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
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
* 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
* 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
* 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,
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
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.
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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