In order to defend the interests of its big companies in Latin American against the Socialist governments, the United States did not just infiltrated their armies but they also recruited troublemakers in the civil society with the excuse of forming unionists. A specialized institute of the AFL-CIO, created by the Pentagon and the CIA, headed by important figures, directly participated in the destabilization of Guyana, Brazil or Chile. This is the second and last part of our investigation on trade union interference.
After having participated in Washington’s policy of manipulation of leftist forces against Communism, the AFL-CIO reorganized itself in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy created the US Agency for International Development (USAID) . The international activities of the trade union were entrusted to three organizations and each of them was in charge of a different geographical area.
The AIFLD: Trade Union Counterinsurgency in Latin America
The first one was the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), whose aim was retaking control over trade union movements in Latin America. George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, assumed the administrative direction. For the post of executive director he appointed William C. Doherty Jr., whose professional experience was limited to a few months working in the Marshall Plan, something that could seem not enough for a “trade union leader” .
An administration council comprised of important businessmen with interests in Latin America decided the priorities of the AIFLD. It included figures well known for their anti-social positions like David Rockefeller; the presidency was assumed by the general director of chemical giant W. R. Grace Corporation and president of the US Chapter of the Order of Malta, J. Peter Grace . This casting reflects the reality of the AFL-CIO, an organization that promotes the collaboration of classes and vertically unites workers and employers’ unions resembling a model close to that of fascist corporations.
- George Meany
- Head of AFL-CIO from 1955 to 1979.
After World War II and before merging with the CIO; the AFL had already set up a trade union organization in Latin America called Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers (ORIT). This predecessor of the AIFLD was headed by Serafino Romualdi, an Italian exile. Although his work was excellent in Guatemala in 1953 during the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbens, whose social policy threatened the interests of the United Fruit Company, he was very ineffective with the Cuban Revolution, which led Washington to give more resources to the AFL-CIO, that is, the AIFLD.
The decision to create the AIFLD was not an issue discussed in the heart of the US trade union movement. It was a decision made by the executives of the stay-behind network, in charge of the US interference in countries under its influence, which at the time was part of the CIA’s Panning Direction, although it was also linked to the Pentagon . The statutes were elaborated between 1959 and 1962 and they were written by two main specialists in secret activities: General Richard G. Stilwell and Colonel Edward G. Lansdale. The latter was then the NSA director and designer of the Mongoose and Northwood operations against Cuba .
The project was approved by the Council on Foreign Relations - CFR -, Washington’s elite association. «It was the beginning of counterinsurgency», commented the US Air Force Retired Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty . In effect, they both were «field agents for whom the moment had arrived (...) to form a massive paramilitary international force, under a para-civilian command and concealed behind a thick veil of security» .
The program was especially inspired by that developed by Joseph A. Beirne in the late 1950s when he was president of Communications Workers of America (CWA). Then, he invited Latin American trade union leaders of the telephonic, telegraphic and postal services to the CWA formation center, in Front Royal, for a three-month seminar on “democratic trade unionism”. While Latin American military were being trained in this period at the School of the Americas, in Panama, or at the Academy of Cadres of Political Warfare, in Taiwan , the AIFLD guarantee, for 40 years, the formation of 200,000 people from all branches, mainly from the press, in Front Royal, Virginia . The ideology taught was summarized by William Blum as follows: «All the workers’ problems will be solved by a free-market system, cooperation of classes and collective negotiation, as well as by the collaboration between employers and the government in the anti-Communist struggle» .
In parallel with this, the AIFLD carried out diplomatic and propaganda activities against the USSR in this period of the Cold War. Its role was at that time unknown for the public and even for the majority of the AFL-CIO members. The first revelations took place in 1967 during a meeting of 520 high-ranking trade union leaders organized in Chicago on the initiative of the Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace, a group of workers that opposed the war in Viet Nam. One of the participating leaders, Victor Reuther, described how the AFL-CIO actually served as front for the activities of the US State Department and the CIA.
According to Reuther, the trade union, then headed by George Meany, «participated (with the CIA) in the 1964 coup d’état that overthrew the elected liberal government of Joao Goulart in Brazil and, at the same time, it had helped in the weakening of trade unions linked to the Brazilian automobile sector. The AFL-CIO’s blind obedience to the State Department and its alliance with the CIA, made it difficult for the UAW (International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America), affiliated to the AFL-CIO, to keep the trust of the confirmed trade unionist of the other side of the Atlantic» .
In his memoirs, Victor Reuther explained that «Meany’s deputies in the area of international intrigues had created a world network financed with huge amounts of money. Sometimes, they used international or regional puppet trade union structures. In some occasions they penetrated the international secretariats of the trade unions, although it was in good faith. The amounts of money that the latter handled made them vulnerable to the control of the donor».
It was a special strategy of a trade union as «the AFL-CIO foreign policy was elaborated in the silent atmosphere of Washington, generally with the State Department and other agencies. There was rarely a previous discussion with the members of the Executive Council; there was not even an imitation of the democratic process» .
Experience of Trade Union Destabilization in Guyana
The Brazilian coup of 1964 was not the first. The American Institute for Free Labor Development had already activated the mechanism two years earlier in the framework of the political destabilization carried out by the State Department in Guyana. The small British colony, member of the Commonwealth, was then headed by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, founding president of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). His support of the workers at the sugar plantations was a threat to the interests of the Brooker Bros McConell firm. Before granting the independence to Guyana, London decided to overthrow him to set up a puppet government in its place.
The AFL-CIO was active in Guyana for the stay-behind network in the framework of the Anglo-American agreements. In this respect, Serafino Romualdi wrote: «Since my first visit to the British Guyana I did all that was possible to strengthen the democratic trade union forces that opposed Jagan» . As William Blum put it, «it was one of those rare occasions in which the Agency was officially authorized to operate in British area». The CIA strategy was simple: they tried to strengthen the trade unions close to Forbes Burnham, main political opposition leader of Jagan. The Agency leaned on the Public Services International (PSI), «a London-based association of international trade unions of officials, whose mission was to export the trade union experience of industrialized countries to less developed countries».
The mechanism became particularly effective after John F. Kennedy assumed power and after the creation of the AIFLD: in February 1962, the CIA organized and financed opposition demonstrations against Jagan, strikes and revolts. Thanks to the penetration of trade union organizations, Langley succeeded in promoting, in April 1963, the longest strike in history: 80 days. The strike call had been launched by the Trade Union Council (TUC) , whose president, Richard Ishmael, «had been formed, like so many other Guyanese trade union leaders, in the United States, more exactly, by the CIA, in the American Institute for Free Labor Development» . Through him, and with the support of the PSI and other AIFLD-controlled trade union organizations, the CIA backed the strike with one million dollars.
In «solidarity with the strikers», the US oil companies stopped providing oil to the country. This forced Jagan to ask for Cuba’s help, which served to justify Washington’s thesis that it was “a Communist threat”. This intense destabilization campaign caused that, in December 1964, the PPP of Jagan obtained only a relative simple majority which forced him to quickly resign. Forbes Burnham, second in command, assumed the government. Although the episode was a success, it became a failure in the long term. Twenty-eight years later, the Guyanese people re-elected Cheddi Jagan as president. Then, in an inflexible manner, Clinton called William Doherty Jr. and appointed him Ambassador to Guyana. However, because of the protest that the decision caused he ended up resigning to the post. Being a bad loser, he then prohibited the declassification of the CIA documents related to the 1964 coup whose secret was already 30 years old as stipulated .
History Repeats Itself in Chile
The scenario repeated itself almost identically in Chile starting in 1970, when different US companies invested more than one billion dollars in the country. The most important company was the International Telephone and Telegraph (IT & T). According to hearings held by the US House of Representatives in 1975, the process of destabilization included «important electoral manipulations, the financing of media with propaganda and disinformation purposes, political conspiracies, military connections, penetration of trade unions (...)». It began after the decision of the government of Salvador Allende to nationalize the IT & T and companies dedicated to copper exploitation. Robert O’Neill was then the director of the AIFLD program in Chile. From 1970 to 1973, the trade union multiplied the formation of trade union leaders, 100 of which travelled every year to the United States .
Like in Guyana, Washington did not choose military intervention but destabilization. Precisely, before Allende assumed power, the US Ambassador Edward Korry had warned that «not even a nut or a screw will arrive in Chile during the government of Allende». From 1970 to 1973, the United States suspended almost all their assistance programs to Chile, while the Export-Import Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank stopped granting loans. The World Bank did not grant any new loans to Chile between 1971 and 1973 either. The idea developed by IT & T in a memorandum was that «those who want to obstruct the performance of Allende, some more realistic than others, hope that the deterioration of the economy will trigger a wave of violence that will lead to a coup d’état» .
Global Trade Unionism
The AFL-CIO set up two other organizations of an international nature, some years after the AIFLD, always thanks to the financing of the USAID. For Asia, it was the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), founded in 1968. Actually, the Asian region had, for a long time, been the target of Washington’s attention. In Indonesia, in 1965, The AFL.CIO had supported non-Communist trade unions in order to undermine independence leader Sukarno, regarded as being too close to the Socialist ideals . In addition, the AFL-CIO opposed the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (CISL/ICFTU) that, however, with the too Socialist and Social-Democratic orientation of some of its members, had led some of its member trade unions to be politically active against the war in Viet Nam.
According to internal AFFLI, its creation was associated with the failure of the Tet offensive, carried out by US troops in Viet Nam. The organization was created with a humanitarian purpose, aiming at the CARE aid for soldiers, but later devoted itself to the formation of anti-Communist troublemaking workers. It particularly benefited Tran Quoc Bu, anti-Communist and corrupt leader of the Vietnamese Workers’ Confederation (CVT), who allied with the CIA-backed regime of Nguyen Van Thieu to guarantee that the ports of the country remained open so that American troops could receive their supplies .
The influence of the AAFLI was present for a long time in the region. According to Dave Spooner, analyst at the Asia Monitor Resource Center, «the structures, trade union practices and labor codes of countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, India and others, are the result of the support, imposition or manipulation of American and European governments, political parties and trade unions rather than the activities of the local workers». In the Philippines, the AAFLI largely supported the anti-Communist crusade of dictator Ferdinando Marcos subsidizing the trade unions close to power.
- Jacques Foccart
- with Gaullist leaders, heading the demonstration of May 30, 1968, in France. George Meany: President of the AFL-CIO from 1955 to 1979.
The third institute, the African Labor College, has the recently decolonized Africa as its favourite territory. It is headed by Irving Brown, former AFL-CIO envoy to Europe and eminent member of the stay-behind. At that time, the French-speaking countries had to face the multiplication of the “twisted hits” orchestrated by General De Gaulle’s assistant for Africa and then by Georges Pompidou, Jacques Foccart, close to Irving Brown . Unfortunately, the lack of documents about Irving Brown’s activities in Africa prevents us from knowing how the joint action between the United States and France was organized to keep the then recently decolonized African countries out of the Soviet orbit.
The different operations carried out by the international affiliates of the AFL-CIO reveal, when analyzed as a whole, a new way to act by US diplomacy in its interference strategies. Much have been written about coup d’états and they are easily recognized. The propaganda mechanisms tending to build “an enemy in the inside”, using ethnical, religious or political pretexts or even the combination of them all, have also been studied in recent works.
In comparison, the process of “social destabilization” that appears here as another counterinsurgency method remains quite unknown. However, it is a completely appropriate alternative, from a strategic point of view for the so-called “gunboat policy”, when the target countries are not diplomatically acceptable targets for the international community. This policy has not been abandoned since the resignation of George Meany in 1979. On the contrary, his replacement, Lane Kirkland, continued with this method. The institutions of “trade union interference” were even strengthened and articulated in a more comprehensive mechanism, in 1983, when they became part of the National Endowment for Democracy, created by Ronald Reagan .