November 8, 2004

AFL-CIO’s Dark Past (1)

Meany Hired a Former Top Communist
To Run AFL-CI0’s International Affairs

By Harry Kelber

The first in a series of six articles

For nearly 30 years, George Meany, a New York Irish Catholic plumber, who rose to be the undisputed leader of the American labor movement, collaborated with Jay Lovestone, a Lithuanian-born Jew, who was secretary general of the American Communist Party from 1927 to 1929, until he was expelled in a losing confrontation with Russia’s Joseph Stalin.

It was an odd partnership. Meany, the portly, cigar-chomping, strong willed labor leader, who was on first-name terms with every U.S. president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, and Lovestone, a crafty, single-minded, behind-the-scenes operator, who had hands-on experience about what was going on, not only in the Soviet Union, but also Western Europe.

What brought the two together was a shared hatred of Communism and an ambitious plan to build a global network of pro-democratic unions under their control. They were introduced by David Dubinsky, president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers in October 1941, shortly after Meany became secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Dubinsky, Lovestone’s benefactor, told Meany: “The son of a bitch is okay, he’s been converted.”

Meany, who had a vision of establishing ties with labor federations throughout the world with the nerve center at AFL headquarters in Washington, hired Lovestone to develop his international affairs program. It was a bold, unorthodox appointment, but the few labor leaders who knew about it did not raise objections.

Lovestone, a New York City College graduate, became a Communist in 1917 at age 17, and rose to head the U.S. party, but was expelled in 1929 on Stalin’s orders at a Comintern meeting in Moscow, after demanding some independence for American communists. He then spent the next dozen years in an unsuccessful effort to form an opposition communist party.

At age 41, Lovestone found a new mission: to eliminate communists from the American labor movement. He set his sights on the CIO, where communists and “fellow travelers” were in the leadership or exercised growing influence in some 18 international unions, and he singled out the United Auto Workers, the second largest in the CIO, as his target.

Lovestone had gained a foothold in the union movement through his friendship with Sasha Zimmerman, manager of ILGWU’s Local 22. He soon came to the attention of Dubinsky, a hard-bitten anti-communist, who gave him a sizable slush fund to purge the UAW of leftist leaders. For two years, Lovestone served as chief of staff to UAW’s first president, Homer Martin, arranging for the discharge of known leftists and replacing them with trusted “Lovestonites” from New York.

Failed to Oust Leftists in United Auto Workers

At the UAW convention in Milwaukee in August 1937, Lovestone hoped to get rid of two leftist vice presidents and the treasurer, but he was foiled by John L. Lewis, who addressed the convention and urged a united leadership. Lewis had a working relationship with communists, who were among his best organizers and who held their jobs “at his pleasure.”

Lovestone’s meddling into UAW affairs and his attempted coup earned him the bitter enmity of Walter Reuther, later to become the union’s president, who regarded him as a disrupter and spoiler.

Nevertheless, Lovestone, backed by Meany, became more influential within the labor movement. At the AFL’s 1944 convention, the Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC) was created to assist free trade unions abroad, particularly in Europe. Lovestone was named its secretary.

With the end of World War II, there began intense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union to win the allegiance of Greece, Turkey, Italy, West Germany and France. In these struggles, the U.S. State Department found a willing ally in the FTUC and began to supply it with substantial funds and contacts.

By 1946, the State Department had twenty-two labor attachés stationed in embassies around the world. Lovestone, using Meany’s political leverage with President Truman, managed to get appointments for AFL candidates, who subsequently would report not only to the State Department, but to him personally. He also formed alliances with senior officers in the State Department who shared his anti-Soviet convictions and who furnished him with intelligence reports.

In constant communication with his network of agents in an increasing number of countries, Lovestone was able to operate in secret from an office in the ILGWU headquarters in New York City with a few assistants, receiving reports and issuing directives, masterminding political events on a worldwide chessboard. He would make progress reports to Meany, Dubinsky and a third AFL officer, Matthew Woll, president of the Photoengravers Union. Not a word of what Lovestone was doing ever reached union members.

With lavish government funding, Lovestone was able to offer enticing bribes to foreign union leaders to do his bidding. He could have them order national demonstrations and paralyzing strikes against any government that did not support American foreign policy. The FTUC was able to encourage and subsidize dual, competing unions in countries where mainstream unions were considered pro-communist. The FTUC became, in effect, an arm of the State Department, enabling it to meddle in the internal affairs of foreign countries through their labor movements.

Lovestone’s grand mission, fully supported by Meany, Dubinsky and Woll, was to eliminate pro-communist unions everywhere, especially in countries under Soviet domination, and supplant them with “free” unions, American style, that respected the rules of a free market economy.

Inducements for Foreign Union Activists

Trade unionists from foreign countries were invited to spend as many as three months to study the American economy and democratic political system and compare them with Soviet models. They met with union leaders in various cities. They learned how U.S. unions function and what features they could apply to their own labor movements. Lovestone was on the lookout for people whom he could manipulate in future actions in their respective countries.

When they returned home, many indoctrinated foreign union leaders continued to receive a stipend from the FTUC. Foreign unions favored by Lovestone received printing presses, office equipment and subsidies for educational programs. Every effort was made to cultivate their loyalty to the FTUC in the event of any future controversy involving American economic and political interests.

Lovestone was committed to aggressive intervention abroad and plunged into the battleground for union dominance in France, Italy and West Germany. At an FTUC meeting in January 1946, Lovestone endorsed a plan to give Irving Brown, his long-time associate, the sum of one hundred thousand dollars to build an anti-communist bloc of delegates to disrupt the forthcoming convention of the left-wing CGT, France’s largest union. For Lovestone, “France is the number one country in Europe from the point of view of saving the Western labor movement from totalitarian control.”

Brown’s strenuous efforts to disrupt the CGT convention failed. The communists had a four-to-one majority and enacted decisions that solidified their control. But Brown was not deterred. In early 1947, the FTUC sent $50,000 to Paris to help in the formation of a dual union, the Force Ouvrière, as a breakaway from the CGT. The new union was founded in December 1947 by 250 delegates at a national conference in Paris.

On January 7, U.S. Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, who had been working closely with Brown, cabled Robert Lovett, then acting Secretary of State, that the Force Ouvrière’s split with the CGT was “potentially the most important political event since the liberation of France.”

AFL’s Splitting Tactics in Italy

Lovestone and Brown used the same technique that had been so successful in France: to split off a rival union from the dominant communist federation, the CGIL. The CGIL was the umbrella for Italian workers representing the three main political parties (Communist, Socialist and Christian Democrat.) The AFL strategy was to shore up the anti-communist forces within the CGIL, with the aim of splitting them off into a separate union.

The State Department let it be known that the price of Marshall Plan aid to Italy was the removal of the communists from the government. To prevent the communists from winning the crucial April 1948 parliamentary elections, the Central Intelligence Agency, newly formed in 1947, sent $10 million for covert election campaigning. The Christian Democrats won, with 48% of the vote, a serious blow to the communists.

In June 1948, Lovestone and Dubinsky came to Rome to promote a split from the CGIL of the three non-communist groups: the Catholic Christian Democrats, the Centrist Republicans and the Socialists, with promises of ample funding if they broke away as a unit. Only, the Catholic Christian Democrats left to form the Free Italian Confederation of Labor (LCGIL). Promised financial aid by labor attaché Tom Lane. LCGIL’s president, Giulio Pastore said he would need $1.5 million in operating expenses for the first nine months, an amount readily approved by the State Department.

In 1949, the Republicans and Socialist unions left the CGIL to form their own federation, FIL. Finally, on May Day 1950, Lovestone and Brown had achieved their objective: the merger of the three anti-communists unions, to be known as the Italian Federation of Trade Unions (CISL)

AFL and CIO Disagree on Rebuilding German Unions

At the end of World War II, defeated Germany was divided into four zones of Allied occupation, with the Americans. British, French and Russians, each controlling one sector. A major question in the American zone was what steps should be taken to revive the German trade unions.

There was sharp disagreement between AFL and CIO strategists on how the German unions in the American zone should be restored and restructured. The CIO position, supported by the U.S. officer in charge of labor issues, Brig. Gen. Frank McSherry, was that the trade unions had to be reorganized at the “grass roots.”

The plan called for the election of shop stewards in each plant every three-months. At the end of two years, there would be formal recognition of new unions, based on new leaders, rather than the unions that had existed in pre-Hitler days.

The AFL position, as expressed by Lovestone, was: “The FTUC is in favor of giving former German trade unionists an opportunity to resume their work in the trade union movement without any hindrance. We also favor the immediate return of the properties confiscated by Hitler to the trade unionists.”

There was fierce infighting between partisans of each approach, with frequent appeals to Gen. Lucius Clay, the American occupation commander, by both sides. . By October 1945, shop stewards had been elected in 3,000 plants in the American zone. But by November, the AFL was already working with pre-war labor leaders, whose unions were functioning, although unofficially.

The AFL trusted the pre-war German labor leaders because it had had friendly ties with them for many years before the start of the war. It feared that the “bottoms-up” approach would lead to a Soviet takeover of the German labor movement.

With AFL President George Meany using his influence with the White House, the State Department announced in March 1946 that “military government should permit proven anti-Nazis to organize primary trade unions.”

One month later, a meeting of German labor leaders established thirteen unions. By October 1949, the West German Labor Federation (DGB) would hold its first convention, with 16 autonomous unions representing five million members.

Lovestone sent a confidential report on the achievements of the Free Trade Union Committee to Meany and Woll in November 1947 that said: “Our trade union programs have penetrated every country in Europe…The AFL has become a world force in the conflict with world Communism in every field affecting international labor.”

Meanwhile, American unions and their members were kept in the dark about the AFL’s covert operations in Europe, and the huge government payoffs it was getting to disrupt and weaken left-wing labor federations.

At that moment, ironically, Republicans had launched an anti-communist campaign against unions here at home, with the 1947 passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, dubbed “the slave labor act" by CIO unions.

Article 2: "AFL-CIO’s partnership with the CIA." (Nov. 15, 2004)

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