Labor's China Syndrome

AFL-CIO, Solidarity Center, NED, and the neo-cons-the unholy alliance

by Lee Siu Hin

Z magazine, July/August 2005


At the upcoming AFL-CIO convention in Chicago in July 2005, thousands of labor activists will stand up to question their president John Sweeney's failed labor leadership and his policy of accepting money from the notorious National Endowment of Democracy (NED), a supposedly independent private organization, which is fully funded by the U.S. government and known for its ties to the CIA in many covert and overt campaigns against other countries.

While many articles have been published focusing on NED's connections with U.S. covert operations around the world, few have discussed NED's ties to U.S. labor or the connections of AFL-CIO's American Center for International Labor Solidarity (commonly known as Solidarity Center) with NED funding or NED relations with the CIA's covert operations against Venezuela or with their recent covert and overt campaigns against China.

For many labor rank-and-filers, the connections between organized labor and the U.S. State Department are hard to believe. Behind the scenes the AFL-CIO does have a very close relationship with certain high-ranking members of the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence communities and has directly supported neo-liberal/neo-con policies since World War II, regardless of who has been in the White House.

One such beneficiary of behind the scenes AFL-CIO support is the Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy (ADLP), a little-known agency of the State Department. It was created in May 1999, during the Clinton era, and has become very active since the Bush II presidency. The ADLP has proclaimed itself to be an "advisor" for the secretary of state and the president of the United States on the "resources and policies necessary to implement labor diplomacy in a manner that ensures U. S. leadership is promoting the objectives and ideals of U.S. labor policies" (according to its charter). According to its website, it has several "open to the public" meetings a year. In addition to John Sweeney, its key committee members include some of the most right-wing, neo-con, and anti-communist elements of the U.S. labor movement, including:

* Thomas R. Donahue: vice-chair of the NED, former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO from 1979 to 1995 and AFL-CIO president in 1995. Donahue is known for his close association with the anti-communist right wing of U.S. organized labor.

* Ray Marshall: Board member of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID), which is comprised mainly of intellectual members of the anti-communist, neo-conservative coalition.

* John Joyce: Board member of the Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America, better known as PRODEMCA, founded in late 1981. According to its promotional literature, the organization was established in order to support "incipient democratic processes" in Central America. Its projects have focused primarily on Nicaragua, especially on the construction of anti-Sandinista media and public relations campaigns, and on support for the political opposition inside Nicaragua. In carrying out these campaigns, PRODEMCA relied on funding from Carl Channell's National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty (NEPL). NEPL was one of the important conduits for funds from the contra supply network coordinated by Oliver North. Joyce is also the chair of the AFL-CIO's Military Affairs Committee and is on the USO World Board of Governors.

* Frank P. Doyle: Former executive vice president of the General Electric Company. He is also a board member of the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), a powerful elite business trade group promoting neoliberal policies.

* Anthony G. Freeman: Washington Office of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Between 1983 to 1992 he served as coordinator for International Labor Affairs at the Agency for International Development and was special assistant to three secretaries of state. ILO was known for their close ties with the CIA in launching covert operations to overthrow foreign governments under the guise of "humanitarian aid" to Central America, Eastern Europe, and Asia.

* William Lucy: Secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, an AFL-CIO executive council member, oversees the International Affairs Department (lAD) for the executive council. The lAD, along with the Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC), was historically known for its adherence to a militant anti-communism, which aligned it with the long-term political objectives of Washington. Last May, AFL-CIO announced they will close the lAD office in Washington, DC.

Labor Imperialism

Throughout much of its history, the AFL-CIO and other U.S. labor organizations have worked with CIA and multi-national corporations to overthrow democratically-elected governments, collaborated with dictators against progressive labor movements, supported reactionary labor movements against progressive governments, worked with corporate America to organize racist and protectionist campaigns against foreign countries, and encouraged racist campaigns against immigrant workers.

When John Sweeney became the AFL-CIO president in 1995, he promised to end former President Lane Kirkland's legacy of connections between labor and the CIA and created the Solidarity Center in 1997 to foster a new era of international labor solidarity. But the Center, supposedly a pro-labor organization, is one of the four major grant recipients of money from the NED, along with three other key right-wing neo-con think-tanks.

The others are: the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI).

These four groups make for a strange combination of purpose: labor rights, free enterprise, right-wing Republican "values," neo-con and neo-liberal economic policies. Yet, just like the anti-communist cold warriors of the past, this new generation's labor/far right alliance works against progressive labor movements around the world, supporting multinational corporate interests while wearing a mask of "liberal-left labor activism." Solidarity Center uses the NED grant money to create ideological guidance and logistical support for activist labor groups and anti-globalization movements across the country, promoting "international labor campaigns" with hidden CIA and U.S. government agendas.

One such example: during the recent failed U. S. -backed Venezuela military coup in April 2002, according to an April 25, 2002 report by New York Times' Christopher Marquis, the Solidarity Center received $154,377 from NED to give to the Confederation of Venezuela Workers (CTV), the union that led the work stoppages that galvanized the opposition to Chavez's government. The CTV's leader, Carlos Ortega, is known to have worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessperson behind the failed coup attempt to overthrow President Chavez.

According to a March 11, 2004 Times article by Juan Forero, prior to the coup, the NED channeled nearly $350,000 to the Solidarity Center and the international wings of the Republican and Democratic parties-the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs-that ran workshops and training sessions and offered advice to three Venezuelan political parties-Democratic Action, Copei, and First Justice-as well as the CTV union.

Solidarity Center's operations in Venezuela, far from benefiting labor in any way, are focused solely on overthrowing the democratically elected president of Venezuela, who is seen by the U.S. as an enemy, and on protecting the interests of U.S. multinational corporations (in this case, oil companies) with the covert help of the AFL-CIO. So long as no U.S. jobs are lost, Solidarity Center maintains silence with regard to its role in the Venezuela debacle.

In contrast with the secretive AFL-CIO Venezuela operations, attacks on China are open and aboveboard. Many union leaders have pandered to the protectionist sentiments of their members instead of educating them on the need for international solidarity against corporate rule. At a time when U.S. corporations are shipping jobs overseas, instead of holding the corporations and the government policy accountable, big labor chooses to work with the very corporations responsible for the U.S. job losses and participates in blindly attacking China as a job stealing, union busting monster, at the expense of members of the working class on both sides of the ocean.

Big labor's China bashing campaign is nothing new. Historically, with a few notable exceptions, most union and federation leaders do not base their policies and actions on furthering class solidarity, but instead follow the path of least resistance to achieve dubious short-term goals. Their periodic outbursts of racism and protectionism, such as direly-worded warnings against immigration and the industries abroad that dare to compete with U.S. companies, follow in a direct line from the U.S.'s 19th century anti-China campaigns and the Chinese Exclusion Act, both brought to us courtesy of U.S. big labor.

A new right-wing/labor alliance against China is emerging and this alliance is hijacking the labor and anti-globalization movements in order to attack China. Even today, the AFL-CIO and its president, John Sweeney, maintain a policy of refusing to meet and talk with the All-China Confederation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which has approximately eight times as many members as does the AFL-CIO) on the grounds that it is a puppet of the Chinese Communist Party.

As many labor activists are aware, the biggest problem of labor's cold war against China is not labor's failing effort to protect U.S. jobs, it is that labor has been co-opted into becoming a front for U.S. multinational. corporations' ambitions to control China, with grants from NED to achieve it.

According to the latest information on the NED website, in 2003 it gave $3,413,163 to 26 projects related to China. The Solidarity Center receives only a tiny portion of these funds ($65,160, or 1.91 percent); the majority of the funding for labor's China campaign comes from different AFL-CIO member organizations. However, the biggest current project in labor's campaign against China is not an attempt to protect U.S. jobs, it is the formation of a mysterious coalition to protect U.S. currency.

The China Currency Coalition is "an alliance of industry, agriculture, and worker organizations whose mission is to support U.S. manufacturing by seeking an end to Chinese currency manipulation and forcing China to devalue its currency" (according to their website).

Members of the Coalition come from organized labor, business, and trade groups, and neo-con/neo-liberal think-tanks. Forcing China to raise the value of the Yuan and thus make it more costly to buy Chinese products, in order to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, will obviously not have the desired effect of forcing manufacturers to relocate manufacturing jobs back to "cheaper" U.S. factories. Such a strategy is completely unrealistic, but the few voices in the western media who recognize this seem unable to prevent leaders of big unions from joining with big business to lobby Congress.

Who will be the beneficiary if China is made to revaluate its currency? Certainly not U.S. and Chinese working people. Many economists point out that the biggest winner in such a scenario would be Wall Street currency speculators who have been sending billions of dollars in "hot money" to Hong Kong and China, waiting to profit handsomely from the possible revaluation. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis it is estimated that currency speculators like George Soros and others pocketed millions, even billions, of dollars from the Asia currency devaluations at the expense of Asian people's life savings.

All this is not to say that the Solidarity Center doesn't do some good work, but with its acceptance of NED money and the AFL-CIO's right-wing policies, it's not helping the working class across the world advance labor rights or fight for a better life for workers. Rather, Solidarity Center's activities, covert and overt, serve the opposite goal: to prolong the oppression of working people and to promote the interests of multinational corporations and U.S. government.


Lee Siu Hin is an activist living in California.

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