30 years ago."
With this background, there should be
no surprise when we learn that AFL-CIO representatives use their
influence, in line with the Bush strategy, to promote the false
complaint of FEDECAMARAS and their historic ally, the CTV, which
went fifty years without a democratic election of leadership.
Bush strategy is to isolate, demonize
and destroy the government of Hugo Chavez . They supported and
lost the coup, the oil lockout, the Referendum. Now they claim
denial of workers rights. They do what they can to undercut the
support given the Chavez government by the Venezuelan working
class, led by the UNT. It is the same pattern cut by Richard Nixon,
Henry Kissinger and AIFLD in Chile.
FEDECAMARAS' complaint diverts attention
from its criminal and treasonous role in shutting down the oil
industry and in the aborted 2002 coup d'etat against an administration
which has won the overwhelming support of the people through six
faultlessly democratic elections. FEDECAMARAS must hunger to regain
lost control of oil and government favors, and CTV must grieve
its lost ability to broker the needs of the workers to management
We are heartened that their complaint
failed at the March ILO meeting and was postponed. After March,
ACILS worked to squeeze the following words from ORIT: "The
Congress of CIOSL/ORIT reaffirms its concerns with the complaint
against the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
insofar as its practices violate trade union freedoms." The
fact that ORIT's presiding officer is a Vice President of the
AFL-CIO did not hamper ACIL's efforts to elicit ORIT's support
for the FEDECAMARAS-CTV complaint. Another fact: the President
of ORIT along with John Sweeney and various top officers of the
AFL-CIO and ACILS take their place in the U.S. State Department's
Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy (ACLD). The "Labor
Diplomacy" leader is Tom Donahue, formerly President of the
AFL-CIO. The role of the State Department and its committees is
solely support of the Bush foreign policy - a collaboration as
unjustifiable as ORIT's backup to the FEDECAMARAS' attack.
My local union twice sent me to Colombia,
where I saw our brothers and sisters going about their daily union
business in the face of death threats. In 2004 the ILO reported
186 murdered Colombian union leaders. They were assassinated with
impunity by paramilitary death squads that work hand-in-glove
with the military which receives billions from Bush. I saw desperate
fear in the eyes of a Coca Cola worker when he learned his family
was menaced by paramilitaries in Bogota. I consoled a woman in
Barrancabermeja whose husband, son and son-in-law were cut down
in a soccer field massacre a block from her home. A poster on
her wall said "make love to fear." I interviewed a television
union representative in Bogota who lost six members of his family.
I have also been part of a solidarity
delegation to Caracas and mixed among the members of the UNT to
find the most exuberant rank-and-file expressions of democracy
and loyalty to unionism that I have ever encountered. Last May
Day proved one difference between the UNT and the CTV. While only
a few hundred people attended the CTV event, joining in jubilant
celebration of International Workers' Day, the Chicago Martyrs,
their own Federation and the Bolivarian Revolution.
The explosion of democracy I witnessed
in Venezuela the day of the Referendum last August resonates worldwide.
It is an insult to reason that the ILO even considers disciplining
Venezuela with a Commission of Inquiry, while the need for ILO
attention cries out in bleeding pain from our sisters and brothers
And in the San Francisco Labor Council
AFL-CIO, where the delegates meet, with calloused hands and in
sweaty work clothes , unlike the calloused souls and fine suits
of the AFL-CIO's foreign service staff, the workers proudly declare
that their Council:
"...Opposes the complaint initiated by...FEDECAMARAS...This
Complaint has been endorsed and supported by employers' associations
in 23 countries, including the United States...Convening of an
ILO Commission of Inquiry is designed to undermine the very progress
of the labor movement within present-day Venezuela.
"Today in Venezuela, workers are
participating in a democratic, transparent and inclusive process
to strengthen the organization of labor groups. The Venezuelan
Constitution protects a worker's right to organize, the freedom
of association and collective bargaining.
'We recognize and respect the right of
Venezuelan workers to determine their own processes and procedures
in accordance with the ILO mission to promote social justice,
human and labor rights.'
The workers in San Francisco note that:
"the California Federation of Labor adopted a resolution
opposing NED funding by the national AFL-CIO for the purpose of
promoting U.S. government policy in Venezuela. Opposition to the
ILO Commission of Inquiry on Venezuela by the U.S. labor movement
is part of the same struggle to promote a new foreign policy by
labor that is independent from U.S. State Department objectives."
My brothers and sisters, this struggle
is not just for Venezuela. The Bush strategy advanced by FEDECAMARAS
and the CTV could lead to a new Chile,new Iraq - or worse. It
is part of a struggle for our own peace and security and the rights
of workers and our families everywhere. When they touch Venezuela,
they touch us all.
This false complaint deserves full hearted
denunciation by workers and unions worldwide.
BURY THE COMPLAINT!
AN INJURY TO VENEZUELA IS AN INJURY TO ALL!
AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL!
HANDS OFF VENEZUELA!
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