Is AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center A Subsidiary of the U.S State Department? 

In 1997, the AFL-CIO established the American Center for International Labor Solidarity to develop organizing strategies for international campaigns and cooperative relations with labor federations in other countries.

Solidarity Center replaced the four regional institutes under former President Lane Kirkland, whose staffs, operating in some 80 countries, had been involved with CIA agents to destabilize democratically-elected governments in the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Chile, and had undermined indigenous labor movements and governments that were unfriendly to the United States and American business interests.

But a well-kept secret about Solidarity Center is that it receives 90% (nearly $30 million) of its annual revenue from U.S. government agencies, but gets less than 2% ($600,000) from the AFL-CIO. These figures are from Solidarity Center’s 2003-2004 Annual Report.

You may wonder why the State Department and other agencies of the federal government lavish such huge sums of money on the AFL-CIO, which is otherwise under constant attack by the Bush administration. While Solidarity Center keeps its relations with the U.S. government secret, it surely must supply some paybacks to the government for the millions of dollars it receives to keep it in operation. The State Department is not known for zeal in promoting international labor solidarity, so it must demand other advantages which the Center is apparently committed to supplying.

Solidarity Centers’s Annual Report applauds the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), while completely ignoring labor’s strong opposition to this trade legislation. It says (on Page 5): “The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1994, ended trade restrictions between the United States, Canada and Mexico. NAFTA aimed to strengthen international cooperation, enhance competitiveness in foreign markets and create new employment opportunities.”

With its federal subsidies, Solidarity Center is able to maintain offices and a staff in at least 26 countries, including Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Croatia, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. American workers have no idea why Solidarity Center should be there or how their presence serves the cause of international labor.

The strong impression is that Solidarity Center is in these countries to act as the eyes and ears of the U.S. State Department and to manipulate their labor movements in behalf of American government policies and corporate interests.

The Center’s role in the attempted overthrow of the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, is an embarrassing example. The Center won’t tell us how it operates in other countries. Aren’t we entitled to know?

No one takes seriously Solidarity Center’s wildly exaggerated claims about its accomplishments. An example: “The Solidarity Center is preventing and resolving conflicts worldwide by breaking down race and class barriers, building relations that can bridge ethnic and racial divides and providing training and education that give workers needed job skills and the opportunity for a better future.” We’d like to hear Solidarity Center’s executive director, Barbara Shailor, back up these claims.

Although Solidarity has operated for eight years, only a tiny fraction of American workers has ever heard of it and what it does. We have no idea of what deals it has worked out with the Bush administration or other countries, because, although it acts in our name, it keeps all of its operations secret from us.

The situation at Solidarity Center is a scandal waiting to explode. Before that happens, we ought to have a full-fledged outside investigation that would answer some of these disturbing questions:

• How does the AFL-CIO justify accepting 90% of Solidarity Center’s funding from U.S government sources? Why does it contribute only 2% to the Center?

• What services does Solitary Center perform for U.S. government agencies in payment for being the dominant benefactor?

•What is the Center’s activity in the 26 listed countries? How has it helped American labor and promoted international labor solidarity?

• What policy statements and secret commitments has Solidarity Center made in the name of American labor?

We have written to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and the six newly elected trustees of the Solidarity Center to comment on our charges. They are: Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO; Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington (D.C.) Council, AFL-CIO; Tom Buffenbarger. President of the International Association of Machinists; Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America; Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, and Susan Schurman, president of the National Labor College.

We’re hoping they’ll speak out and support an investigation.