Reverse Solidarity: The Reactionary Role of US Labor in Haiti and Venezuela

Dennis Bernstein/ Flashpoints: Many in the U.S. see the AFL-CIO as a huge effective union [federation] representing tens of thousands of workers in this country, which may be true and is but it is not widely understood that the union joined hands with the U.S. State Department and spy and propaganda agencies to undermine foreign governments in the guise of supporting democracy in the good old USA fashion.   

In recent days this is no where more obvious than in Haiti and Venezuela – the United States has been heavily engaged in both countries and has availed themselves of various subsets of the AFL-CIO to subvert the will of the people and to undermine self determination in both these countries.  

Joining us to talk about this is Jeb Sprague. He is the author of "Failed Solidarity," an article about the AFL-CIO and other organizations and their secret and not-so-secret work to undermine the will of the people in Haiti. It appears on the web and magazine Labor Notes.  Also appearing with us is Kim Scipes, an assistant professor in Sociology at a branch of Purdue University. He is an expert in the foreign operations of the AFL-CIO. We appreciate both of you joining us on Flashpoints.  

Let me start with you professor. Give us a blueprint because of those of us who are unionists get nervous when we think about the AFL-CIO abroad it could be the CIA. 

Kim Scipes: Well that’s true. But it’s a little more complex. The AFL-CIO leadership, and this is the top leadership, I want to state from the beginning, it’s [going on] behind the backs of [AFL-CIO] members. But the top leadership going back into the nineteen teens-has run its own independent foreign policy. They were involved in the Mexican revolution, they were involved setting foreign policy about the Soviet Union.  

Coming forward, they were involved in helping to overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954, the democratically elected government in Brazil in 1964, the democratically elected government in Chile in 1973 and the attempted coup against the democratically elected government in Venezuela 2002.  So they’ve got this long foreign policy that is done behind the back.  

They refuse to come clean to individual members such as myself but the California AFL-CIO has also rejected [critique of] the foreign policy programs.  So despite different efforts at all kinds of levels within the labor movement they have hid, they operate behind our backs although in our name.  

Jeb and I are working within a new organization called the Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee that is trying to end this nonsense. [In 2005 AFL-CIO leadership refused floor debate on the proposed "Build Unity and Trust with Workers Worldwide" resolution at their National Convention.  That resolution, approved in 2004 by the California State AFL-CIO Convention, would account for and end any AFL foreign activity tied to government agencies.] 

Dennis Bernstein: Just as a case study, Jeb Sprague, lets go to your Labor Notes piece "Failed Solidarity".  On this show, we have covered Haiti and the infiltration of various propaganda agencies and the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) into the internal workings of Haiti as part of a subset of the U.S. State Department policy of opposing Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  Set up for us, what happened in Haiti? 

Jeb Sprague:  Ok, well first we can go back to 1984. This is when the Duvalier dictatorship was still in power. They were in power until 1986. Now at this point in time the [AFL] Solidarity Center was not around but its predecessor, AIFLD, was.  Now they supported the FOS – the Federation of Syndicated Workers, which was the only sanctioned union under Duvalier.  

[The FOS] was heavily infiltrated by his secret police and the Tonton Macoutes – who were well known for wearing their dark glasses and hanging up dead bodies and killing thousands of people. Then in 1991 you had [8 months] when Aristide was in power under his first Administration before the first coup.  During these months the AFL-CIO was supporting Haiti’s most historic union the CATH – Haitian Union of Autonomous Workers. Under AFL-CIO support, they had a schism within the CATH where the conservative section took over and started mounting protests against Aristide.   

These were some of the very first protests against Aristide in 1991. And then following the 1991 coup you had additional money going to [pro-defacto] labor during the "de-facto period" around 1992 and 1993.  After that, after a lot of criticism, the AFL-CIO pulled out of Haiti and from as far as I can find until the Solidarity Center began operations again in Haiti in 2005.  [Besides a labor study conducted prior to the coup.] 

Dennis Bernstein: Ok, So explain that. 

Jeb Sprague:  Well, first, in 1999 the CSH, which stands for the Haitian Trade Union Confederation, was supported by the ICFTU, ORIT, and ILO, which are these giant labor organizations in South America and around the world [connected closely with the AFL-CIO]. The CSH was the main labor organization within the Group of 184 and they basically co-opted labor leaders from unions across Haiti into this Group of 184 conspiracy against the Haitian government – agitating for its overthrow.  And so then when the Solidarity Center comes back in following the coup, just weeks after the coup in 2004 they begin talks with the Batay Ouvriye.   

Dennis Bernstein: Ok so you’re referring to when the U.S. undermined, forced out the Aristide government. Kidnapped. We had a coup government. Explain now. Because there’s a lot of numbers a lot of letters. 

Jeb Sprague: Ok, well prior to the 2004 coup, you had three years where there was a U.S. government backed aid embargo upon the Aristide government. It was an aid dependent government that was starved. A large percentage of its money was dependent on aid that they were no longer getting. At the same time you had paramilitary rebels that were allowed safe houses in the Dominican Republic, coming in killing people and then reprisals happening after that, so you had them really creating this violent situation.   

You also had ten millions of dollars going to anti-government and critical voices against Aristide- so you had pro-government NGOs not getting any or very little funding. So with the labor, just weeks after the coup you have these meetings taking place in Haiti between the Solidarity Center and Batay Ouvriye. Batay Ouvriye was known for working in the Free Trade Zone in Haiti and they had agitated for the Aristide government to "leave the country."  

And so what I found, after about 6 months trying to figure this out, that by mid-2005 we see nearly half a million dollars going to a program in support of the Batay Ouvriye [from Solidarity Center/State Dept funds]. And the most astonishing thing about all of this is that following the February 29, 2004 coup you had about 10,000 possibly 12,000 trade unionist supporters of the ousted government and public sector workers who were persecuted and repressed. These people were laid off. 

Dennis Bernstein: When you say all that money, did that come from the AFL-CIO? 

Jeb Sprague: Well it actually came through the NED, which gets it money from the State Department and then [the other grant] directly through the State Department.  The AFL-CIO gets its money from the State Department and then they go in. Send in their people to work [trainers, etc]. Also with the CSH -the group 184-trade union they got their [program] money from the ICFTU, which is based out of Brussels.  Money, support, all sorts of things.    

So then you had these workers that were laid off and these groups the AFL-CIO, ICFTU, ORIT, ILO they refuse to do anything. So I asked them, why are you not condemning or investigating these massive layoffs, persecution, and 100 buses of a workers cooperative demolished? They don’t have an answer.* 

Dennis Bernstein: All right, so Kim Scipes why don’t you help us understand the direct connection between the AFL-CIO and the attempt to destabilize and overthrow the Venezuelan government? 

Kim Scipes:  Basically what happened is, the AFL-CIO used to have regional organizations in Latin America. AIFLD is one of them the American Institute for Free Labor Development. That has been superseded by what is called the Solidarity Center. The Solidarity Center is one of four core institutes of the NED. And that [was] set up by the Reagan Administration and continues today under Bush. So they are not only getting money from the Administration, they are actively involved in what I believe is setting policy.

They were working in Venezuela between 1997 and 2001. They got over $703,000 from the NED, specifically for their work in Venezuela. What did they do in Venezuela? They are working with a very conservative labor organization that is very much tied with security services in Latin America, as well as the CIA, and then they are supposedly democratizing these people. But at the time of the coup, we see a series of meetings set up between the business people and the right leadership of this labor movement—and they were key leaders in the coup attempt against Chavez.  

This is a pattern very reminiscent of the coup Chile in 1973 when AIFLD helped lay the groundwork for the coup against Salvador Allende.  

Dennis:  Explain again, AIFLD is a sub group of the AFL-CIO its foreign action group? 

Kim Scipes:  Well they had four different regional organizations. One in Africa, Asia, Western Europe, and one in Latin America. AIFLD was [the AFL’s] Latin American operation. When John Sweeney was elected in 1995 as a reform candidate one of the pressures was to get rid of all this foreign policy crap. He came in and centralized operations that he called the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), which is the formal name of the Solidarity Center.  

That was supposedly done to clean up and stop doing this stuff. It’s a much more sophisticated operation then in the old days. They have actually done some good stuff such as supporting good trade union struggles in some maquiladoras. But in Venezuela what [ACILS] was still doing this clandestine stuff; pulling groups together against democratically elected governments. 

They are operating around the world, in over 40 countries, over 90% of funding from the State Department; they are not supporting themselves off money from their members of the AFL-CIO unions.  Most union members know nothing about this. And the point I also want to make [is that] we are not against the labor movement. I am in my fourth union, but I abhor, I detest what the labor leadership has done behind the backs of its workers. And they will not come clean and we are going to force them. 

Dennis: Ok, Jeb Sprague hone in about what the Solidarity Center was doing in Haiti to take a side to undermine the Aristide government? 

Jeb: Well they [the Batay Ouvriye] were basically part of a large group of organization NGO "leftist" organizations that were being funded by US, European, and Canadian organizations that were criticizing Aristide from the left and then you had the Group of 184 from the right [also being funded]. So it was a foreign funded operation from the start in Haiti.  The AFL-CIO came in after the coup to maintain this program.   

And then another interesting point, some of these laid-off workers went into armed groups, such as Dread Wilme, who worked at the port in Port-au-Prince and Dread Mackenzie.  So you had a lot of this fueling anger after thousands of these workers were laid off.

We know from the NED grant listing for 2005 we know that 1.6 million dollars at least is coming from the NED to the Solidarity Center [for Latin American operations alone].  This includes Mexico $183,000, Central America two grants each $185,000, Andean region over $600,000 that’s Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela a lot of important places.  So it’s probably triple that, maybe quadruple that if you add in State Department and USAID funding. 

Dennis: And finally Professor Skipes would it be fair to say that this group affiliated with the AFL-CIO has undermined/contravened democracy in other countries? 

Kim Scipes: Yes, no question. And because they refuse to come clean, they refuse to come clean to their own workers; they undermine democracy in the United States.

They best place to get information is to visit 

Dennis: Ok, I want to thank both of you. This is a complicated subject. We are going to come back to it. We have been speaking with Kim Scipes he is a long time expert on the AFL-CIO, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University, one of the branches at that university.  Also speaking with us is Jeb Sprague, Freelance journalist, graduate student, and from time to time special correspondent for this show we thank both of you for being on the show.  You are listening to Pacifica Radio. 

Visit the Flashpoints website at

Visit Jeb Spragues blog at and see his LABOR NOTES article at

Kim Scipes website is at