Is Cosatu playing with the devil?
Investigating the AFL-CIO and
its Solidarity Center [in South Africa]
[and National Endowment for Democracy
by Kim Scipes
The AFL-CIO, the major labour center of
the United States, has an office of its Solidarity Center in Johannesburg.
There is no American trade unionist outside of the highest levels
of foreign policy leadership that has the slightest idea of why
the Solidarity Center is in South Africa, or what it is doing
there. Yet the Solidarity Center uses the fact that Cosatu works
with them to undercut American union criticisms of the reactionary
foreign policy of the AFL-CIO (AFL). The question must be asked:
is Cosatu playing with the Devil?
AFL-CIO history of imperialism
The AFL has long had an imperialist foreign
policy. This goes back to its predecessor in the 19 -teens, the
American Federation of Labour (AFL) when under President Samuel
Gompers, the AFL intervened in the Mexican Revolution (1911-1917).
The AFL worked hard to build support for the Allies during World
War I, and pushed the US Government to intervene. Later, Gompers
and the AFL played central roles in the development of US foreign
policy against the Soviet Union.
In the post-World War II period the US
labour movement, first under the AFL and then, after 1955 when
the American Federation of Labour merged with the Congress of
Industrial Organizations to become the AFL-CIO, has been extremely
active internationally. It has helped overthrow democratically-elected
governments in Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964) and Chile (1973).
It has supported reactionary labour movements that have propped
up dictatorships in El Salvador, Indonesia, the Philippines, South
Korea, Guatemala, Brazil and Chile after coups. It has undermined
progressive governments in British Guyana (1963), Nicaragua (1980s),
and Haiti under the first Aristide government in the early 1990s.
It also undercut the new trade unions and the anti-apartheid movement
in South Africa until 1986 when it began to see the writing on
the wall and decided to support Cosatu.
In 1995, the AFL held its first contested
presidential election in 40 years of existence. John Sweeney,
an insurgent, won and has served as president since then.
Foreign policy was one factor that led
to Sweeney's election. He used a language different from the
traditional anti-communism of predecessors George Meany and Lane
Kirkland, and argued for international solidarity. He restructured
the AFL's foreign policy apparatus and combined previously semi-autonomous
operations in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Western Europe into
a centrally-controlled American Center for International Labour
Solidarity (ACILS) or in popular terminology, the "Solidarity
Center." He appointed a then- progressive to head the AFL's
International Affairs Department, Barbara Shailor. It looked
like the foreign policy of the AFL had been transformed into something
American unionists could be proud of.
What must be kept in mind is that none
of the AFL's foreign policy programmes has ever been discussed
or debated by rank and file unionists, or even by most senior
union officials. There has never been any honest reporting of
operations, even when requested by labour organizations, such
as the California State AFL-CIO which, before the 2005 split,
included 2.4 million members, one-sixth of the membership of the
Extremely few unionists know that these
foreign operations take place. They operate without the knowledge
of American unionists, but they are done "in our name."
This foreign policy programme is the responsibility of very top-level
labour leaders, and their hired staff. This imperialist foreign
policy programme was developed from within the labour movement,
and not by the US Government, White House, or CIA.
Sweeney's election and the development
of the Solidarity Center did not transform the AFL's foreign policy
programme. The Solidarity Center was actively involved in the
attempted coup in April 2002 against Venezuela's democratically-elected
president, Hugo Chavez. Despite a more sophisticated operation
since 1997 the AFL has maintained its historical role of labour
Worse still, the AFL-CIO and its Solidarity
Center do not work alone. The AFL was one of the founders of the
Reagan-initiated but horribly misnamed National Endowment for
Democracy (NED), founded in 1983. The NED was initiated by the
US government in response to the exposure of CIA secret activities
during the 1960s and '70s and was designed to openly do what the
CIA had done covertly. Critics believe the Solidarity Center
gets over 90% of its funding from the US government.
The AFL's Free Trade Union Institute (replaced
by the Solidarity Center in 1997) was one of the four core institutes
of the NED, along with the international wings of the Democratic
Party, Republican Party and the US Chamber of Commerce. No trade
unionist outside of top leadership knows what a "core institute"
of the NED means, other than that they channel money to groups
they support. But it is suspected that they help set policy, and
it is almost certain that Solidarity Center leaders helped to
set NED policy regarding labour operations.
The NED although supposedly "independent"
has been continually funded by the US Congress. Its Board has
included top-level actors in the US government's foreign policy
apparatus, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger
and Madeleine Albright, former National Security Council Chair
Zbigniew Brzezinski, current World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz,
and former Secretary of Labour and US Trade Representative, Bill
The NED claims to "promote democracy"
around the world, and it goes on about "free elections,"
but in reality, its efforts aim to establish top-down "democracy".
It has nothing to do with one-person, one-vote popular democracy
that most Americans and people around the world see as democracy.
It is ironic that an organization that
trumpets "democracy" is in its organizational structure,
completely undemocratic. The NED was set up so that even if a
US presidential administration wanted to change its policies,
it cannot. The NED sets its own foreign policy independent of
any administration and the only people who can change its policies
are members of its Board of Directors. These Directors are self-chosen
by NED leadership. The NED has been, and is a reactionary force
around the world. It has been active in a number of countries
but we know most about its operations in Venezuela. Here we can
see how the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center works with the NED.
The NED has been active in Venezuela,
the fifth largest oil producer in the world, since 1992. NED provided
US $4,039,331 to Venezuelan and American operations working in
Venezuela between 1992 and 2001. Over 60% ($2,439,489) was granted
between 1997-2001. Since 1997, almost one-quarter ($587,926) went
to the Solidarity Center for its work with the Confederacion de
Trabajadores Venezolanos (CTV - Confederation of Venezuelan Workers).
In 2002, NED pumped in another $1,099,352, of which the Solidarity
Center got $116,001 for its work with the CTV. Altogether, the
Solidarity Center received $703,927 from NED for its work in Venezuela
Yet what work has the Solidarity Center
in Venezuela carried out? The AFL-CIO claims it has concentrated
on enhancing CTV's internal democracy, a notoriously non-democratic
labour center. The CTV has had a relationship with the AFL-CIO
(meaning the US Government-funded American Institute for Free
Labour Development) for more than 30 years, and has been a pillar
of pro-American, anti-communist unionism in the region. Some have
tied it with the CIA.
In early 2002, CTV leaders visited Washington
DC to meet with high level AFL-CIO and Bush administration officials.
Among others, CTV leaders visited Otto Reich, the Assistant Secretary
of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Just before these visits Solidarity Center
staff attended a series of meetings to bring together leaders
of the CTV and FEDECAMARAS (Venezuelan national business confederation).
These meetings, six in all, took place around the country and
ended in a national meeting on March 5, 2002. At that meeting,
the CTV and FEDECAMARAS, supported by the Catholic Church, discussed
their concerns and priorities regarding national development and
identified common objectives and areas of cooperation. The CTV
and FEDECAMARAS were anointed "flagship organizations"
in the struggle against President Chavez.
According to an unearthed Solidarity Center
report, the joint action was intended to produce a "National
Accord" to avoid a supposedly "deeper political and
economic crisisThe Solidarity Center helped support the event
in the planning stages, organizing the initial meetings with the
governor of Miranda state and the business organization, FEDECAMAS,
to discuss and establish an agenda for such cooperation in mid-January."
The report concluded with: "The March 5 national conference
itself was funded by counterpart funds," which suggests funds
outside of the usual NED-Solidarity Center channels.
Barely 30 days after the March 5 conference,
the CTV and FEDECAMARAS launched a national general strike on
April 9 to protest the firing of oil company management on April
7 and the events leading to the coup attempt began, in which CTV
and FEDECAMAS played central roles.
On April 11, a massive march and demonstration
was held to support CTV. "About midday on April 11, speakers
at the opposition rally, including the president of the CTV, Carlos
Ortega, began calling for supporters to march on the Presidential
Palace, Miraflores, to demand Chavez's resignation." Lee
Sustar wrote, "What is indisputable, however, is that Ortega
joined with FEDECAMAS to call the strike and march that set the
stage for the coup."
When the coup's military leaders decided
to act and depose Chavez, FEDECAMARAS' Carmona was chosen by coup
leaders to become the new president. Carmona was sworn in on April
12, and immediately dissolved "all of Venezuela's democratic
institutions, including the National Assembly, the Supreme Court,
the Public Defender's Office, the Attorney General, the Constitution
and the 49 laws Chavez had decreed in December."
The coup was denounced throughout the
hemisphere, with two exceptions. The President of the International
Republican Institute (a "core institute" of NED), George
A. Folsom, issued a statement praising the coup leaders. Then
the Bush Administration supported the coup. In response to the
coup attempt, people mobilized in the millions, the military split
and the coup failed. Chavez was returned to the presidential palace
on April 14, 2002, where he resumed duties as President.
It turns out that the NED had quadruped
its annual budget to its Venezuelan clients to $877,000 in the
year before the coup attempt. In addition to the $154,377 given
to the Solidarity Center, the NED also provided the National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs $210,000 "to promote
the accountability of local government'; $399,998 to the International
Republican Institute for "political party building";
and the balance to Center of International Private Enterprise.
This destabilization effort in Venezuela
is one component of a multiple-track strategy to undermine Chavez's
government. It also includes supporting a peasant organization
that opposes land reform; an educational organization that has
suggested no education reforms; an organization seeking to incite
a military rebellion; a civic association that has worked to mobilize
middle class neighborhoods to 'defend themselves' from the poor;
a civil justice group that opposes grassroots community organizations
because they support the Chavez government; a 'leadership group'
that supports the metropolitan Caracas police, whose behavior
has become markedly more repressive over the past year; and a
number of other anti-Chavez organizations which have received
funding from NED.
The CTV also was involved in a major oil
industry lockout that lasted 63 days between December 2002 and
February 2003. This cost the country over $10 billion in oil revenues
some of which was going into education and health care for the
poorest Venezuelans which make up 80% of the society.
It is clear that the AFL-CIO's Solidarity
Center, working with the US Government's NED has played an incredibly
reactionary role in Venezuela.
US unions fighting back
In the face of this aggression, a small
number of US unionists have organized the new Worker to Worker
Solidarity Committee (www.workertoworker.net). It aims to force
the AFL to end its imperialist foreign policy, to cut ties with
NED, and to open its books on operations, past and present, around
the world. AFL leaders see this as such a threat that they openly
undermined internal labour movement democracy at the 2005 National
Convention in Chicago, in an effort to keep foreign policy challengers
from speaking from the floor.
Facing a determined group of challengers,
the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center brought a Cosatu representative
to a conference in Philadelphia in August 2005 that was organized
by the Labour Movements Section of the American Sociological Association.
It is not known whether she was acting in a personal or organizational
capacity at the meeting. She was introduced as a representative
of Cosatu and she spoke of solidarity received by Cosatu from
the Solidarity Center.
Interestingly, she only spoke about was
how Cosatu could easily get money from the Solidarity Center in
South Africa to finance its foreign policy initiatives. There
was no talk about how the Solidarity Center was helping Cosatu
to build worker-to-worker solidarity across national borders.
I don't know, other than this one report,
what the Solidarity Center is doing in South Africa. Nor do I
know what Cosatu's relationship is with the Solidarity Center.
But I know that in this one case, the Solidarity Center has used
a Cosatu representative to undercut efforts by American trade
unionists to end the AFL-CIO's imperialist foreign policy programme.
These relationships need to be exposed and ended. Cosatu has much
to lose if it continues working with the AFL-CIO's Solidarity
Kim Scipes is a member of the National
Writers Union, AFL-CIO, and has opposed AFL-CIO foreign policies
for over 20 years. He teaches sociology at Purdue University North
Central in Westville, Indiana, USA. His on-line "Contemporary
Labour Issues" can be accessed at http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes/LabourBib.htm
with full documentation of claims in this article. He can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org. He published "KMU: Building Genuine Trade
Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994" in 1996
National Endowment for Democracy (NED)