Enlisting in the Reagan-Bush
"Democracy" Offensive

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 grants.

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 Democracy.

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 working class.

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 described it,

[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 Agency.

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."

Workers of the World Undermined

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