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Quelle: Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 25, No.2, Summer 2000. S. 4-25

Kim Scipes

It's Time to Come Clean

Open the AFL-CIO Archives on International Labor Operations

Ordering the arrest of Chile's former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, for violations of Spanish citizens' human rights while they were in Chile during his rule, a Spanish judge opened a new front in the worldwide struggle for human rights in the Fall of 1998. British police carried out the order, arresting Pinochet who was in Britain at the time for a back operation. The subsequent decision by the British Law Lords that Pinochet was not protected from prosecution because he had been head of government during the time the alleged tortures and killings had taken place--they ruled that these activities were not a normal part of the duties of a head of state--meant that he could be extradited to Spain to face the charges. The Blair government's decision to permit Pinochet's extradition only reinforced the High Court's ruling, effectively establishing the principle that violating human rights is not a legally protected activity even for heads of state. This was a revolutionary development in international law.

But why should American trade unionists care about Pinochet and what happens to this aging ex-dictator from Chile?

I believe there's a good reason: it allows us to consider the kind of foreign policy we want the AFL-CIO to have in regard to the rest of the world, particularly toward developing countries. Do we want the new foreign policy that has been emerging since the election of John Sweeney to the presidency of the AFL-CIO in 1995 to dominate AFL-CIO thinking and activities, or do we want to revert back to the traditional AFL-CIO foreign policy of former presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland? Since Pinochet is perhaps the symbol of the traditional approach, looking at the AFL-CIO's role in bringing him to power suggests that we need a new way, and that Sweeney's approach is a step in the right direction that should be supported.

In this article, I briefly discuss the two different approaches to foreign relations by the AFL-CIO since 1962, with an emphasis on the period 1962-1995. I focus on events in Chile between 1970-1973 in considerable detail, discussing the larger context and then examining how the traditional AFL-CIO approach worked in practice. I argue that Sweeney's approach differs, and suggest how I think things would have worked in Chile had Sweeney's approach been taken. From this comparison, we can begin to discuss labor's foreign policy and what we need to do to really make it work in the interests of workers in this country and around the world.


The hallmark of the traditional AFL-CIO foreign policy of the Meany and Kirkland regimes (hereafter, Meany/Kirkland) was an acceptance of US domination of other countries, especially in the so-called "third world." The traditional approach accepted and then acted to maintain this domination. Meany/Kirkland believed that domination of the world economy by US corporations was good for American workers, and so they allied themselves with those forces that supported US corporate expansion, and especially investment in developing countries (see, e.g., Scott, 1978; Cantor and Schor, 1987; Sims, 1992).

Although developed independently from that of the US Government (see Scipes, 1989), the Meany/Kirkland foreign policy promoted US corporate investment overseas, objectively aligning the AFL-CIO with the US Government and US corporations overseas. This alignment with the government and with US corporations overseas continued over time, even when the government and these corporations were pursuing anti-labor policies in the United States (see Cantor and Schor, 1987). Mantsios points out the long-term ramifications for US workers in this approach: "By working to make the world safe for US business in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, the AFL-CIO laid the ground for labor's current predicament: the world became all too safe for US corporations interested in cheap labor and unregulated environments" (Mantsios, 1998: 48).

It also meant that dictators and/or heads of militaries in "third world" countries who were willing to take advantage of this could easily do so: by claiming that militant trade unionists were "communists," therefore threatening "freedom" and "democracy"--their terms for "corporate investment"--they would soon find the AFL-CIO under Meany/Kirkland among their strongest allies. This, in reality, turned the AFL-CIO against other workers. It was a policy that generated much hatred, fear and derision against the AFL-CIO around the world.

Since John Sweeney has become AFL-CIO President, he has re-aligned the Federation's foreign policy, seeing unimpeded neo-liberalism a greater threat to American workers than "communism." Instead of immediately supporting every anti-communist who raises their head, Sweeney recognizes that the best allies of American workers are other workers, wherever they may be around the world. His approach seems to be to work with those who are willing to ally themselves with American workers, and only refuse to work with those who, in specific cases, are seen to be working against the larger interests of US workers. This means that AFL-CIO foreign policy is being based on an analysis of American workers' needs and interests, albeit from a certain perspective, and not necessarily those of the US Government, and certainly not those of multinational corporations (Sweeney, 1998, and Shailor and Kourpias, 1998; see also Banks, 1998; Figueroa, 1998; Blackwell, 1998; and Ciment and Ness, 1999).

Sweeney has initiated major changes within the AFL-CIO foreign policy apparatus. He forced all the old "cold-warriors" to retire, drastically reducing their reactionary influence in the Department of International Affairs. He consolidated the regional operations in Asia, Africa and Latin America into a centralized program called the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) controlled by headquarters in Washington, D.C. (see Shailor, 1998), and he has put a long-time progressive in charge. Further, Sweeney expanded the range of thinking and opinions about foreign affairs by including international affairs officers of member unions into the Federation's decision-making process.1 In other words, this is a qualitative change from the Meany/Kirkland approach.

The problem, however, is that these changes have been made only at the top of the organization--they still are very much the initiative of John Sweeney and thus are subject to change should he be voted out of office, retire or die; they have not been disseminated to, discussed with or approved by AFL-CIO members in general. This is a key weakness. I suggest the need for dissemination, discussion and approval. Key to this is to discuss in full detail the foreign policy and operations carried out in the past, and to compare that approach with a full discussion of the Sweeney approach. Other options should be discussible as well. And then, after a major educational effort is made, the members should decide the basis for any foreign policy that the Federation seeks to carry out.

AFL and AFL-CIO Foreign Policy: A Quick Overview, 1886-1995

I have argued elsewhere that AFL-and later, AFL-CIO-foreign policy has gone through three distinct periods prior to Sweeney's election. The first period, from 1886-1924, was carried out under Samuel Gompers. There was a break between Gompers' death in December 1924 and 1941. By 1941, the US government began mobilizing for World War II, and labor renewed its foreign operations, initially against the fascists and then later the communists; these efforts were generally under the direction of Jay Lovestone and his assistant Irving Brown, and continued until 1962. After World War II, there was some competition in this field from the CIO until the merger in 1955. The 1962-1995 period, which I discuss herein and where Irving Brown was perhaps the key operative, constitutes the third period (Scipes, 1989: 6). I believe my 1989 article is the most comprehensive to date on the first period. The overall history of these operations in the second period remains to be written, although Carew (1999) and Valentine (1999) have recently published very interesting articles that add to our knowledge of the period. Buhle (1999) also provides interesting information.

There is considerable writing on the third period, although again, there has been no overall integrative history written to date. In the late mid- to late-1980s, there were numerous accounts of AFL-CIO operations in Latin America, undertaken by its American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) that were published by unions and labor supporters: for Latin America, but especially strong on El Salvador, see Armstrong, Frundt, Spalding and Sweeney (1988), and see the May/June 1988 NACLA Report on the Americas issue titled, "Neither Pure Nor Simple: The AFL-CIO and Latin America" with articles by Slaney (1988) and Spaulding (1998a, b); for Central America, see Barry and Preusch (1986), Weinrub and Bollinger (1987), and National Labor Committee (n.d.); and for El Salvador, see Alvarez, Bahan, Bollinger and Gain (1985), National Labor Committee (n.d.), and Smyth (1987a, b).

There is not a lot of material published to date about the AFL-CIO's parallel institutes in Asia (Asia-American Free Labor Institute or AAFLI) and Africa (African American Labor Center or AALC)--what there has been developed to any degree is from the Philippines and South Africa. The most detailed account that I have seen of any attack on a progressive union launched by an institute-sponsored union is in Scipes, 1996: 116-125 (the attack on the KMU-affiliated union at Atlas Mines in the Philippines). See also Scipes (1987) for an account of how the then-new AFL-CIO International Bulletin provided misleading information to AFL-CIO members about militant labor around the world, especially in the Pacific Ocean area. [For more on AFL-CIO activities in the Philippines, see Bronstein and Johnston (1985), Eckstein (1986), Shorrock and Selvaggio (1986), Eisenhower (1991), and West (1991).] For South Africa, see efforts to undercut COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions)-a key organizer against apartheid--by the United Workers of South Africa (UWUSA) in Baskin, 1991: 129-134. In 1982, the AFL-CIO gave its George Meany Human Rights Award to apartheid collaborator Gatsha Buthelezi, whose people were trying to organize UWUSA! See also Boyer, 1986. Additionally, there were numerous accounts in labor-focused periodicals such as International Labour Reports, Newsletter of International Labour Studies, and Labor Notes.2


After the Cuban Revolution succeeded in January 1959, leaders of the AFL-CIO decided that they had to create a new foreign affairs operation in Latin America to control labor movements in the region; the previous regional organization, ORIT (Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers in English) had proven to be too inefficient and not sufficiently reliable (Hirsch, 1974; Spalding, 1988c). This control was needed to ensure the access and profitability of US corporate investments in these countries, and to ensure that the leaders of these countries would continue supporting US foreign policy at the global level. As Gregory Mantsios notes, the AFL-CIO's "advocacy of capitalist values and principles in general and its specific desire to promote and protect US economic (read 'corporate') interests abroad led it to promote international interventionist activities jointly funded by the US State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency and, as Meany proudly acknowledged, a large number of US corporations" (Mantsios, 1998: 48).

Once AFL-CIO leaders came to that position, they decided to work with any corporation and/or government agency that would work with them. They institutionalized this labor-corporate-government alliance in Latin America by establishing AIFLD (the American Institute for Free Labor Development). AIFLD's approach was to support or create "free trade unions," and use these unions to split any labor movement that was critical of the United States or US corporate investment, or even one that was critical of the government in their country for its policy of supporting the United States. This labor-corporate-government alliance in Latin America was paralleled by ones in Africa (African American Labor Center) and Asia (Asian American Free Labor Institute).

Beth Sims provides the most complete overview of Institute programs and activities (Sims, 1992: 71-89). These are ultimately designed to develop labor leaders according to AIFLD's criteria or, to put it another way, make them "business unionists." According to Sims,

The Institutes sponsor projects in ... education and training, agrarian union development, social projects, information dissemination and visitor exchanges, and political action. Institution-building is another major activity of the institutes and is designed to strengthen national labor federations and individual unions whose interests and methods run parallel to US foreign policy needs. The US-funded labor projects create patronage networks which enhance the appeal of allied unions and school up-and-coming union leaders in the principles and tactics of 'business' and 'bread-and-butter' unionism (emphasis added).

The institutes' education activities include trainings at the local, national, regional, and international levels, aimed at the rank and file as well as union leaders (Sims, 1992: 71).

One bi-product of these educational seminars was the creation of a huge personal contact list--Hirsch and Muir claimed that AIFLD's contact list of trainees was almost half a million--and the compilation of intelligence information about attendees' particular unions (Hirsch and Muir, 1987: 744). Programs designed by AIFLD to provide compliant union leaders with housing asked the following questions on their applications: what is the "internal organization of the union; internal friction among leaders and members; is the applicant interested in power, prestige, influence? (stated, known, suspected?); attitude taken in response to questions on matters of importance; does the person accept guidance and orientation?; political and ideological connections; photograph if possible" (Hirsch and Muir, 1987: 744). Information such as answers to these questions would have a terribly detrimental impact on unionists in Chile.

Although the AFL-CIO, US corporations and the US Government were each supposedly equal co-sponsors of AIFLD, the overwhelming majority of the funding came from the US Government. Between 1963-1974, the share of money provided to AIFLD by the Agency for International Development (AID), as the direct US Government funding conduit, never went below 84% and, between 1967-1974, never went below 93%. The AFL-CIO's share varied between 2.5% and 4.5% during that latter period--never going over $200,000 in any one year--and the US firms' share was 1.5%-3.2% of the total, going from $147,000 in 1967 down to $81,000 in 1974. Overall for the period 1962-1974, out of a total of $62,697,000 spent for AIFLD (averaging approximately $4.8 million a year), 93.4% came from the government, 3.9% from the AFL-CIO, and 2.6% came from corporate America (AID, 1975). Note that this has been a bipartisan process under both Democrats and Republicans--the period covers the last part of the Kennedy years, the Johnson administration as well as Nixon's.

The US Government worked with and funded AIFLD because AIFLD's activities served US foreign policy interests (AID, 1977: 24). Former US Senator, and later US Trade Representative, US Secretary of Labor and then chair of the US Government-created National Endowment for Democracy, Bill Brock, has written, "The aid [the AFL-CIO's international institutes] offer to 'free labor unions' has been one of the most effective tools the US has possessed in the postwar period to halt the spread of communism through subversion of workers' movements in the developing world" (quoted in Sims, 1992: 42).

AID (Agency for International Development) was quite specific about its purpose in funding these operations: "Aid to free trade unions, or those aspiring to be free ... support the policy of our government" (AID, 1977: 8). AID was also clear about the value of AIFLD: "With whatever weaknesses it may possess, the AIFLD represents at this time the best instrument to carry the principal burden of United States Government programs in the Latin America labor area" (AID, 1977: 9). And AID also explained the process by which AIFLD's work directly served US Government interests:

Management of the project is centered in the Labor Programs Office of the Office of Multilateral Coordination and Regional Social Development of the Latin American Bureau of A.I.D. (LA/MRSD/L). USAID/Missions and/or Embassies through designated Project Support Officers (frequently labor attaches or reporting officers) assist in the management of the project. The design and implementation of each of the Country programs is a collaborative affair involving AIFLD, AID and the Department of State (emphasis added) (AID, 1977: 34).

In 1975, Jack Kubisch, Assistant US Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs at the time, noted that the CIA was part of foreign policy formulation: "The policy of the United States toward any country--and the region-is coordinated in the State Department, and [the] CIA is a member of the group that comes from other Agencies and Departments of the US Government to help formulate the policy, and to receive their instructions for implementing the policy." Further, Kubisch admitted his close interaction as Assistant Secretary of State with the CIA, and concluded, "I do believe I am fully informed on their programs and activities" (Kubisch, 1975:138).

Thus, speculation that AIFLD has collaborated with the government, including the CIA, is not necessary: as has just been seen, it was structured into the program. Dependence on governmental funding has ensured the continuation of this collaboration, and it will continue as long as the AFL-CIO maintains its international operations without financing these operations out of its own members' dues.

The problem was more than simple collaboration with a US Government that was carrying out its foreign policy, no matter how good or bad: the problem was that this collaboration deliberately was hidden from the membership of the AFL-CIO's member unions; there was no debate or discussion of AFL-CIO foreign policy by the membership; nor was the membership educated and allowed to vote as to whether or not this foreign policy was one that they wanted to affirm or repudiate, much less propose alternatives to for organizational consideration. In short, the limitation of democracy in regard to the AFL-CIO's foreign policy was magnified far beyond any "normal" practices in the organization. To say it was profoundly anti-democratic is an understatement, and to have these operations carried out in union members' names without their informed consent and affirmation was very disrespectful.

It might be understandable--although certainly still not acceptable--if this policy and these operations had been carried out to benefit workers in the US and around the world, but this was not the case. In every known case in the third world where AIFLD and its sister institutes have been involved, workers' efforts to organize themselves to establish unions worth fighting for, and to try to determine how they want their country to develop, were undermined, sabotaged and/or destroyed. As Spalding noted, "... the AFL-CIO and AIFLD have consistently supported right-wing and fiercely anti-left-wing administrations and military governments no matter what their policy toward labour" (Spalding, 1988c: 261).

The biggest impact was by AIFLD on Latin America, but AAFLI and AALC were also harmful. AIFLD helped overthrow democratically-elected governments in Guyana in 1963 (see Hirsch, 1974: 23-24; Scott, 1978: 233), Brazil in 1964 (see Scott: 229-231; Hirsch and Muir, 1987: 746-750; Spalding, 1988c: 264-265), the Dominican Republic in 1965 (see Hirsch, 1974: 24-26; Scott: 234-238; Spalding, 1988c: 265-266), and Chile in 1973 (see Hirsch, 1974, and below). The institutes also collaborated with dictators against progressive unions: among other countries, this has taken place in El Salvador, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa and South Korea, as well as in Brazil and Chile after their respective military coups. And AIFLD in particular has organized against progressive governments that have come to power after overthrowing dictatorships, most notably, the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, but also Father Aristide's first government in Haiti (see Robinson, 1996).

In each of these cases, the respective institute funneled millions of US Government dollars into these countries to undercut militant labor movements and, in each of these cases, it has helped multinational corporations specifically as well as in general by providing another place safe for multinational investment (Spalding, 1988c). While this has primarily hurt workers in these other countries, it has come back to hurt US workers economically as these policies have encouraged corporations to close down operations in the US and transfer them overseas, eliminating millions of US jobs since the early 1970s (Cantor and Schor, 1987).

Examples may clarify the general points made above. To illustrate the specific impact of AIFLD's operations, I examine its efforts in one specific country: Chile.


In Chile, the AFL-CIO joined the Nixon Administration and a number of US-owned multinational corporations in helping to create conditions that led to the overthrow of the democratically-elected government by a brutal military coup. I first discuss the overall US attack on the Allende government in Chile, and then focus on the AFL-CIO's particular role within this process.

Dr. Salvador Allende, a Marxist Socialist, became President of Chile in 1970. Allende, running as the candidate of the Popular Unity coalition, won a plurality of the popular vote (36.4%) on September 4, 1970, and then won the run-off vote within Congress. He assumed the presidency on November 3, 1970. This was "the first Marxist-Socialist Government to be democratically elected in the Western Hemisphere" (Hagen, 1975: 397).

The Allende-led Popular Unity government tried to radically restructure Chilean society by transforming the system of production and wealth creation from one owned by a few--with major industries dominated by foreign (mostly US-owned multinational) corporations--to one owned by the many (i.e., the State), and by shifting distribution of resources from the upper and middle classes to workers and the poor. A US-based academic who opposed the Allende government's program described it thusly:

Since 1970, the transformation in distribution has been manifold and far reaching. Aiming to change the class, sectoral and international distribution, the government entered all major industries. It assumed ownership of the extractive industries.... It nationalized the banking system--the primary source of financial capital. It took control and restricted private ownership of rural land--the alleged major source of political power and Ricardian rents. It also took over all large industrial enterprises--the alleged source of monopoly profits and power.

All of these largely irreversible ownership transfers aimed to wipeout the control of Chile's riches by a few private individuals. Furthermore, elitist education, entertainment and health services, and excessive differences in wages, salaries, pensions, insurance, health and other social security benefits--sources of unequal accumulation of human capital by social groups and intra-labor inequalities--were attacked, constrained and reduced.

No other short-term objective was so important to President Salvador Allende's program in 1970 as the rise in the income share of labor. Virtually all the tools available were used to redistribute income and destroy the usurpers of labor's surplus value. The resulting short-term income distribution was the most spectacular in Chile's history. The participation of wage earners in income, including contributions by employers, rose from 54.9 percent in 1970 to 65.8 percent in 1971 (Mamalakis, 1975: 348).

In short, Allende's program was a serious effort to transfer economic power to the state, and resources to workers and the poor.

The possibility that a program such as this might be implemented peacefully frightened the US Government, and it began acting against Allende long before he was elected. He first ran for President in 1958, losing by only 35,000 votes (Fagan, 1975b: 669). Hoping to prevent Allende's success in the 1964 election against Eduardo Frei, the US intervened: CIA Director William Colby testified that the CIA spent $3 million to block Allende's efforts (Fagan, 1975b: 669; Chavkin, 1982: 44), with other estimates of CIA involvement going as high as $20 million (Fagan, 1975b: 669; Petras, 1975: 294). Concurrently, "at least 100 US 'special personnel' were posted to Chile from Washington and other Latin American countries to engage in complementary activities" (Petras, 1975: 294-295). During the 1970 election, a very suspicious contribution of $600,000 was made to the polling agency of one of Allende's opponents by someone identified only as "Charlie"--Professor Paul Sigmund concluded that it was "presumably a CIA conduit" (Sigmund, 1975: 252). And between the election on September 4th and the vote in Congress on October 24th that declared Allende president by a 153-35 margin, the CIA spent another $400,000 to keep Allende from being elected (Sigmund, 1975: 252). However, according to recently declassified notes by former CIA Director Richard Helms, the known amounts for the 1970 efforts were only a small amount of the total monies available: Nixon authorized the use of $10 million before the vote in Congress to prevent Allende's election <>.

But these weren't "rogue" activities-they came from the top levels of the US Government. Just after the September 4th election, Henry Kissinger--then head of Richard Nixon's National Security Council and who was to control both the economic operations and the CIA attacks on Chile (reported in Boorstein, 1977: 251)--was already referring to Allende as a "communist" and stating that his election would cause the US major problems in Latin America (Sigmund, 1975: 251; Fagan, 1975b: 666). Robinson (1996: 160) points out that "Kissinger himself chaired weekly interagency meetings on Chile in the White House, attended by high-level officials from State, Treasury, the Pentagon and the CIA." CIA Director Richard Helms testified later before a Senate hearing that Nixon gave the order to go after Allende, and former US Ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, disclosed Nixon's emotional response to Allende (Chavkin, 1982: 47).

After Allende's election, the US launched a massive economic and political attack on Chile's government. This included diplomatic and political pressures to isolate Chile internationally, an "economic squeeze to provoke economic dislocation and social conflict," continued aid to Chile's military, and "maintenance of political and diplomatic relations to collect information, maintain ties with political opposition, facilitate flow of financial resources to allies" (Petras, 1975: 294). One observer summed it up: "US interference in Chilean politics was enormous; it was intended to bring down the government..." (Landsberger, 1975: 235). Professor Richard Fagan reported CIA Director William Colby's statement to Congress that the CIA was authorized to spend eight million dollars to 'destabilize' the Allende government in the period 1971-73, and then noted "Given Chile's inflation and the black market in dollars, the real purchasing power of the eight million dollars was probably closer to 40 or 50 million" (Fagan, 1975b: 667). It was a massive effort: Fagan concluded in his formal statement to the House subcommittee investigating relations with Chile, "... the intervention of the US Government in the internal affairs of Chile was massive, continuous and effective in helping to undermine the elected government" (Fagan, 1975a: 264).

The economic attack was probably the most far reaching. Chile was heavily dependent on foreign investment:

... US and foreign corporations controlled almost all of the most dynamic and critical areas of the economy by the end of 1970: machinery and equipment, 50 percent; iron, steel, and metal products, 60 percent; petroleum products and distribution, over 50 percent; industrial and other chemicals, 60 percent; rubber products, 45 percent; automotive assembly, 100 percent; radio and television, nearly 100 percent; pharmaceuticals, nearly 100 percent; office equipment, nearly 100 percent; copper fabricating, 100 percent; tobacco, 100 percent; and advertising, 90 percent (Petras, 1975: 292).

Additionally, US corporations controlled 80 percent of copper production, which was Chile's greatest foreign exchange earner. And Chile was also dependent on US corporations for replacement parts for its equipment: over 95 percent of all replacement parts for the copper industry, its most important industry, came from the United States (Petras, 1975: 293).

Chile was heavily in debt to foreign lenders, largely due to foreign borrowing by the Christian Democratic-led government under Frei that preceded Allende's government. Chile's foreign debt as of December 31, 1971 totaled $2,960 million ($2.96 billion). Almost half of that debt--$1,357 million--was to the United States; another $414 million was to international organizations; and $267million was to the United Kingdom (Crimmins, 1975: 75).

Accordingly, the US Government decided to use Chile's economic dependence on the US as the key target for attack: "the economic policy of the US was the center of its efforts to overthrow the Allende government or tutor it into submission" (Birns, 1975: 533). While the US had provided over $1 billion of economic assistance between 1964-1970--indirectly through multilateral lending agencies such as the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank, or directly--disbursements during the Allende years were minimal. "Chile, one of the heaviest beneficiaries of US aid programs in the world during the 1960s, was reduced to $15 million in loans from the Agency for International Development in 1970 and has been granted nothing since" (Stern, 1975: 516). The World Bank also drastically cut lending-from $28.1 million in 1971 to $6.3 million in 1973, although this seems to be inline with cutbacks begun during the Frei Administration. However, the Inter-American Development Bank's cutback--from $46 million in 1970 to $2 million in 1972 (Chavkin,1982: 59)--cannot be explained in such a manner (Sanford, 1975: 434, 447). Export-Import Bank credits, which were $234 million in 1967, were zero in 1971. Also, short-term US commercial credit dropped from about $300 million during the Frei years to around $30 million in 1972 (Chavkin, 1982: 59).

By mid-1973, the Chilean economy was in shambles (see Morris, 1975). While some argue that the problems were caused by foreign interference (Petras, 1975; Strasma, 1975), others argue that this turmoil was the result of the government's policies and incompetence; i.e., it was due to internal problems, not external actions (Landsberger, 1975; Mamalakis, 1975; Sigmund, 1975). However, even if the problems were primarily internal, the foreign pressure limited options to resolve the problems and external pressures made things much worse.

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean military launched a brutal coup and overthrew the government. Allende was killed during the coup. Fernando Alegria, then the cultural attaché to the Chilean Embassy in Washington who was in Chile during the coup said that 30,000 people were killed in the coup and shortly thereafter (Chavkin,1982: 76).


The truck owners' strike in October-November 1972 was a key turning point in the campaign to get rid of the Allende regime: "A massive strike last October almost brought the Chilean economy to a halt" (Fascell, 1975: 66).

Professor Paul Sigmund noted that CIA attempts to undermine Allende could have taken place in three particular areas: (1) support for opposition media and media-related activities; (2) the gremios or interest groups that took a leading role in opposing Allende; and (3) the right-wing anti-Communist group, Patria y Libertad (Fatherland and Liberty), which carried out violent activities against the government (Sigmund, 1975: 243-254). It is the second group, the gremios, that is of most interest here.

Sigmund notes the development of the gremios in the 1971-73 period:

While these groups had always existed in Chile, they expanded their activities very greatly in 1971-73 and coordinated their actions in a way which led to the rapid spread of truckers' [truck owners'-KS] strikes to bus and taxi drivers, shopkeepers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, airline pilots, engineers and sectors of the peasantry. Although the CIA has denied financing the strikes, there have been no denials of general support for the gremios... (Sigmund, 1975: 254).

Further, "Pro-Allende sources had alluded to CIA support for the truckers' strikes in October 1972 ..., citing the drop in the black market rate for dollars as proof that money was coming in from the outside" (Sigmund, 1975: 253). In any case, the strikes were very effective against, and costly to, the government: one analysis, prepared by the Congressional Research Service of the US Library of Congress, claimed that the strikes had cost the Chilean government "more than $240 million" (Rynearson, 1975: 385).

Chavkin put the 1972 strike into the larger context. He quoted Gonzalo Martner, an economist and former Minister of National Planning in Allende's cabinet:

... the situation became desperate when the truck owners went on strike. The long stretches of Chilean territory, which run down the Pacific Coast of South America for some 2,500 miles, depend on motor transport rather than on railroads or ships. Angered by the breakdown of their equipment, unable to secure the needed spare parts because of the Washington blockade (and also [having] many right-wing prejudices anyway), the truck owners went into collusion with the CIA to deliver a body blow to Chile's economy. The extra-special inducement for the truck owners not to move their trucks was, simply, money. Just how much money was made available has never been disclosed, but in some cases the cash flow must have been substantial since even some trucking company employees were known to have received as much as $50 for every day they did not work (Chavkin, 1982: 66-67).

The New York Times of September 20, 1974 reported that intelligence sources had disclosed:

... the majority of more than $8 million authorized for clandestine CIA activities in Chile was used in 1972 and 1973 to provide strike benefits and other means of support for anti-Allende strikers and workers. Among those heavily subsided ... were organizers of a nationwide truck strike in 1972 (quoted in Boorstein, 1977: 251-252).

In short, the truck owners' role in this strike was crucial, they were heavily subsidized by the CIA, and these strikes were key in both undermining the government and in encouraging the military to act to "restore order."

But one question remains: who organized them? While it is difficult if not impossible to say "AIFLD did this" or "AIFLD did that" regarding any specific situation, it is possible to focus on the leadership that it trained and organizations that it funded. It is here that we can begin to understand how AIFLD worked during this period in general, and how it worked specifically in Chile.

AIFLD ran a major educational program in Chile, which was recognized as a major component of the attack on Allende's regime by Henry Kissinger <>. By the end of October 1969, a total of 5,963 Chileans had participated in some kind of AIFLD-sponsored seminar in Chile, and by the end of 1972, another 2,874 people had been trained. At the same time, 108 Chileans had graduated from the advanced AIFLD course in Front Royal, Virginia--and 29 of these people graduated in a six month period, as compared to the first 79 over a 10 year period. It is clear, from a memorandum dated February 28, 1973, that education processes had intensified in the second half of 1972--Hirsch calculates a 400% increase in student turnout! (Hirsch, 1974: 33).

We don't know for certain who was trained, just that a lot of training was done, but we can make an educated guess as to who was trained. In light of the fact that the CUT (General Confederation of Workers)--which had membership of 800,000 in 1970 and two million by 1973 (Hirsch, 1974:35)--remained a stalwart supporter of the Allende regime to the end and was an opponent of AIFLD, it is logical that most of those trained were not blue collar or lower-level white collar workers. It seems likely that many came from unions such as the Chilean Maritime Federation (COMACH), which was a union of largely maritime officers, and which AIFLD identified as being its major collaborator (quoted in Hirsch, 1974: 35). Also, in light of AIFLD's relationship with professional employees' unions, and with middle class groups such as truck owners-detailed below--it is likely that most of the trainees came from unions and groups such as these.

The intelligence gathering opportunities from AIFLD activities mentioned earlier would be invaluable to the Chilean coup plotters. Hirsch and Muir report:

The [AIFLD] Chilean Country Labor Team invested heavily in maritime unions. A June 20, 1974 broadcast told of a Valparaiso port union leader 'producing lists of unionists to be shot, jailed or fired'. A Chilean magazine mentioned a Pinochet general with 'a complete file on workers and unions in the capital'. The military used such lists mercilessly (Hirsch and Muir, 1987: 744).

In her 1988 study, Edy Kaufman provides some important details. She notes that "one can identify a carefully planned effort to integrate sequential actions in order to topple the regime," and that, "chaos and confrontation evolved from the truck owners' strike of October 1972, which served as the catalyst for other groups" (Kaufman, 1988: 74). She continues:

The organized expression of middle-class discontent began with reactions of liberal and professional associations. Professionals were organized with the support of US trade unions ... (emphasis added).

The most prominent middle-class group was the truck owners. The industry was privately owned and organized largely by the Chilean Truck-Owners Confederation. Led by Leon Vilarin, this body was made up of 169 unions countrywide and controlled nearly the entire 2,800 mile land transport system, which dispatched such vital goods as fuel, raw materials, and food stuffs (Kaufman, 1988: 77).

Kaufman reports that the Truck Owners Confederation had an estimated membership of 40,000, and that they owned 25,000 out of the 52,000 trucks in the country, including nearly all of the heavy trucks. She also identified Vilarin: "Initially a self-declared socialist, Vilarin's connection pointed to ties with the [Christian Democratic Party]. After the coup, he became an important officer in the military regime" (Kaufman, 1988: 107, endnotes 101, 102).

Kaufman's account lends additional weight to Hirsch's earlier report that "AIFLD assisted the formation of the Confederation of Chilean Professionals (CUPROCH)" (Hirsch, 1974: 36). However, unknown to Kaufman, this had been previously confirmed by William Doherty, Jr., the Executive Director of AIFLD, when he boasted of AIFLD support of CUPROCH during a July 1974 visit to the Santa Clara County, CA, Central Labor Council (Hirsch and Muir, 1987: 745). CUPROCH was the coalition of professional unions identified by Allende during his final radio transmission to the people of Chile as leading the destabilization

AIFLD was also active in the National Command for Gremio Defense. The National Command was a center of different coalitions, including the Confederation of Production and Commerce, the Society of Manufacturers, the National Society of Agriculture, the Chamber of Construction, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Central Confederation of Chilean Professionals (CUPROCH)--Hirsch argues that "Because AIFLD was involved with many of the Gremio people in Chile, it is important to know about the leading organizations and people in the National Command," and he presents further details. Hirsch was the first to identify Leon Vilarin as the President of the Confederation of Truck Owners of Chile and as the President of the National Command for Gremio Defense (Hirsch, 1974:38-40).

The National Command was "the organization which directed the 'strike' of truck owners and merchants," and was "responsible for planning and executing Chile's internal economic chaos." It "also set up paramilitary groups to terrorize supporters of the Allende government" (Hirsch, 1974: 38).

Kaufman discusses the activities of AIFLD, tying reports together:

Preaching 'free trade unionism' and challenging Chile's larger, pro-government labor movement, the AIFLD intensified its activities after the 1970 elections, supporting the professional and business associations who opposed Allende. *** Leadership training was combined with a transfer of funds, and the operation succeeded in providing a more organized and active front against the [Popular Unity government]. In 1972, an umbrella organization, the National Command for Gremio Defense was formed, composed mainly of the Truck Owners Association, merchants, industrialists, landowners and professionals (Kaufman, 1988: 81-82).

There can be no question of AIFLD's involvement in the organization of both CUPROCH (Confederation of Chilean Professionals) and the National Command of Gremio Defense. It was involved with the member organizations of each of these centers, including the Confederation of Truck Owners. In short, AIFLD's people played a crucial role in creating the economic crisis that led to the military's coup--and creating the chaos was part of a long-term, coordinated effort to overthrow the government of Chile, planned at the highest levels of the US Government, financed and implemented by the CIA, and with the direct organizational involvement of AIFLD and probably other organizations.

This range of educational programs and work with several organizations cost a lot of money. Most of the money came from the CIA, as was reported above. However, documents obtained from AID (Agency for International Development), the direct conduit for the government's money to AIFLD at the time, show that in fiscal year (FY) 1972, the Chile AIFLD program received $125,000, and another $118,000 in FY 1973 (AID, no date). This is especially interesting in light of a statement by AIFLD's Doherty, who claimed in the July 1974 meeting with the Santa Clara Country Central Labor Council, that AIFLD did not have a Country Labor Program in Chile (Hirsch, no date: 3.) While the money amount pales in comparison to the CIA funding, it shows that Doherty was covering up the fact that there was an on-going, established AIFLD country program in Chile, before and during the coup (and it continued afterward, under the dictatorship).

And how did the military dictatorship benefit Chile's workers? Weinrub and Bollinger give a succinct answer: "The government crushed Chile's labor movement, murdered thousands of unionists, and restored Chile's industry to its former US owners" (Weinrub and Bollinger, 1987:17).


While we will never know for certain, we can suggest how the AFL-CIO would have operated had Sweeney's approach had been operational at the time of Allende's presidency. The AFL-CIO would have seen that Allende had democratically won the presidency by Constitutional means and promised to maintain Constitutional processes, looked at the government's program to transfer resources to workers and the poor, and applauded. There would have been no overthrow of the government, or at least the AFL-CIO would not have been involved, and this would have made any coup much less likely and, even had it been attempted, much less likely to have succeeded. Thousands of lives would not have been lost, thousands would not have been tortured, and the AFL-CIO would be respected within Latin America as a force for democracy and freedom, instead of being disparaged as a front for the CIA.


In this paper, I have recognized that the AFL-CIO has created its own foreign policy, and discussed how this has been operationalized. Under the regimes of Meany and Kirkland, especially between 1962 and 1995, many aspects of AFL-CIO foreign policy--motivated by strident anti-communism--were counterproductive to the interests of US and foreign workers. In the post-1995 era under the leadership of John Sweeney, there has been a clearing out of the old "Cold Warriors" and an apparent turn toward international labor solidarity unburdened by ideological litmus tests.

The case of Chile illustrates the difference between the two approaches. Meany/Kirkland supported a US attack on Chile in the early 1970s, and AIFLD played a key role in overthrowing a democratically-elected government. Sweeney's approach should have led to support for the Allende government and its efforts to help workers. President Sweeney seems to recognize that many of the changes in the global economy are detrimental to unionized workers in the US, and thus it is in the best interest of the AFL-CIO to build the greatest amount of solidarity with labor and other groups in efforts to unionize and defend workers.

Key to these efforts to build solidarity is an honest coming-to-terms with the past practices of the AFL-CIO. It is not enough to say those practices are "behind us." I argue that the past foreign policy of the Federation needs to be specifically repudiated by the leadership. But because of the past complicity with reactionary forces and secrecy, a verbal repudiation is insufficient. If the AFL-CIO leaders are sincere in wanting to build new relationships with labor and supporters around the world--something that they seem to recognize as being a vital necessity for future development of the labor movement in the US and around the world--I argue that they need to open all of the AFL-CIO archives to interested scholars and rank and file members of AFL-CIO member unions. Anything less than this will not be trusted--and the AFL-CIO has a lot of lost trust to rebuild with workers around the world.

Accordingly, to announce this new policy most forcibly, the AFL-CIO leaders should approach those who are prosecuting Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, and offer their complete cooperation and access to all archives having anything to do with Chile, both before and after the coup. We need to see the AFL-CIO act, not simply pontificate, on building international labor solidarity. The past, unfortunately, cannot be changed; but what can be done is to join forcefully in the struggle for justice for the Chilean people. This would announce for all to see that the AFL-CIO has unequivocally joined the effort to build social justice around the world.


AID (US Agency for International Development).

--- 1975. "AIFLD Funding by Source, 1962-1974."AID papers in author's possession.

--- 1977. "Project Paper. Latin America Bureau. Office of Multilateral Coordination and Regional Social Development Programs," February. In author's possession.

--- n.d. "Program Level for AIFLD Programs by Country FY72-75 & 76-77 Estimated Obligations." In author's possession.

Alvarez, Darline, Della Bahan, William Bollinger and Sandra Gain. 1985. El Salvador Update--Labor Under Siege: A Report on the Salvadoran Trade Union Movement, October, 1985. Los Angeles: El Rescate Human Rights Department (1813 W. Pico Blvd.)

Armstrong, Robert, Hank Frundt, Hobart Spaulding and Sean Sweeney. 1988. Working Against Us: The American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) and the International Policy of the AFL-CIO. New York: North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).

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Barry, Tom and Debra Preusch. 1986. AIFLD In Central America: Agents as Organizers. Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center.

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Bernstein, Aaron. 1985. "Is Big Labor Playing Global Vigilante?" Business Week, November 4: 92-94.

Birns, Laurence R. 1975. "Article from Worldview, November1973, Entitled 'Chile: A Bloody Fall'" in House of Representatives: 529-533.

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Chavkin, Samuel. 1982. The Murder of Chile: Eyewitness Accounts of the Coup, the Terror, and the Resistance Today. New York: Everest House Publishers.

Ciment, James and Immanuel Ness. 1999. "NED and the Empire's New Clothes." Covert Action Quarterly, No.67, Spring-Summer: 65-68.

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Fagan, Richard R.

--- 1975a. "Prepared Statement of Prof. Richard R. Fagan, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif." in House of Representatives, 1975: 261-264.

--- 1975b. "Article from Foreign Affairs, January 1975, Entitled, "The United States and Chile: Roots and Branches" in House of Representatives, 1975: 666-674.

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--- 1974. An Analysis of Our AFL-CIO Role in Latin America or Under the Covers With the CIA. San Jose, CA: self-published. Copy in author's possession.

--- n.d. An Open Letter to the Labor Movement: The AIFLD, International Trade Secretariats and Fascism in Chile. San Jose, CA: self-published. Copy in author's possession.

Hirsch, Fred and Virginia Muir. 1987. "A Plumber Gets Curious About Exporting McCarthyism" in Ann Fagan Ginger and David Christiano, eds., The Cold War Against Labor (2 volumes). Berkeley: Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute: 723-768.

House of Representatives. 1975. "United States and Chile During the Allende Years, 1970-1973." A Collection of Congressional Hearing Transcripts of Testimony and Prepared Reports, plus supporting Documents, Articles, Reports and Chronologies, from numerous hearings conducted by the Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs between July 1971-September 18, 1974 in regard to US-Chilean relations during the Presidency of Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens of Chile. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. (Government documents record number: Y4.F76/1:C43/5/970-73.)

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-- nd. The Search for Peace in Central America: A Special Report by the National Labor Committee in Support of Democracy and Human Rights in El Salvador. New York: National Labor Committee. (Although undated, this was the report of the second NLC delegation to Central America that arrived in Central America in February 1985.)

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Slaney, Dave. 1988. "Solidarity and Self-Interest." NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 22, No. 3, May/June: 28-36.

Smyth, Frank.

--- 1987a. "Duarte's Secret Friends: Tainted AIFLD Money." The Nation, March 14: 316-318.

--- 1987b. "AFL-CIO is Spanish for Union Busting: How the U.S. and Big Labor Fight Communism by Opposing Popular Unions and Setting Up Unpopular Ones." Washington Monthly, September: 24-27.

Spalding, Hobart, A., Jr.

--- 1988a. "Unions Look South." NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 22, No. 3, May/June: 14-19.

--- 1988b. "AIFLD Amok." NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 22, No. 3, May/June: 20-27.

--- 1988c. "US Labour Intervention in Latin America: The Case of the American Institute for Free Labour Development" in Roger Southall, ed., Trade Unions and the New Industrialisation of the Third World. London: Zed; Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press; and Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press: 259-286.

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Internet Resources used in this article: During 1999, the US Government began declassifying some of its documentation on Chile. The National Security Archive, located at the George Washington University, has posted some of this documentation on its web site. Previously classified documents used in this paper , and accessed on December 8, 1999, include: (National Security Council Options Paper on Chile, dated November 3, 1970-change .01 to .15 for relevant page.) (Handwritten notes by CIA Director Richard Helms, dated September 15, 1970-Meeting with President.)

1 While I applaud changes made to date under Sweeney, I suggest there are many more still needing to be implemented. There still is insufficient transparency regarding foreign operations and, as Shailor reports (1998: 151), the Solidarity Center (ACILS) is being funded by the AFL-CIO and the US Government; money from the latter is channeled through US AID (Agency for International Development) and the supposedly "private" National Endowment for Democracy (NED). (For a report of NED activities in the 1980s--specifically noting that Henry Kissinger was on its Board of Directors in 1988--see International Labour Reports, 1989; for an updated report, albeit uneven, see Ciment and Ness, 1999; for an important theoretically-based study in which NED features prominently, see Robinson, 1996.) Further discussion of these issues, however, is beyond the scope of this article.

2 These studies are all in addition to major studies of AFL-CIO foreign policy and operations in general. See, in particular, Scott, 1978; Cantor and Schor, 1987; Hirsch and Muir, 1987; Spalding, 1988c; and Sims, 1992. See Bernstein, 1985, for a short article on AFL-CIO foreign operations, with some interesting financial data. For a discussion of the reactionary network that the AFL-CIO's foreign policy people have operated in, see Barry and Preusch, 1986: 51-62, 70-74. See also Buhle, 1999. Although focusing on US foreign policy as it affected several countries-the Philippines, Chile, Nicaragua and Haiti-and not labor operations, Robinson (1996) provides some extremely interesting material concerning labor. For the origins of the AFL's foreign policy under Samuel Gompers, of which Meany/Kirkland was merely a later manifestation, see Scipes, 1989.

3 Our knowledge of AIFLD activities in Chile is primarily due to the work and perseverance of Fred Hirsch, a plumber and member of Plumber and Fitters Local 393, AFL-CIO, in San Jose, California

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