December 6, 2004

AFL-CIO’s Dark Past (5)

Kirkland Built A Secret Global Empire
With U.S. Funds to Control Foreign Labor

By Harry Kelber

The fifth in a series of six articles

Lane Kirkland became president of the AFL-CIO at the 1979 convention when a dying George Meany called on the delegates to elect him — and no one dared say nay including several candidates who wanted the job.

Lane had very little actual experience within the labor movement. He had been a member of a tiny union, the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, remaining as a union activist for less than a year.

His passion was international relations. He earned a degree in foreign affairs in 1948 from the prestigious Georgetown University School of Foreign Services and appeared headed for a career in diplomacy.

He went to work for the AFL as a staff researcher, working in relative obscurity as a writer in the social security department until 1960, when Meany picked him as his assistant.

In Kirkland, Meany found a man as hard-bitten an anti-Communist as himself and one who would serve him well. Lane’s influence in the conduct of AFL-CIO international affairs grew, and Meany was not disappointed. His prestige and power in Washington circles also rose, but even at the height of his power, his name recognition among union members was a bare three percent.

As AFL-CIO President, Kirkland showed little interest in union organizing or collective bargaining. He said those functions and related activities were the province of the autonomous international unions. He rarely appeared on picket lines and rallies, and looked uncomfortable in a union baseball cap and windbreaker when he did.

He spent most of his time and energy to administer a world-wide labor empire through four regional institutes that he personally controlled. His operatives were active in 85 countries around the world, working to defend the policies of the United States government and American business interests.

The American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) operated in Latin America and the Caribbean; African-American Labor Center (AALC) functioned in more than a score of African countries, ranging from Angola to Zimbabwe.

Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) operated in about 30 countries in Asia and the Pacific, with resident representatives in Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Turkey. The Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) concentrated on European countries.

Kirkland was president of all four institutes. Hr placed virtually the same group of Executive Council members on the boards of all four institutes. Hardly any information about the institutes reached union members, especially those that dealt with covert operations.

While Kirkland insisted that the institutes were largely financed by the labor movement, the truth is that almost all of their funding came from the United States government and outside sources. He tried to perpetuate the myth that the institutes served as an independent voice of the labor movement.

In I987, for example, direct grants from U.S. government agencies and the National Endowment for Democracy accounted for 98 percent of the institutes’ funding, while the AFL-CIO itself contributed a mere 2 percent toward its foreign activities.

For its lush grants to Kirkland's institutes, the government expected them to give unflagging support for its foreign policies and the needs of American business. And the institutes were eager to oblige, because it provided them with the funds to create a global network of American-style unions, loyal to the AFL-CIO.

In the Philippines, the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) spent heavily to bribe leaders of the island’s Trade Union Congress to support the bloody dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, and call for a more favorable climate for American business. The institute also worked to weaken an independent union that opposed Marcos, and praised the arrests of its leaders.

A similar scenario unfolded in South Korea, where the AFL-CIO supported a government-sponsored union with substantial funding to ward off the rise of a militant independent labor federation.

While Kirkland, during the Reagan years, was plotting new strategies to extend his alliances with labor federations on four continents, unions in the United States were weakened by severe losses in membership and bargaining power.

In the 1994 Congress, when both the House and the Senate had approved the Worker Fairness Bill banning the permanent replacement of strikers, and only seven Senate votes were needed to defeat an expected filibuster, Kirkland was in Europe, attending an international labor conference.

The Endowment Replaces CIA as Grant Dispenser

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a major funding agency, on which Kirkland’s institutes depended heavily for lucrative grants. It was created by Congress in 1983 to make open grants to business, labor and the two major political parties, after embarrassing scandals about illicit funding by the CIA, including the laundering of drug money.

With an annual government budget of better than $30 million, NED was able to fund a variety of social projects that equated a free market economy with democratic values and emphasized the merits of foreign investment.

AIFLD was one of NED’s favorite grantees. From 1994 to 1996, NED awarded 15 grants, totaling more than $2.5 million to the AFL-CIO institute to be used to indoctrinate Third World unions and their members to oppose nationalization of American companies, and instead, encourage investment from abroad.

Despite a law passed by Congress in 1984 that prohibited the use of NED funds to “finance the campaign of candidates for public office,” NED, through strategically-placed grants, was able to influence the election of pro-American candidates in Nicaragua in 1990 and Mongolia in 1996. It helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in Bulgaria in 1990 and Albania in 1991 and used its weight to meddle into the electoral-political processes of numerous other countries. All of these subversive activities had the approval of Kirkland and his AIFLD institute.

The Endowment, as well as the AIFLD, played important roles in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980s, with the funding of key components of Oliver North’s shadowy “Project Democracy” network, which waged war, ran arms and drugs, and engaged in other activities that violated U.S. law.

NED also mounted a well-financed campaign against the leftist insurgency in the Philippines in the mid-1980s, funding a host of private organizations, including unions and the media. And between 1990 and 1992, it donated $250,000 to the Cuban-American Nationalist Foundation and its supporters, an anti-Castro group in Miami.

It is worth noting that while Kirkland’s AIFLD was working to implement President Reagan’s policies in Latin America and the Caribbean, Reagan fired 10,000 federal air traffic controllers for daring to go out on strike.

Kirkland Applauds Victory of Polish Shipyard Workers

The 18-day strike by Polish workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk in defiance of the Communist government won the admiration of trade unionists around the world. The 1980 strike brought into prominence a new, militant union, Solidarnosc (Solidarity), pledged to reform the country’s economic and political system. It also made a popular labor hero of Lech Walesa, an electrician at the shipyard, who was a key figure in the historic strike.

Kirkland was delighted with the spectacular victory of the Gdansk shipyard workers. He saw the possibility of replicating Solidarity’s triumph in the countries of Eastern Europe, dominated by the Soviet Union. He felt the Reagan administration would be supportive of a campaign to liberate workers in the “Evil Empire.”

Throughout the 1980s, the Free Trade Union Institute channeled major grants to Solidarity and its supporters to meet important economic needs, using the aid to establish close ties with Walesa and other leaders.

Kirkland also saw the fall of the Polish Communist regime as an opportunity for American investors to take advantage of the country’s economic vacuum to introduce free market capitalism.

Instead of the economic improvements that workers expected from the elimination of the Communist system, there was a decline in their living standards, an increase in unemployment and a proposal for a wage freeze, as the new government wrestled with the problems of restructuring the country’s battered economy.

Six years after the strike, the Lenin shipyard was shut down as unprofitable. The new conservative government had to cope with the problem of containing “worker unrest.”

In 1989, a U.S. delegation to Poland, that included Kirkland as well as business and government leaders, suggested that the workers had to take wage cuts to provide an “important source of international competitive advantage on the world market.”

Kirkland brought Walesa to AFL-CIO headquarters and honored him with a lavish testimonial dinner and the George Meany Human Rights Award. In return, he was invited to Poland, where he received a rousing welcome from Solidarity members in gratitude for the financial aid the AFL CIO had given them.

Funding Dual Unions in Russia

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1992, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and his international staff created dual unions in Russia in an effort to dismember or destroy the existing mainstream labor federations.

The AFL-CIO set up a headquarters in Moscow, from which it supplied money, computers, copier machines, supplies and professional advice to fledgling “alternate unions.” It admitted that its organizing efforts were being funded by outside sources, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy, with the U.S. State Department reported to have contributed $10 million to the project.

Kirkland became interested in Russian unions during the 1989 independent coal miners strike, hoping to build counterforce unions to the mainstream unions, which he characterized pejoratively as the “official” unions.

He invited leaders of the 40,000-member miners union to the 1991 AFL-CIO convention, while ignoring the General Confederation of Trade Unions (GCTU), then representing more than 100 million members in the 15 republics of the former USSR.

One of the miners’ leaders, Victor Utkin, said: “We hope that we will be strong enough to oppose the General Confederation of Trade Unions, which is composed of the old official Communist unions.” The GCTU, Utkin conceded, “is very strong…They still have all the pension funds and all of the resorts and sanatoria where workers can take vacations. They own all the medical complexes where workers are treated.”

Despite the AFL-CIO’s organizing efforts, the alternate unions represented about one percent of the workers, compared with the GCTU affiliates. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FITUR) had about 60 million dues-payers, while the Moscow Trade Union Federation alone had more than 4.8 million, three times as great as the largest AFL-CIO-affiliated union.

Explaining the AFL-CIO’s attitude toward Russian unions and their leaders, James Baker, Kirkland’s executive assistant, stated: “We do not recognize the General Confederation of Trade Unions as a free and independent union. It is still being run and controlled by the former bureaucrats. We have not invited them to any of our meetings and there is no intention of establishing contacts with them at this time.”

For their part, Russia’s union leaders deeply resented the AFL-CIO’s unwarranted interference in their affairs.

Teachers Union Conducts Campaign to “Educate” Russians

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was a long-time anti-Communist and close ally of Lane Kirkland, both of whom were on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy and in a favored position to get hefty NED grants.

While Kirkland was creating dual unions in Russia in the vain hope of splintering the country’s labor movement, Shanker and his aides were busy in Moscow, setting up “democracy classes” to educate Russian workers on the values and benefits of the American way of life.

Using dues money of its members, the AFT launched its Teacher Organizing and Education Resource Center in Moscow and arrogantly proposed to replace the former Russian curricula with a “democracy curriculum,” idealizing American global leadership and the virtues of capitalism, which it equated with democracy.

With $248,000 from NED, an AFT-controlled Russian language newspaper, Delo, was published, but it lasted only a year, when funds were cut in 1996.

By 1995, the known funding of the Russian operation had reached approximately $30 million. While the AFL-CIO had repeatedly refused to finance a national radio station for American workers (or a daily labor newspaper), it miraculously found, via the AFT, $660,000 for four radio stations in Russia during 1994 alone.

* * * * *

For a half century, American workers had been kept completely in the dark about the Meany-Kirkland covert operations in foreign countries, financed mainly by U.S. government agencies and giant corporations that expected a handsome return for their investments.

Union members were never told how, in their name, AFL-CIO leaders meddled into the internal affairs of dozens of countries, attacking indigenous labor unions and destabilizing nationalist movements that would not conform to America’s global ambitions.

Even in the historic 1995 contest for the AFL-CIO presidency, neither John Sweeney nor his rival, Thomas Donahue, discussed labor’s record on foreign policy during their debate, and it never turned up as an issue during the campaign. The prevailing view among top labor leaders was to keep the skeletons in the closet and move on.

Article 6: Would Sweeney Change AFL-CIO Policy?

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