USA: trade union leaders’ foreign affairs entangled with bosses’

US imperialism about 1900, when the military still cost much less than now, cartoonFrom Monthly Review in the USA:

AFL-CIO History of Imperialism

The AFL has long had an imperialist foreign policy.

This goes back to its predecessor, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which, under President Samuel Gompers, intervened in the Mexican Revolution (1911-1917).

The AFL worked hard to build support for the Allies during World War I and pushed the US Government to intervene.

Later, Gompers and the AFL played central roles in the development of US foreign policy against the Soviet Union.

In the post-World War II period, the US labor movement — first under the AFL and, after its 1955 merger with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, under the AFL-CIO — has been extremely active internationally.

It helped overthrow democratically-elected governments in Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973).

It supported reactionary labor movements that propped up dictatorships in El Salvador, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile after coups.

25 years ago: AFL-CIO admits to aiding right-wing groups in France: here.

A Union Activist’s Call for Change. Nick Egnatz, Online Journal: “Kim Scipes’ new book ‘AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers’ (Lexington Books, 2010) documents the history of AFL-CIO leadership in supporting the U.S. government policy of Empire in the developing world. AFL-CIO leadership, in secret and completely without the consent and support of their rank and file membership, has worked to thwart popular bottom-up organic democracy in the developing world and instead supported elite top-down democracy, friendly to U.S. corporate interests”: here.

British early and later 20th century ‘liberal’ ‘humanitarian imperialism’ views: here.

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13 thoughts on “USA: trade union leaders’ foreign affairs entangled with bosses’

    Interview with Jean Bricmont
    By Joaquim Da Fonseca and Michel Collon

    In his new book, Humanitarian Imperialism, Jean Bricmont denounces the use of the human rights pretext to justify attacks against countries in the South. He is a pacifist and a committed intellectual.

    How is it that a professor of theoretical physics has just written a book on imperialism?

    J.B. I have always been interested in politics, if only passively. I really became involved in 1999 during the war against Yugoslavia. The humanitarian reasons invoked by the United States left me puzzled. I was also shocked by the lack of opposition from the left, even some of the extreme left, to this aggression.

    I was asked to address conferences in all kinds of circles: Protestant churches, Muslim movements, student groups, ATTAC, etc. My humanitarian imperialism book is, among other things, a reaction to the concerns and proposals put forward by individuals and groups encountered during these conferences. The book is also a reaction to the attitude of certain political militants claiming to be of the left. In the name of human rights they legitimize aggression against sovereign countries. Or they moderate their opposition so much that it becomes only symbolic.

    Human rights is for the rubbish bin, then?

    J.B. I defend the aspirations in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948. It contains a collection of economic, social, political and individual rights. The problem arises when lack of respect, real or presumed, serves to legitimize war, embargoes and other sanctions against a country and when human rights becomes the pretext for a violent assault on that country. Moreover it often happens that only part of the Declaration is cited. When people talk of human rights, economic and social rights are often considered relatively unimportant compared with individual and political rights. Take, for example, the quality of health care in Cuba. This is a remarkable development of a socio-economic right. But it is totally ignored.

    While it is true that Cuba conforms perfectly to the very critical description given it by Reporters without Frontiers, this in no way reduces the importance of the quality of its health care. When speaking of Cuba, if you express reservations about lack of respect for political and individual rights you must at least mention the importance of economic and social rights from which the Cubans benefit. What is more important, the rights of individuals or health care? But no-one reasons like this. The right to housing, food, existence and health: these are usually ignored by the defenders of human rights.

    In fact, your book shows that these rights are ignored in the media campaigns against Socialist countries, like Cuba or China. You write that four million lives could have been saved if India had adopted the Chinese path.

    J.B. The economists Jean Drčze and Amartya Sen estimate that, departing from a similar base, China and India have followed different development paths and that the difference between the social systems of these two countries results in about 3.9 million extra deaths in India every year. In Latin America 285,000 lives would be saved each year if Cuban health and food policies were applied.

    I am not saying that social and economic performance can justify deficiencies in other fields of human rights. But no-one would maintain that the contrary is true: respect for individual and political rights does not justify flouting social and economic rights. Why do the defenders of human rights never say so? Let us come back to Cuba. Can the lack of individual freedoms be justified by effective health care? That can be discussed. If, in Cuba, there was a pro-Western regime, it is certain that health care would not be so effective. This can be deduced from the state of people’s health in the “pro-Western” countries of Latin America. Hence, in practical terms there is a choice between the different types of human rights: what are most important, the social and economic ones, or the political and individual ones?

    It would of course be best to have both together. The Venezuelan president Chávez, for example, is trying to reconcile them. But the US interventionist policy makes this reconciliation difficult in the Third World. What I would like to emphasize is that it is not for us, in the West, who benefit from the two kinds of rights, to lay down what choice is to be made. We should rather put our energies into enabling the Third World countries to carry out their development independently, in the hope that this will eventually help these rights to emerge.

    Is there not a great difference between how human rights and the duty to intervene are perceived according to whether you come from the North or the South of the planet?

    J.B. In 2002, not long before the war against Iraq, I went to Damascus in Syria and Beirut in Lebanon. I met quite a few people. To say that they opposed the war against Iraq is putting it mildly. And that was the case even at the American University of Beirut. Anti-Americanism and fierce opposition against Israel was tremendous.

    When I returned to Belgium I saw no evidence of this at all. Take the question of the disarmament of Iraq. Certain members of the CNAPD (Belgian anti-war coordinating body) told me that this disarmament had to be imposed, although not of course by military, but through peaceful means. If these proposals were advocated in the Middle East, people would immediately reply: “And Israel, why should it not be disarmed?”

    In Latin America, and in the Arab-Muslim world particularly, the perception of international law is totally different from ours here, even among the left and the extreme left. The latter do not appear to be interested to know what the populations immediately concerned think about our interventions.

    Why is that? Is it a question of navel-gazing? Or of ethnocentricity?

    J.B. During decolonization and the Vietnam War, the left adopted a new attitude. It defended an anti-imperialist policy in economic, military and social affairs. Since then this attitude has been undermined by intervention in the name of human rights. The opposition to neo-colonialism has been replaced by the desire to help the peoples of the South to fight against their dictatorial, inefficient and corrupt governments…Those who support this position are not aware of the chasm that separates them from the peoples of the Third World, who do not generally accept the intervention of the Western governments into their internal affairs.

    Of course many of them desire more democratic and more honest governments. But why? Because such rulers would manage their natural resources more rationally, obtain better prices for their primary commodities, protect them from control by the multinationals and even build up powerful armies.

    When certain people here speak about more democratic governments, they do not mean any of these things. Truly democratic governments in the South would be more like that of Chávez than that of the current Iraqi government.

    Is there not a background of colonial ideology in all this?

    J.B. Perhaps, but it is presented in a post-colonial language. Everyone condemns colonialism. Those who defend the current wars insist that humanitarian intervention is “totally different” from colonialism. However, one can only remark the continuity in this change. Intervention was first legitimized by Christianity, then by a civilizing mission – also by anti-Communism. Our claim to superiority has always authorized us to commit a series of monstrous actions.

    What is the role of the media in propagating this “humanitarian imperialism”?

    J.B. It is fundamental. In the case of the Yugoslav war, the media was used to prepare public opinion for such attacks. As with Iraq, the journalists are constantly repeating “all the same, it is a good thing that Saddam Hussein has been overthrown.” But to what extent is it legitimate for the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein? This question is never posed in the newspapers. Do the Iraqis consider that this intervention benefits them? If this is the case, why do more than 80 per cent of them desire the departure of the United States? The press criticizes the United States, but its criticism is mostly about the methods used during the war and the occupation, not about the very principle of intervention.

    Would the United States be less likely to make war under a Democratic president?

    J.B. That largely depends on the way in which the occupation of Iraq winds up. There are many voices in the United States that call for the withdrawal of the troops and there is a climate of panic in many sectors of the society. If, as in Vietnam, the Iraq war concludes with a catastrophe, there could be a considerable interlude from such policies for a while. If the retreat goes smoothly, if there is not too much damage, they could then rapidly go off to war again. But it is a widespread illusion that the Democrats are less aggressive and that they do not support military interventions.

    Why is the reaction to the war by progressive Europeans so weak?

    J.B. The ecologists, the Socialist left, the traditional Communist parties, the Trotskyites and most of the NGOs have opposed the war very feebly. Their positions have been undermined by the ideology of humanitarian intervention and all serious references to socialism in their programme have been abandoned. Part of this left has substituted the struggle for human rights for its initial aims of social improvements or revolution.

    As it is difficult for these movements to defend the war of the USA against Yugoslavia and Iraq, they adopt the rather convenient position of “Neither, nor”. “Neither Bush nor Saddam”: this enables them to avoid any criticism. Of course I can understand why Saddam Hussein is not liked. But the implications of the “Neither, nor” position go well beyond this.

    First, it does not recognize the legitimacy of international law. It does not distinguish between the aggressors and the aggressed. Just to make a comparison: it would have been difficult, during the Second World War, to affirm “Neither Hitler, nor Stalin” without being considered a collaborator.

    Second, this approach underestimates the extent of the damage caused by the United States since 1945. Since the end of the Second World War, they have been intervening everywhere in the world to support or install conservative and reactionary forces, from Guatemala to the Congo, from Indonesia to Chile. They have been busy killing the hope of the poor for social change everywhere. It is they, and not Saddam Hussein, who want to overthrow Hugo Chávez. The Vietnam War was nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. Even if it is admitted that Milosevic and Saddam Hussein have been demonized, putting them in the same category as the USA at the world level is, for them, totally unjust and false.

    Finally, what upsets me most with this “Neither, nor” attitude is the position that we assume, by adopting such slogans, towards our own responsibility.

    When we see policies that don’t like in the Third World, we must begin by discussing them with the people who live there, and do this with organizations that represent large sections of the population, not with little groups or isolated individuals. We must try to see if their priorities are the same as ours. I hope that the alternative world movement will create channels of communication that promote a better understanding of the viewpoints of the South. For the time being, the Western left tends to stay in its corner, having very little influence in its own home base and indirectly playing the game of imperialism by demonizing the Arabs, the Russians, the Chinese – in the name of democracy and human rights.

    What we are mainly responsible for is the imperialism of our own countries. Let us start by tackling that – and effectively!

    Thanks to Victoria Bawtree for the translation!

    Jean Bricmont. Impéralisme humanitaire. Droits de l’Homme, droit d’ingérence, droit du plus fort?, Ed. Aden, 2005, 253 pages, 18 euros.
    Can be ordered from éditions Aden :

    See also (in French) : Biography of Jean Bricmont

    Jean Bricmont – Quelques remarques sur la violence, la démocratie et l’espoir:

    Jean Bricmont – Européens, encore un effort si vous voulez vous joindre au genre humain!

    Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone – Les deux faces de la politique américaine

    On the war on Iraq and its causes, see also the new book:
    “Bush, le cyclone” : http://www.michelcol…/bush_le_cyclone.php



    Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty In The World

    By Michael Parenti

    24 April, 2007

    There is a “mystery” we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?
    Over the last half century, U.S. industries and banks (and other western corporations) have invested heavily in those poorer regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America known as the “Third World.” The transnationals are attracted by the rich natural resources, the high return that comes from low-paid labor, and the nearly complete absence of taxes, environmental regulations, worker benefits, and occupational safety costs.
    The U.S. government has subsidized this flight of capital by granting corporations tax concessions on their overseas investments, and even paying some of their relocation expenses—much to the outrage of labor unions here at home who see their jobs evaporating.
    The transnationals push out local businesses in the Third World and preempt their markets. American agribusiness cartels, heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, dump surplus products in other countries at below cost and undersell local farmers. As Christopher Cook describes it in his Diet for a Dead Planet, they expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, usually monoculture crops requiring large amounts of pesticides, leaving less and less acreage for the hundreds of varieties of organically grown foods that feed the local populations.
    By displacing local populations from their lands and robbing them of their self-sufficiency, corporations create overcrowded labor markets of desperate people who are forced into shanty towns to toil for poverty wages (when they can get work), often in violation of the countries’ own minimum wage laws.
    In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. The United States is one of the few countries that has refused to sign an international convention for the abolition of child labor and forced labor. This position stems from the child labor practices of U.S. corporations throughout the Third World and within the United States itself, where children as young as 12 suffer high rates of injuries and fatalities, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.
    The savings that big business reaps from cheap labor abroad are not passed on in lower prices to their customers elsewhere. Corporations do not outsource to far-off regions so that U.S. consumers can save money. They outsource in order to increase their margin of profit. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for 13 cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States.
    U.S. foreign aid usually works hand in hand with transnational investment. It subsidizes construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the Third World: ports, highways, and refineries.
    The aid given to Third World governments comes with strings attached. It often must be spent on U.S. products, and the recipient nation is required to give investment preferences to U.S. companies, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods in favor of imported ones, creating more dependency, hunger, and debt.
    A good chunk of the aid money never sees the light of day, going directly into the personal coffers of sticky-fingered officials in the recipient countries.
    Aid (of a sort) also comes from other sources. In 1944, the United Nations created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Voting power in both organizations is determined by a country’s financial contribution. As the largest “donor,” the United States has a dominant voice, followed by Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The IMF operates in secrecy with a select group of bankers and finance ministry staffs drawn mostly from the rich nations.
    The World Bank and IMF are supposed to assist nations in their development. What actually happens is another story. A poor country borrows from the World Bank to build up some aspect of its economy. Should it be unable to pay back the heavy interest because of declining export sales or some other reason, it must borrow again, this time from the IMF.
    But the IMF imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.
    They are forced to open their forests to clear-cutting and their lands to strip mining, without regard to the ecological damage done. The debtor nations also must cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments. Required to grow cash crops for export earnings, they become even less able to feed their own populations.
    So it is that throughout the Third World, real wages have declined, and national debts have soared to the point where debt payments absorb almost all of the poorer countries’ export earnings—which creates further impoverishment as it leaves the debtor country even less able to provide the things its population needs.
    Here then we have explained a “mystery.” It is, of course, no mystery at all if you don’t adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.
    There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few.
    In their perpetual confusion, some liberal critics conclude that foreign aid and IMF and World Bank structural adjustments “do not work”; the end result is less self-sufficiency and more poverty for the recipient nations, they point out. Why then do the rich member states continue to fund the IMF and World Bank? Are their leaders just less intelligent than the critics who keep pointing out to them that their policies are having the opposite effect?
    No, it is the critics who are stupid not the western leaders and investors who own so much of the world and enjoy such immense wealth and success. They pursue their aid and foreign loan programs because such programs do work. The question is, work for whom? Cui bono?
    The purpose behind their investments, loans, and aid programs is not to uplift the masses in other countries. That is certainly not the business they are in. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of Third World peoples, monopolize their markets, depress their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these nations from emerging as trade competitors by not allowing them a normal development.
    In these respects, investments, foreign loans, and structural adjustments work very well indeed.
    The real mystery is: why do some people find such an analysis to be so improbable, a “conspiratorial” imagining? Why are they skeptical that U.S. rulers knowingly and deliberately pursue such ruthless policies (suppress wages, rollback environmental protections, eliminate the public sector, cut human services) in the Third World? These rulers are pursuing much the same policies right here in our own country!
    Isn’t it time that liberal critics stop thinking that the people who own so much of the world—and want to own it all—are “incompetent” or “misguided” or “failing to see the unintended consequences of their policies”? You are not being very smart when you think your enemies are not as smart as you. They know where their interests lie, and so should we.


  3. 75 years ago: AFL redbaits CIO unions

    At a hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on August 15, 1938 John P. Frey, chief of the Metal Trades Department and vice president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), sought to redbait the rival Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

    The prominent role of the Communist Party and other leftwing groups in the struggles of 1936-37 that gave rise to the CIO was no secret, despite Frey’s effort to portray it as a conspiracy. The representative of the privilege craft union bureaucracy was making common cause with the most right-wing factions of the employers and the US ruling class against the mass movement of the working class that had revolutionary potential.

    Frey declared that communism had historically made no inroads into the ranks of American trade unions until the CIO was formed, and that now there were some 500 Communist Party members on the CIO payroll. Frey named 284 and promised another 230 names. He also submitted a mass of un-authenticated documents as “evidence” of his charges against the CIO, and claimed that communist penetration went beyond the unions into the spheres of American religion, education and even Federal relief.

    Frey was careful however to state that John Lewis, the head of the CIO, was not himself a communist, nor was most of the membership. But he claimed that the militant tactics the CIO unions had successfully employed to win struggles in auto and other basic industries were communist-inspired.

    “The sitdown strike and mass picketing have been used in our country as a training camp in which the communists can become familiar with the tactics that they are to apply when their revolutionary program is put into action” he declared, “as front line trenches in which the mass revolutionaries of the future are to receive experience and training to equip them for the day when the signal for revolution is given.”

    Frey drew his evidence to a close on August 16 with a direct appeal to congressional Democrats, warning that the alleged penetration into the labor movement by communists would discredit President Roosevelt’s New Deal reform program.


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  8. 50 years ago: Meany denies CIA funding of AFL-CIO

    On February 21, 1966, AFL-CIO President George Meany brazenly denied well-documented reports that the labor federation was receiving funds from the CIA. Meany’s statement followed revelations during the week exposing the funneling of CIA money into the pockets of the trade union bureaucracy.

    Reports in the press linked the CIA with the American Institute for Free Labor Development, the so-called International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the American-African Labor Institute. The press also reported that the American Newspaper Guild received up to $1 million in contributions from foundations identified as CIA fronts and that the Retail Clerks union was receiving money from another CIA front organization.

    The American Institute for Free Labor Development was established in 1962 with the blessings of Wall Street and the US State Department to support the construction of anticommunist unions in Latin America. Its top man was ex-Stalinist Jay Lovestone, the director of the AFL-CIO International Affairs department. Columnist Drew Pearson charged that Lovestone was working under the direction of the CIA. Irving Brown, head of the American-African Labor Institute, was also reported to be linked to the CIA.

    Meany stonewalled the new charges, piously claiming he opposed connections between the AFL-CIO and the CIA. He denied any knowledge of affiliated unions receiving CIA funds and said he would conduct a private investigation of the allegations. Continued public reaction to the revelations of CIA domestic subversion forced President Lyndon Johnson to order a halt in March to such activities, except for “overriding security reasons.”


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