Enlisting in the Reagan-Bush
excerpted from the book
Workers of the World Undermined
American Labor's role in U.S. foreign policy
by Beth Sims
South End Press, 1992, paper
Regardless of the secrecy surrounding their activities, the AFL-CIO'S
international institutes are clearly key players in a larger network
of interlocking private organizations and government agencies
that help promote Washington's foreign policy. Using U.S. government
funds and logistical assistance, these organizations intervene
overseas with the purported objective of promoting democracy.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is the current centerpiece
of this bipartisan, "democracy-intervention" network.
Members of this network range from humanitarian assistance organizations
like the International Rescue Committee to anticommunist propaganda
institutions such as Freedom House.
Ever since World War II, when the AFL-CIO was brought into
the war effort as part of a patriotic coalition with Washington
and big business, the AFL-CIO has acted as the vanguard of a bipartisan
"democracy-building" strategy that relies on private
organizations to carry out certain sensitive government policies
overseas. The ultimate goal of that strategy is the extension
of the U.S. sphere of influence. Its adherents, however, justify
it with a rhetoric of democracy and liberty. Although never phrased
so brutishly, their rationale explains U.S. meddling in the domestic
affairs of foreign countries as a mission of benevolent goodwill.
AFL-CIO principals ... helped design the National Endowment
for Democracy. Both Lane Kirkland and Eugenia Kemble-then an assistant
to Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-worked
with the American Political Foundation on the Democracy Program.
Funded by the Reagan administration, the Democracy Program recommended
establishing NED. It also advocated using the AFL-CIO's nearly
defunct Free Trade Union Institute as NED's core grantee for labor
From 1984 to 1990, NED received more than $152 million from
the U.S. government to support its "democracy-building"
efforts. A grant-making institution, NED has channeled aid to
an extensive network of private organizations working in more
than 100 countries around the world.
NED's grants-like those of the AFL-CIO's labor institutes-are
designed to strengthen pro-U.S. organizations and promote a positive
view of U.S. foreign policy overseas. It has used government funds
to back political parties, business associations, trade unions,
women's and youth groups, media projects, and partisan political
activities in countries ranging from Mexico to Indonesia, and
from Portugal to South Africa.
The endowment's four core grantees represent major political
sectors in the United States: labor, business, and the two dominant
political parties. Along with the AFL-CIO's Free Trade Union Institute,
the other core grantees are the Center for International Private
Enterprise, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs,
and National Republican Institute for International Affairs. The
majority of NED's funds are channeled through these core grantees,
but other grants are funneled through U.S.-based "discretionary
grantees" such as Freedom House and the League for Industrial
Private organizations have been an essential element in postwar
intervention network for various reasons. Nongovernmental groups
from the United States can penetrate foreign arenas-like trade
unions-in which it would be difficult or impossible for the U.S.
government to act openly. Moreover, shielded by their private
status, these allies of Washington are spared most of the oversight
and public scrutiny which would be aimed at similar initiatives
if they were carried out by government agencies.
Speaking of Latin America, one set of observers acknowledged
the important function private organizations like the AFL-CIO's
Latin American institute play in U.S. foreign policy:
The communist elements [in Latin America] do gain from region
wide feelings of nationalism that pit the U.S. against their smaller,
more economically dependent neighbors to the south. Current international
debt crises and the austerity measures recommended by the IMF
with U.S. support are used to generate [anti-U.S. government]
feelings on the part of workers. The role that U.S. multinational
corporations are perceived to have played in the development process
reinforces these views. This is a major reason why the AF of L-CIO
is a better vehicle as a fraternal organization to promote free
democratic trade unions than direct U.S. government involvement.
In other words, the federation and its institutes are useful
fronts for the U.S. government when it comes to international
labor sectors that distrust official U.S. initiatives. By capitalizing
on its fraternal status as an organization of workers, the AFL-CIO
can actually help to further U.S. interests that compete with
those of foreign workers. In so doing, the U.S. federation undermines
not only communist elements overseas. It also helps counteract
those democratic left-wing and nationalist social forces that
oppose economic and political subservience to Washington and austerity
measures that balance budgets on the backs of the poor and the
Unionists are particularly important in the geopolitical strategies
of the U.S. government because of their political importance and
because of the role they play in national economies. In fact,
trade unions are so strategically significant that they have been
used by governments of all political stripes to penetrate and
manipulate foreign political arenas. As a former research director
of the International Affairs Department of the United Auto Workers
[G]overnments and political parties have used the international
labor movement as one of the principal vehicles for their covert
interactions with political parties and governments in foreign
nations. The international trades union movement has been, and
continues to be, a vital tool of governments in the shaping of
the political destinies of foreign political parties and states
and is an important part of most nations' foreign-policy systems.
During the 1980s, the Cold War battlefield widened to include
the overt deployment of explicitly political and ideological weapons.
As a result of this shift, the AFL-CIO's international operations
received a boost from NED. Using NED funds, the international
institutes of the AFL-CIO have been able to expand their political
activities overseas. At the same time, relying on government funding
from other agencies, the institutes have continued to back the
union-building and social service projects that have attracted
foreign workers to their programs over the years. NED's support
has thus enhanced the AFL-CIO's already formidable role as a component
of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus, with both political and
economic influence over strategic labor sectors overseas.
Various interconnections exist between the endowment and the
labor institutes. Over the years, the Free Trade Union Institute
has shared three directors-Albert Shanker, Lane Kirkland, and
John T. Joyce-with NED. Representatives from the other three labor
institutes sit on FTUI's board, which in turn funnels endowment
grants to those institutes. Moreover, some FTUI directors are
associated with other endowment grantees. They have included John
DeConcini (A. Philip Randolph Institute), John Joyce (National
Democratic Institute for International Affairs, A. Philip Randolph
Institute, League for Industrial Democracy, Friends of the Democratic
Center in Central America), and Tom Kahn.
Like other top leaders of the AFL-CIO, Tom Kahn is affiliated
with various organizations that form an anticommunist phalanx
with U.S. foreign policy influence. Kahn, who heads the federation's
powerful international affairs department, is a principal of Social
Democrats USA (SD/USA). A small, self-described social democratic
organization, SD/USA's policies and activities dovetail smartly
with U.S. interventionism abroad, and its leaders dominate the
foreign policy apparatus of the AFL-CIO. Largely composed of ex-Trotskyites,
the organization is a right-wing breakaway faction from the U.S.
Socialist Party, which split over conceptions of the proper role
for the United
States to play in Vietnam. Through the strategic placement
of members such as Carl Gershman and Tom Kahn, SD/USA has exercised
a profound influence in the export of anticommunist ideology and
U.S. influence under the guise of promoting democracy. But as
one top union staffer explained, the organization is "not
only anticommunist, but anti-left," a fact that strictly
limits its alliances around the world.
In the 1970s, under the leadership of Carl Gershman, SD/USA
became a supporter of Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson and his contingent
of hawkish "defenders of democracy." Working with Jackson,
SD/USA's members gained political experience but little political
power. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, however, key
figures in SD/USA achieved positions of power and influence both
in the labor movement and in the government. Among the latter
were Reagan era appointees such as United Nations Ambassador Jeane
Kirkpatrick, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs
Elliott Abrams, and Geneva arms talks negotiator Max Kampelman.
Under the Bush administration, SD/USA has lost its high profile
representatives in government. It continues to dominate the AFL-CIO's
foreign policy, however. Its members are frequently staffers or
officers of the institutes and the AFL-CIO's international affairs
department. They perform operational and decision-making functions,
working behind the scenes to plan and implement policy. Besides
Kahn, influential SD/USA members in U.S. labor include Albert
Shanker, Adrian Karatnycky, Eugenia Kemble, and David Jessup (AIFLD
Special Assistant). Joel Freedman, married to SD/USA's national
secretary Rita Freedman, worked as international affairs adviser
to John Joyce with funding from the NED.
In addition to his membership in SD/USA, Kahn is the former
executive director of the League for Industrial Democracy. The
League is a conservative labor advocacy organization which shares
offices with and is influenced by SD/USA and has received funding
from the National Endowment for Democracy. Kahn also serves on
the boards of the NED-funded A. Philip Randolph Institute, International
Rescue Committee, Committee in Support of Solidarity, and Institute
for Democracy in Eastern Europe. He is a member of the American
Federation of Teachers, which also receives NED grants. Along
with William Doherty of the American Institute for Free Labor
Development, Kahn sits on the board of the Inter-American Foundation,
a grantmaking agency established and funded by Congress to promote
Latin American development projects. The foundation, long known
for funding progressive programs, suffered a shake-up under the
Reagan administration and shifted in a more conservative direction
in the 1980s.
Lane Kirkland straddles both the government and private sectors,
exemplifying the interconnections between the two which characterize
the intervention network. AFL-CIO President since 1979, Kirkland
served on the board of the American Political Foundation and has
been a director of NED since 1983. As AFL-CIO president, he automatically
serves as president of the Free Trade Union Institute, American
Institute for Free Labor Development, Asian-American Free Labor
Institute, and African-American Labor Center. He was a member
of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Council,
two think tanks which helped shape postwar foreign policy in the
United States. He also served on the board of the U.S. Information
Agency's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and was a founder of
the right-wing Committee on the Present Danger.
Kirkland has been tapped by presidents of both political parties
to participate on government-sponsored commissions and panels,
with a special emphasis on economic and foreign policy issues.
For instance, he was a member of the Kissinger Commission under
the Reagan administration and a member of the Commission on Financial
Structure and the Blue Ribbon Defense Commission under Richard
Nixon. He served on the Commission on CIA Activities in the mid-1970s
and later joined the Commission on the National Agenda for the
1980s under President Jimmy Carter. He has also been a member
of the General Advisory Committee of the Arms Control and Disarmament
Freedom House is one of the most influential " democracy-building"
havens for labor activists, particularly those affiliated with
Social Democrats USA. Advertised as a documentation center and
clearinghouse on human and civil rights, Freedom House is a neoconservative
heavyweight in the global war of ideas. During the postwar period,
it has provided exhaustive "documentation" of human
rights abuses by Soviet and leftist governments, while downplaying
and under-reporting abuses in U.S.-allied countries.
From 1984 to 1990, Freedom House funneled some $4.1 million
from NED to overseas grant recipients, primarily for "informational"
projects. Freedom House grants sometimes overlap with NED's grants
to the labor institutes. For example, both Freedom House and AIFLD
used NED funds to support the anti-Sandinista publications house,
Libro Libre, in Costa Rica. Similarly, in the May/June 1988 issue
of its journal Freedom at Issue, Freedom House printed an article
about education under Nicaragua's Sandinista "dictatorship."
The article resulted from a NED-funded study conducted by the
American Federation of Teachers and was widely distributed by
that federation and AIFLD.
In 1988, Freedom House sponsored a ten-member Working Group
on Central America which included AIFLD's executive director William
Doherty. Among other things, the group suggested that Washington
funnel "political aid" to the political opposition facing
the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections while simultaneously maintaining
the "cohesion" of the contras. Another member of the
Working Group was Penn Kemble, a member of Social Democrats USA
and brother of FTUI's first executive director, Eugenia Kemble.
Penn Kemble was one of the so-called "Gang of Four"
Democrats who helped persuade Congress to funnel aid to the Nicaraguan
contras in 1986. He is now a director of the NED-funded National
Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Top unionists
who are members of the board of trustees at Freedom House include
Albert Shanker, William Doherty, Sol C. Chaikin, and Norman Hill.
NED's president and staunch labor ally Carl Gershman once worked
as a Freedom House scholar.
A variety of other NED grantees known for their politicized
activities also include members of the U.S. labor leadership among
their directors. As mentioned above, Tom Kahn sits on the boards
of the Committee in Support of Solidarity and the Institute for
Democracy in Eastern Europe. These organizations funneled U.S.
government funds to dissident groups in Eastern Europe prior to
the downfall of the region's communist governments. Their grants
are now used to provide infrastructure support, produce and distribute
publications, and assist other activities of political organizations
in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
During the first six months of 1990 alone, for example, the Institute
for Democracy in Eastern Europe received more than $1 million
from NED for various projects in Eastern Europe.
Another NED grantee that includes labor leaders on its board
is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). A CIA-linked organization,
the IRC uses U.S. government funds to channel humanitarian aid
to target groups in geopolitical hotspots. In the last decade,
it has received grants from both AID and NED to work in such countries
as Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Honduras, Afghanistan, and
Poland. In July 1990 three top representatives of the IRC accompanied
an AFL-CIO delegation of state federation presidents to a Cambodian
refugee camp to inaugurate a Khmer women's agricultural training
project. Carl Gershman, Tom Kahn, Albert Shanker, and Jay Mazur
of the AFL-CIO Executive Council have all served as directors
of the committee.
William Doherty and John T. Joyce were board members of PRODEMCA
(Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America). A NED grantee
for anti-Sandinista projects inside Nicaragua, the organization
was headed by Penn Kemble. PRODEMCA was described by Aryeh Neier
of Americas Watch, a human rights watchdog group, as the "kiss
of death for independent organizations inside Nicaragua."
While receiving grants from the endowment, PRODEMCA used funds
generated from Oliver North's illegal contra support and drug-running
network to launch media campaigns in the United States in support
of military aid to the Nicaraguan contras. The group also conducted
free tours of a contra base camp in Honduras for selected policy
makers, journalists, and academics who were thought influential
in the contra aid debate. A congressional source told the Washington
Post that the camp was "basically there to put on a dog-and-pony
show for visiting congressional delegations. It's a carefully
controlled atmosphere. The people they are allowed to talk to
will give the party line."
Another group with ties to organized labor in the United States
is the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). The league was established
in 1905 to educate students and other members of society about
socialist principles of democracy and labor. Over the years it
lost its progressive orientation and by the 1950s became involved
with the CIA in efforts to combat communism." Now dominated
by anticommunists, its board is composed primarily of neoconservatives
associated with the Social Democrats USA and the international
institutes of the AFL-CIO.
Included among LID ranks are Sol Chaikin, Eric Chenowith,
William Doherty, Evelyn Dubrow, Larry Dugan, Jr., Norman Hill,
David Jessup, John T. Joyce, Tom Kahn, Jay Mazur, Joyce Miller,
Albert Shanker, Donald Slaiman, John T Sweeney, and Lynn R. Williams.
Penn Kemble and Roy Godson, a specialist in labor and intelligence
theory, are also LID directors. The league received a NED grant
in 1985 "for a study on the interrelationship between democratic
trade unions and political parties, with special emphasis on socialist
and social democratic parties, to examine their attitudes toward
U.S. labor, foreign-policy, [and] economic issues."
of the World Undermined