California AFL-CIO Rebukes Labor’s National Level Foreign Policy Leaders

The 25th Biennial California State AFL-CIO Convention, held in July in San Diego, handed a rebuke to national-level foreign policy leaders of the AFL-CIO. By a unanimous decision, over 400 representatives of the state’s almost 2.5 million organized workers—approximately one-sixth of the AFL-CIO’s total membership—adopted resolutions against the war in Iraq and urged “an immediate end to the US occupation,” and decided to explore affiliation with US Labor Against War (USLAW).

They also passed a resolution titled, “Build Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide,” which addressed a wide range of foreign policy issues.

DEMANDING ACCOUNTABILITY

“Build Unity and Trust” was submitted by Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 393 (San Jose), the South Bay Labor Council (San Jose), the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council (Castroville), and the San Francisco Labor Council. Resolutions calling for transparency in NED (National Endowment for Democracy) funding—submitted by American Federation of Teachers Local 1493 (San Mateo), the California Teachers Federation, and the San Francisco Labor Council—were blended into “Build Unity and Trust” by the Resolutions Committee. It was a powerful indictment of AFL-CIO foreign policy.

The resolution condemned the AFL-CIO’s relationship with the NED, pointing out that the NED “has a dubious history, having been employed frequently to promote U.S. government foreign policy objectives, including assisting in overthrowing democratically elected governments and interfering in the internal affairs of the labor movements of other countries.”

The Cal Fed specifically warned the AFL-CIO about applying for $3-5 million from the NED for operations in Iraq, noting:

“AFL-CIO acceptance of NED money for its solidarity work in Iraq may give the appearance, if not the effect, of making the AFL-CIO appear to be an agent of the U.S. government and its foreign policies, which may taint the good reputation of the Federation in the eyes of labor movements in other countries and draw into question the motivation and true independence of the Federation in its international affairs.”

CONFRONTING THE PAST

The “resolves” of the resolution were quite emphatic. They called on the AFL-CIO to “fully account for what was done in Chile (and Venezuela),” as well as other countries where the AFL-CIO was reportedly complicit in U.S. government-backed overthrows of democratically elected governments.

The resolution urged the AFL-CIO to “exercise extreme caution” in seeking or accepting U.S. government funding, to seek out funding and support from its affiliates and members instead, and to strengthen its international solidarity work.

How will the National AFL-CIO’s executive council respond to these developments? The California State Federation delegates, while strongly condemnatory, also left their hand open to work with the AFL-CIO should it decide to consciously act to “Build Unity and Trust.” The question thus posed to the National Level AFL-CIO leadership, and especially those involved in foreign policy and operations, is “Which Side Are You On?”

Kim Scipes, a long-time labor activist and former member of three unions, teaches sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana.