National Endowment for Death Squads?
The AFL-CIO and the NED
By Jon Quaccia
International Endowment for Democracy,
Few taxpayers are familiar with the National
Endowment for Democracy, a publicly funded yet privately owned
organization operating in at least forty countries. NED's mission?
To help the United States set up capitalist economies around the
world, backed by regimes that are friendly to U.S. big business.
With no interference from the public or
congress, the NED is free to accomplish its goals by manipulating
and buying elections, starting political as well as economic turmoil,
funding counter-insurgency material to right-wing groups, and
using other tactics that would be considered illegal in the United
Equally disturbing, yet more surprising,
is the role that leaders of the U.S. labor federation, the AFL-CIO,
play in carrying out the NED's dirty work. The AFL-CIO's Solidarity
Center is at work in twenty-eight countries, discouraging radical
organizing among workers and promoting privatization by assisting
unions and labor groups that support private enterprise.
A glimpse into this NED constituent's
predecessor organization shows a history of collusion with Central
Intelligence Agency terrorism since the early sixties.
The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center's predecessor,
the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), was
one of the four government-funded labor institutes created during
the cold war to prevent foreign countries from establishing independent
economic systems. AIFLD was instrumental in the overthrow of democratically
elected leftist governments in Guyana in 1963, Brazil in 1964,
the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Chile in 1973.
By the late 1970s, the CIA was exposed
for its sabotage of governments and labor movements around the
world. Corrupt dictatorships in Central America, backed by local
death squads armed and trained by the CIA, massacred hundreds
of thousands of peasants during popular insurgencies in Nicaragua,
El Salvador and Guatemala.
With these scandals fresh in the public's
mind, the Reagan Administration created the National Endowment
for Democracy in 1983 to take care of its unfinished business.
As an NED founder, Allen Weinstein, stated in 1991, "A lot
of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."
Some of the NED's political accomplishments
include the successful manipulation of elections in Nicaragua
in 1990 and Mongolia in 1996, and the overthrow of democratically
elected candidates in Bulgaria in 1990 and Albania in 1991-2.
By indirectly contributing "soft money" to the campaigns
of candidates friendly to U.S. business, the NED is able to successfully
buy elections in poor countries with only a few hundred thousand
With a 2004 budget of $40 million, and
a 2005 budget of $80 million requested by President Bush, the
NED will be capable of buying quite a few elections in the coming
From 1983 to 1994, the NED was funded
exclusively by congress, at which point it began accepting private
donations. These sources include several oil companies and defense
contractors-Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Texaco and Enron among its 2001
contributors. Its funding is a very controversial subject, and
its opponents frequently cite the inherent contradiction of a
publicly funded organization charged with executing foreign policy,
while remaining exempt from nearly all political and administrative
The NED works through multiple constituencies:
The International Republican Institute, The National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs, the Center for International
Private Enterprise, the Free Trade Union Institute, and American
Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), better known
as the Solidarity Center.
Among its strongest U.S. supporters is
the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank which has been
very influential in policy issues. Each constituent is given almost
five million dollars, which they issue as grants to organizations
or political parties all over the world. The remainder of the
NED's budget is also given out as grants.
In her study of the NED, Barbara Conry,
associate policy analyst for the free-market advocacy CATO Institute,
states: "NED, which has a history of corruption and financial
mismanagement, is superfluous as best and often destructive. Through
the Endowment, the American taxpayer has paid for special-interest
groups to harass the duly elected governments of friendly countries,
interfere in foreign elections, and foster the corruption of democratic
The National Endowment for Democracy and
its constituents call their actions "supporting democracy,"
but the governments and movements they target know them as "destabilization."
One Empire, One Development Model
U.S. business could not destabilize or
overthrow as many foreign governments as it does without the cover
and aid of conservative, "old-guard" unions and labor
groups who disorient, counter, and generally undermine radical
unions and militant labor leaders. Union leaders, in turn, couldn't
enjoy six figure salaries without an approval of capitalism, without
seeing labor and business along with government as "partners"
in political and economic development.
On September 11, 1973, Chilean President
Salvador Allende, along with thousands of Chilean workers, students
and political activists were killed in a particularly bloody military
coup that ended a brief experiment in democratic socialism. It
was the culmination of a campaign by the Nixon Administration,
working covertly with ITT, Kennecott Cooper, and other U.S. multinational
corporations to destroy the Chilean economy and punish Allende
for nationalizing industries in which U.S. corporations held major
stakes. The goal, in Nixon's unforgettable words, was to "make
the economy scream."
While no direct link exists between the
AIFLD and the CIA's actions in Chile, the AIFLD's program was
synchronized closely with the CIA's plan to create social unrest
by sowing divisions within the labor movement and financing middle-class
and professional organizations leading the opposition to Allende's
Unable to divide and weaken Chile's largest
labor federation, the one-million-member, communist led, Central
Unica de Trabajadores (CUT), the AIFLD channeled millions of dollars
into right-wing unions and political parties that opposed CUT
and Allende's socialist agenda as a whole.
In the fall of 1973, widespread social
unrest and a paralyzed economy provided the pretext for General
Pinochet's violent coup, and justification for his seventeen-year
dictatorship. Pinochet saw all unions, not just leftist, as the
enemy, and one of his first acts after seizing power was to outlaw
CUT. In the months that followed September 11th, hundreds of trade
unionists, including some who had worked with AIFLD, were rounded
up, many never to be heard from again.
From 1971 until the mid-eighties, the
AFL-CIO, despite its pledge never to support government controlled
unions, financed and supported the Federation of Korean Trade
Unions (FKTU), with full knowledge of the government's penetration.
A government puppet, the FKTU's activities were restricted by
law, leaving it no real power.
In the late seventies, U.S. religious
and human rights organizations began calling attention to the
appalling treatment of South Korean workers. They were particularly
concerned with the brutality directed at young women laborers
in the textile and garment industry, and the lack of response
by the FKTU.
Rather than denouncing the repression
in South Korea, or severing its ties with the FKTU, the AFL-CIO
tried to whitewash the violence, blaming it on "differing
ethnic standards of Koreans," amongst other things.
When Korean industrial workers finally
organized the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions as an alternative
to the FKTU, it wasn't officially recognized by the AFL-CIO until
1997. Just recently, pilots represented by KCTU protested its
government's decision to deploy 3,000 troops to Iraq by refusing
to transport any troops or equipment there, and engaged in street
demonstrations against the war.
ACILS: Reforming Or Restructuring?
In 1995, John Sweeney was elected AFL-CIO
president with the support of a broad coalition of union leaders
who broke with the former president, Lane Kirkland, over foreign
policy. In particular, they disagreed with the AIFLD's support
for U.S. policy in Central America and hoped to get rid of what
they believed was a cold war relic, a pro-corporate anti-communist
extension of the McCarthyism still dominating U.S. foreign policy.
Two years after taking office, Sweeney
reorganized the four labor foreign policy institutes into a single
organization, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity
(ACILS), better known as the Solidarity Center. Although the Solidarity
Center has retained a few staff members from its predecessor labor
institutes, it claims to represent a fresh start at building a
stronger labor movement abroad by focusing on solidarity rather
than intervention. Some of the Solidarity Center's goals in the
past six years include facilitating an organizing campaign in
Honduras that led to a viable maquila union in the free trade
zone, helping set the stage for a labor law reform campaign in
Ecuador by working with Bonita banana workers, and playing a crucial
role in convincing a GAP supplier to finance the reopening of
a plant shut down due to union activity.
While many union leaders are hopeful about
the reforms in U.S. labor's foreign policy, as well as its accomplishments
to date, a great deal of skepticism remains. Much of this skepticism
revolves around the Solidarity Center's funding; three quarters
of its $18 million budget still comes from government sources.
It receives annual grants from the State Department, the Agency
for International Development, the Labor Department, and the NED.
Requests for a complete list of donors,
including private foundations, and the amount of their contributions
have been repeatedly denied by the AFL-CIO. While Congress no
longer dictates the Center's policies, a lack of independent funding
makes a truly autonomous global labor movement impossible.
Meddling in Venezuela
Critics also point to the Solidarity Center's
recent operations in Venezuela, which they feel are dangerously
reminiscent of the AIFLD's actions in Chile. In Venezuela, the
world's fifth largest oil producer, the Solidarity Center funds
a corrupt union amalgam, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers
(CTV). CTV organizes destabilizing strikes and works with oil
company management, the Catholic Church, and right-wing military
officers to create opposition to the populist elected president
Hugo Chavez. How the Center's largest, $150,000 contribution to
the CTV was spent is unclear. Stan Gacek, assistant director for
the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department, says it was for
internal union elections, but the CTV's Institute director, Jesus
Urbieta, says the money was used for conducting training courses.
In 2001 the Solidarity Center invited CTV leader Carlos Ortega
to Washington, to discuss strategies to oust Chavez with U.S.
government officials and representatives of the State Department.
A series of widespread strikes orchestrated
by the CTV paved the way for an insurrection on April 11th, 2002,
that killed over a dozen citizens and injured hundreds more. Pedro
Carmona, a pro-U.S. businessman, was selected to run the country.
He immediately dissolved the National Assembly, but only two days
later Chavez was swept back into power by the military and a flood
of support from working people and the poor, much to the shame
of the Solidarity Center, the State Department and the White House.
Not surprisingly, the NED tripled its annual Venezuela budget
to almost $900,000 in the weeks and months leading up to the attempted
While the CTV was disbanded after the
attempted coup and replaced by the leftist Unione Nationale Trajabadores,
Chavez's opposition hasn't given up. The NED is currently handing
out grants totaling more than a million dollars to organizations
it feels can be useful in getting rid of Chavez. From September
2002 to March 2004, the Endowment contributed $116,000 to the
Solidarity Center every three months for this purpose.
Between September 2003 and September 2004,
Sumate, a Venezuelan company that worked to organize a referendum
to recall President Chavez, was granted over $50,000 from the
NED. Sumate released a poll just before the vote claiming Chavez
was sure to lose. To the chagrin of Sumate and the NED, Chavez
won 59% of the vote.
Iraq and Beyond
On November 6, 2003, President Bush gave
a speech commemorating the NED on its 20th anniversary, and placing
it at the center of the "democratization" of Iraq. For
the Bush Administration, the NED and the Solidarity Center, democratization
is synonymous with privatization, as is evidenced in their attempts
to hold the largest state liquidation sale since the collapse
of the Soviet Union.
A key strategic aim of U.S. imperialism
in the Middle East is to break state control over oil production
and reserves and open them up to the direct control of U.S. based
energy conglomerates. The first act of L. Paul Bremer, who led
the U.S. occupation of Iraq from May 2, 2003 until his early departure
on June 28, 2004, was to fire 500,000 state workers including
teachers, doctors, nurses, publishers and printers.
Next he opened Iraq's borders to unrestricted
imports, declaring it "open for business." Enacting
a radical set of laws unprecedented in their generosity to multinational
corporations, Bremer allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent
of Iraqi assets outside the natural resource sector, and to take
all of these profits out of the country tax free with no obligation
to reinvest in Iraq. The only remnant from Saddam Hussein's economic
policy was-a law restricting trade unions and collective bargaining!
Rather than creating an economic boom,
these policies instead fueled a resistance that has ultimately
made reconstruction impossible. Labor relations reached a bloody
peak under Bremer's occupation; faced with job loss, workers feared
starvation, and managers in turn feared their workers, making
privatization far more complicated than the Bush Administration
Violent protests have kept investors out,
and forced Bremer to abandon many of his central economic policies.
Several state companies have been offered up for lease, and thousands
of the state workers fired by Bremer have been rehired.
Nonetheless, the Bush Administration's
plans to "democratize" Iraq are still underway. In January,
2004, Bush requested to double the NED's Middle East budget, putting
it at $40 million. According to Abd al-Wahhab al Kabsi, the NED's
program officer for the Middle East, the NED's involvement is
"expanding and we expect it to continue to expand."
In the months before the Bush Administration
invaded Iraq, the AFL-CIO for the first time in its history openly
challenged a U.S. decision to go to war. However, once the invasion
began, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney shifted his antiwar stance,
declaring that the federation would "support fully"
the Bush Administration's war goals.
Within two days of Bush's request for
an increased NED budget in the Middle East, Sweeney said that
"training and other kinds of support from the international
trade union movement should be encouraged" in Iraq. Since
then, he has applied for $3-5 million in grants from the NED.
The money will be used to counter independent labor organizing
by leftist groups like Union of the Unemployed in Iraq (UUI),
which has sponsored and supported strikes and demonstrations for
jobs and against U.S. occupation.
The NED and Solidarity Center have chosen
to support the General Federation of Trade Unions in Iraq, a discredited
Ba'athist union formation sitting on the U.S. appointed Iraqi
Governing Council. According to the UUI, its history "is
as gloomy and bloody as the history of the Ba'athist regime."
The Reform Movement
Given the Solidarity Center's actions
in Venezuela and Iraq, many unionists are concerned about its
true motives, and what it is doing around the world in its more
covert operations. Over the past four years, labor councils and
grassroots labor activists on the West Coast have been pressing
AFL-CIO leadership to come clean about its past and set a more
honorable course for the future by opening its archives, which
include material from the Reagan era that remains off-limits to
researchers. They also wish to create a truth commission to analyze
and publicize the contents.
Resolutions passed in 2000 by the San
Francisco and South Bay labor councils in California, and in 2001
by the Washington State AFL-CIO, asked the federation to renounce
what it did in Chile, the Philippines, and other places in the
name of labor, and allow union members and independent researchers
to make a full accounting of the past.
In 2002 the South bay AFL-CIO Labor Council
submitted its "Clear the Air" resolution to the two
million member (with over one sixth of the AFL-CIO's members)
California Federation of Labor. The resolution was withdrawn in
favor of a substitute resolution, submitted by the Federation
leadership, which simply asked the AFL-CIO to meet with the California
Federation and its affiliates to open a dialogue about its government-funded
foreign affairs activities, both past and present, and to affirm
a policy of genuine global solidarity in pursuit of economic and
It was clearly understood that if the
meeting failed to resolve the issues, the leadership of the Federation
would fall back to support the "Clear the Air" resolution.
In March, 2004 the California Federation
of Teachers unanimously passed a resolution at its annual convention
calling for the AFL-CIO to accept no government funding for its
work in Iraq and elsewhere, claiming this would be the first step
in achieving true global solidarity. That resolution was submitted
to the July 13-14, 2004 Convention of the California Federation
took 15 months to organize the meeting
on foreign policy called for in the resolution passed by the California
Federation in 2002. Not satisfied by the October 2003 meeting,
the Plumbers Local 393 and the Labor Councils of the South Bay,
San Francisco and Monterey Bay passed a resolution for "Unity
and Trust among Workers Worldwide," and submitted it to the
California Federation of Labor 2004 convention.
The "Unity and Trust" resolution
and the CFT resolution were combined by the convention's resolutions
committee to become a more strongly worded version of the 2002
"Clear the Air" resolution. The new resolution, passed
unanimously by the convention delegates, urges the AFL-CIO to
"exercise extreme caution in seeking or accepting funding
from the U.S. government, its agencies and any other institutions
which it funds such as the NED for its work in Iraq or elsewhere,
and to accept these funds only to further the goals of honest
international labor solidarity, not to pursue the policies of
Corporate America and the United States government."
Fred Hirsch, vice president of Plumbers
and Fitters Local 393 in San Jose, played an important role in
getting both resolutions before the Federation. "We expect
tremendous resistance from the AFL-CIO to having their power base
removed, and being forced to seek more funds from their affiliates,
rather than the government," says Hirsch. "This will
also force them to be more accountable to their affiliates by
giving them total freedom of information on their actions abroad."
Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO archives remain
firmly closed. Under the archives rules, documents can only be
released twenty years after their creation, which means that material
about controversial AFL-CIO activities during the eighties, such
as support for the Nicaraguan contras and cooperation with U.S.-backed
counterinsurgencies in El Salvador and the Phillipines, remains
According to Michael Merill, director
of the archives, there is no consistent policy on what to do when
someone wants to open the books sooner. Any request to shorten
the twenty-year waiting period, he added, would have to be approved
by the senior leadership of the AFL-CIO.
It is highly unlikely that this will occur
without a great deal of pressure from the AFL-CIO's constituents.
Since Sweeney and several members of his executive council were
board members of the AIFLD and the other institutes, they are
likely to be uncomfortable with an open record.
This also applies to the Solidarity Center's
current head, Harry Kamberis, a former State Department employee
who worked with the Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI),
the AIFLD counterpart for Asia, while the institutes were known
to be in collusion with the CIA. His endeavors with AAFLI include
donating six million dollars to a corrupt labor federation allied
with right-wing death squads in the Philippines throughout the
In order to put pressure on the AFL-CIO,
it is important for resolutions like the "Unity and Trust"
to be passed in locals, then moved to statewide labor federations,
and eventually, national and international affiliates of the AFL-CIO.
While the Service Employees International
Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees (AFSCME), who passed anti-war resolutions
at their national conventions in late June, are already having
an impact on the AFL-CIO's executive council, it is unlikely to
open the books or significantly change its policies without pressure
from a larger portion of its affiliates.
"To counter corporate globalization,
we need labor globalization," says Hirsch. "But we can't
embark on a path of genuine solidarity, nor can labor unions overseas
trust us, until we own up to the past and divorce ourselves from
those actions and the government funding which made us a pawn
of U.S. foreign policy."
To let Harry Kamberis, executive director
of the Solidarity Center, know you would like to see the AFL-CIO
own up to its past actions and embark on a path of genuine global
solidarity rather than act as a pro-corporate tool of U.S. foreign
policy, call him at (202) 778 4503. John Sweeney can also be reached
National Endowment for Democracy (NED)