The Reactionary Role of US Labor
in Haiti and Venezuela
Dennis Bernstein interviews Jeb
Sprague and Kim Scipes
Upside Down World, www.zmag.org,
June 21, 2006
Dennis Bernstein/ Flashpoints: Many in
the U.S. see the AFL-CIO as a huge effective union [federation]
representing tens of thousands of workers in this country, which
may be true and is but it is not widely understood that the union
joined hands with the U.S. State Department and spy and propaganda
agencies to undermine foreign governments in the guise of supporting
democracy in the good old USA fashion.
In recent days this is no where more obvious
than in Haiti and Venezuela - the United States has been heavily
engaged in both countries and has availed themselves of various
subsets of the AFL-CIO to subvert the will of the people and to
undermine self determination in both these countries.
Joining us to talk about this is Jeb Sprague.
He is the author of "Failed Solidarity," an article
about the AFL-CIO and other organizations and their secret and
not-so-secret work to undermine the will of the people in Haiti.
It appears on the web and magazine Labor Notes. Also appearing
with us is Kim Scipes, an assistant professor in Sociology at
a branch of Purdue University. He is an expert in the foreign
operations of the AFL-CIO. We appreciate both of you joining us
Let me start with you professor. Give
us a blueprint because of those of us who are unionists get nervous
when we think about the AFL-CIO abroad it could be the CIA.
Kim Scipes: Well that's true. But it's
a little more complex. The AFL-CIO leadership, and this is the
top leadership, I want to state from the beginning, it's [going
on] behind the backs of [AFL-CIO] members. But the top leadership
going back into the nineteen teens-has run its own independent
foreign policy. They were involved in the Mexican revolution,
they were involved setting foreign policy about the Soviet Union.
Coming forward, they were involved in
helping to overthrow the democratically elected government of
Guatemala in 1954, the democratically elected government in Brazil
in 1964, the democratically elected government in Chile in 1973
and the attempted coup against the democratically elected government
in Venezuela 2002. So they've got this long foreign policy that
is done behind the back.
They refuse to come clean to individual
members such as myself but the California AFL-CIO has also rejected
[critique of] the foreign policy programs. So despite different
efforts at all kinds of levels within the labor movement they
have hid, they operate behind our backs although in our name.
Jeb and I are working within a new organization
called the Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee that is trying
to end this nonsense. [In 2005 AFL-CIO leadership refused floor
debate on the proposed "Build Unity and Trust with Workers
Worldwide" resolution at their National Convention. That
resolution, approved in 2004 by the California State AFL-CIO Convention,
would account for and end any AFL foreign activity tied to government
Dennis Bernstein: Just as a case study,
Jeb Sprague, lets go to your Labor Notes piece "Failed Solidarity".
On this show, we have covered Haiti and the infiltration of various
propaganda agencies and the National Endowment of Democracy (NED)
into the internal workings of Haiti as part of a subset of the
U.S. State Department policy of opposing Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Set up for us, what happened in Haiti?
Jeb Sprague: Ok, well first we can go
back to 1984. This is when the Duvalier dictatorship was still
in power. They were in power until 1986. Now at this point in
time the [AFL] Solidarity Center was not around but its predecessor,
AIFLD, was. Now they supported the FOS - the Federation of Syndicated
Workers, which was the only sanctioned union under Duvalier.
[The FOS] was heavily infiltrated by his
secret police and the Tonton Macoutes - who were well known for
wearing their dark glasses and hanging up dead bodies and killing
thousands of people. Then in 1991 you had [8 months] when Aristide
was in power under his first Administration before the first coup.
During these months the AFL-CIO was supporting Haiti's most historic
union the CATH - Haitian Union of Autonomous Workers. Under AFL-CIO
support, they had a schism within the CATH where the conservative
section took over and started mounting protests against Aristide.
These were some of the very first protests
against Aristide in 1991. And then following the 1991 coup you
had additional money going to [pro-defacto] labor during the "de-facto
period" around 1992 and 1993. After that, after a lot of
criticism, the AFL-CIO pulled out of Haiti and from as far as
I can find until the Solidarity Center began operations again
in Haiti in 2005. [Besides a labor study conducted prior to the
Dennis Bernstein: Ok, So explain that.
Jeb Sprague: Well, first, in 1999 the
CSH, which stands for the Haitian Trade Union Confederation, was
supported by the ICFTU, ORIT, and ILO, which are these giant labor
organizations in South America and around the world [connected
closely with the AFL-CIO]. The CSH was the main labor organization
within the Group of 184 and they basically co-opted labor leaders
from unions across Haiti into this Group of 184 conspiracy against
the Haitian government - agitating for its overthrow. And so
then when the Solidarity Center comes back in following the coup,
just weeks after the coup in 2004 they begin talks with the Batay
Dennis Bernstein: Ok so you're referring
to when the U.S. undermined, forced out the Aristide government.
Kidnapped. We had a coup government. Explain now. Because there's
a lot of numbers a lot of letters.
Jeb Sprague: Ok, well prior to the 2004
coup, you had three years where there was a U.S. government backed
aid embargo upon the Aristide government. It was an aid dependent
government that was starved. A large percentage of its money was
dependent on aid that they were no longer getting. At the same
time you had paramilitary rebels that were allowed safe houses
in the Dominican Republic, coming in killing people and then reprisals
happening after that, so you had them really creating this violent
You also had ten millions of dollars going
to anti-government and critical voices against Aristide- so you
had pro-government NGOs not getting any or very little funding.
So with the labor, just weeks after the coup you have these meetings
taking place in Haiti between the Solidarity Center and Batay
Ouvriye. Batay Ouvriye was known for working in the Free Trade
Zone in Haiti and they had agitated for the Aristide government
to "leave the country."
And so what I found, after about 6 months
trying to figure this out, that by mid-2005 we see nearly half
a million dollars going to a program in support of the Batay Ouvriye
[from Solidarity Center/State Dept funds]. And the most astonishing
thing about all of this is that following the February 29, 2004
coup you had about 10,000 possibly 12,000 trade unionist supporters
of the ousted government and public sector workers who were persecuted
and repressed. These people were laid off.
Dennis Bernstein: When you say all that
money, did that come from the AFL-CIO?
Jeb Sprague: Well it actually came through
the NED, which gets it money from the State Department and then
[the other grant] directly through the State Department. The
AFL-CIO gets its money from the State Department and then they
go in. Send in their people to work [trainers, etc]. Also with
the CSH -the group 184-trade union they got their [program] money
from the ICFTU, which is based out of Brussels. Money, support,
all sorts of things.
So then you had these workers that were
laid off and these groups the AFL-CIO, ICFTU, ORIT, ILO they refuse
to do anything. So I asked them, why are you not condemning or
investigating these massive layoffs, persecution, and 100 buses
of a workers cooperative demolished? They don't have an answer.
Dennis Bernstein: All right, so Kim Scipes
why don't you help us understand the direct connection between
the AFL-CIO and the attempt to destabilize and overthrow the Venezuelan
Kim Scipes: Basically what happened is,
the AFL-CIO used to have regional organizations in Latin America.
AIFLD is one of them the American Institute for Free Labor Development.
That has been superseded by what is called the Solidarity Center.
The Solidarity Center is one of four core institutes of the NED.
And that [was] set up by the Reagan Administration and continues
today under Bush. So they are not only getting money from the
Administration, they are actively involved in what I believe is
They were working in Venezuela between
1997 and 2001. They got over $703,000 from the NED, specifically
for their work in Venezuela. What did they do in Venezuela? They
are working with a very conservative labor organization that is
very much tied with security services in Latin America, as well
as the CIA, and then they are supposedly democratizing these people.
But at the time of the coup, we see a series of meetings set up
between the business people and the right leadership of this labor
movement-and they were key leaders in the coup attempt against
This is a pattern very reminiscent of
the coup Chile in 1973 when AIFLD helped lay the groundwork for
the coup against Salvador Allende.
Dennis: Explain again, AIFLD is a sub
group of the AFL-CIO its foreign action group?
Kim Scipes: Well they had four different
regional organizations. One in Africa, Asia, Western Europe, and
one in Latin America. AIFLD was [the AFL's] Latin American operation.
When John Sweeney was elected in 1995 as a reform candidate one
of the pressures was to get rid of all this foreign policy crap.
He came in and centralized operations that he called the American
Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), which is the
formal name of the Solidarity Center.
That was supposedly done to clean up and
stop doing this stuff. It's a much more sophisticated operation
then in the old days. They have actually done some good stuff
such as supporting good trade union struggles in some maquiladoras.
But in Venezuela what [ACILS] was still doing this clandestine
stuff; pulling groups together against democratically elected
They are operating around the world, in
over 40 countries, over 90% of funding from the State Department;
they are not supporting themselves off money from their members
of the AFL-CIO unions. Most union members know nothing about
this. And the point I also want to make [is that] we are not against
the labor movement. I am in my fourth union, but I abhor, I detest
what the labor leadership has done behind the backs of its workers.
And they will not come clean and we are going to force them.
Dennis: Ok, Jeb Sprague hone in about
what the Solidarity Center was doing in Haiti to take a side to
undermine the Aristide government?
Jeb: Well they [the Batay Ouvriye] were
basically part of a large group of organization NGO "leftist"
organizations that were being funded by US, European, and Canadian
organizations that were criticizing Aristide from the left and
then you had the Group of 184 from the right [also being funded].
So it was a foreign funded operation from the start in Haiti.
The AFL-CIO came in after the coup to maintain this program.
And then another interesting point, some
of these laid-off workers went into armed groups, such as Dread
Wilme, who worked at the port in Port-au-Prince and Dread Mackenzie.
So you had a lot of this fueling anger after thousands of these
workers were laid off.
We know from the NED grant listing for
2005 we know that 1.6 million dollars at least is coming from
the NED to the Solidarity Center [for Latin American operations
alone]. This includes Mexico $183,000, Central America two grants
each $185,000, Andean region over $600,000 that's Peru, Ecuador,
Bolivia, Venezuela a lot of important places. So it's probably
triple that, maybe quadruple that if you add in State Department
and USAID funding.
Dennis: And finally Professor Skipes would
it be fair to say that this group affiliated with the AFL-CIO
has undermined/contravened democracy in other countries?
Kim Scipes: Yes, no question. And because
they refuse to come clean, they refuse to come clean to their
own workers; they undermine democracy in the United States.
They best place to get information is
to visit workertoworker.net
Dennis: Ok, I want to thank both of you.
This is a complicated subject. We are going to come back to it.
We have been speaking with Kim Scipes he is a long time expert
on the AFL-CIO, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University,
one of the branches at that university. Also speaking with us
is Jeb Sprague, Freelance journalist, graduate student, and from
time to time special correspondent for this show we thank both
of you for being on the show. You are listening to Pacifica Radio.
Visit the Flashpoints website at http://www.flashpoints.net
Visit Jeb Spragues blog at http://www.freehaiti.net
and see his LABOR NOTES article at http://labornotes.org/archives/2006/06/articles/f.shtml
Kim Scipes website is at http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes/