A unified working class: This is the one force with the strength to confront the ultra-right and to thwart the damage of corporate globalism. Without unity of workers, no lasting positive change can be won and held.
Here in the United States, we need a unified working class. We need a strong AFL-CIO that builds cross-union solidarity, helps elect more working-class candidates, and gives broad support to organizing the unorganized. We need a union that is open to change, and tolerates diversity and dissent, but that does not descend into the self-defeat of factionalism.
We also need an internationally unified working class. U.S. corporate imperialism is forcing the world to become one endless battlefield for Earth’s resources and for profit and power for the very few.
Passing the “Build Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide” resolution would be a big step forward for international labor solidarity. The resolution would prevent the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity (Solidarity Center) from acting as an agent for U.S. corporations or the U.S. State Department. The most important component of “Unity and Trust” is its call for open books on both past and present activities. It specifically calls for clearing the air regarding AFL-CIO support for the 1973 coup against Chile’s elected President Salvador Allende and, more recently, the failed coup attempt against Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.
The Solidarity Center has many principled and progressive employees doing very important work. Solidarity Center programs have helped organize in sweatshop industries and have helped build much needed awareness regarding the persecution of Colombian unionists. However, the Solidarity Center has also partaken in activities which are both anti-democratic and anti-working class. This has been most glaringly true in Venezuela.
This resolution is not anti-AFL-CIO. Indeed, it comes up from the AFL-CIO rank and file. Furthermore, “Unity and Trust” supporters note that neither the current AFL-CIO leadership under John Sweeney, nor its challengers under Andy Stern, has significantly different positions regarding the Solidarity Center.
“Unity and Trust” has already been passed by the California Labor Federation, representing one out of six AFL-CIO members, and the Pima, Ariz., Area Labor Federation, the Rochester, N.Y., Central Labor Council, as well as labor councils and federations in Seattle, San Diego, and Monterey, Calif.
For decades, the CIA used AFL-CIO foreign offices as a front for covert activities. But in 1995, major reforms took place in the AFL-CIO, leading to the closing of old CIA-affiliated foreign offices and the opening, in 1997, of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. A step in the right direction, much of the Solidarity Center’s work has been praiseworthy.
Nevertheless, the Solidarity Center is more than 90 percent funded by the U.S. government, with funding channeled mainly through the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. This raises serious questions as to whether the Solidarity Center can prioritize the interests of workers over and above the goals of the State Department, especially as administered by the Bush administration.
Even so, this September, Solidarity Center Director Harry Kamberis will step down. Kamberis came out of the State Department, not the union movement, and has enjoyed a long and close relationship with the CIA. The AFL-CIO’s Barbara Shailor, who has a reputation as a progressive, will replace Kamberis. Hopefully, this change in directors signals a change in directions for the Solidarity Center.
However, events in Venezuela and other places have shown that the Solidarity Center continues to act, when called on, as a conduit for U.S. interference in other nation’s affairs. Even after the embarrassment of supporting Venezuelan coup plotters, the Solidarity Center continues to advocate for the CTV (Coalicion de Trabajadores Venezolanos), a company union with fraudulently elected leadership. The Solidarity Center has argued on behalf of the CTV before the International Labor Organization, calling for action against the larger, more democratic Venezuelan workers union, the UNT (Unión Nacional de Trabajadores).
There is also reason for concern regarding certain Solidarity Center activities in other countries. The Solidarity Center is seeking millions of dollars in government funding for operations in Iraq. Given the current situation, we fear that Solidarity Center activities might be used to bolster the occupation. The least we can ask for is open books for Solidarity Center activities.
Passage of the “Build Unity and Trust” resolution would be a historic step forward in U.S. labor history, and it would have a galvanizing effect for international unity of workers. Delegates to the AFL-CIO convention, and rank and file unionists everywhere, hear this call: Yes to AFL-CIO unity! Yes to Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide!
Patrick Van Sant (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an international solidarity activist.