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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 21:17:19 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Legacy of reaction: Kirkland & the Cold War
Article: 73144
Message-ID: <bulk.3339.19990820151503@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Aug. 26, 1999
issue of Workers World newspaper

Legacy of Reaction: Kirkland & and the Cold War

By Milt Neidenberg, Workers World,
26 August 1999

Former AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland died on Aug. 14. What is his legacy? And most importantly, what can be learned by assessing his leadership, which began in 1979 following the death of his predecessor, George Meany?

Since the birth of the American Federation of Labor in 1886, Lane Kirkland was the only president to ever be swept out of office. The others all died in office, replaced by an heir apparent--beginning with Samuel Gompers in the mid 1920s.

The significance of Kirkland's resignation must be seen in a broad historic context.

For the last 60 years, with few exceptions, the labor leaders were indispensable allies of U.S. imperialism in its predatory wars. They were the best exponents of the aims of Washington, Wall Street and the Pentagon.

In World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and right up to the assault on Yugoslavia, their support has helped divert billions of dollars away from the economic and social needs of the workers and poor of all nationalities. In most cases they encouraged their members to be foot soldiers for the imperialist objectives.

Patriotism coupled with anti-communist, anti-Soviet frenzy was deeply entrenched in the labor bureaucracy long before Kirkland added his contribution. But labor was unprepared for the reactionary days after World War II.

The passage of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act in 1946, only a year after President Harry Truman ordered the atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan, was no accident. It was planned by a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, and orchestrated by Wall Street. The message was clear. The so- called honeymoon was over--both with the Soviet Union and with the organized labor movement in this country.

The Congress of Industrial Organizations and the AFL, which had not yet merged, were getting stronger in their struggles with corporate America. In 1946 they had led over 5,000 strikes involving 5 million workers.

Taft-Hartley seriously undermined the workers' efforts to get back in wages and working conditions what they had sacrificed during World War II. The legislation included loyalty oaths that led to the purge of thousands of militant union members, communists and socialists from union offices and leadership. Twelve unions, mainly the most progressive, were expelled from the CIO.

The law encouraged states to pass the infamous, anti-labor, "right to work" scab laws that have made union organizing difficult to this day, particularly in the South. It outlawed secondary boycotts that had been successfully used during the 1946 strikes.

In 1959, the Landrum-Griffin law further strengthened the power of Wall Street and corporate America to intensify their attacks on the labor movement. Most importantly, it gave big business the green light to continue its offensive- -an offensive that has gone on now for over 50 years.


Lane Kirkland took over the AFL-CIO presidency in 1979. The following year President Ronald Reagan took office. One of Reagan's first executive orders was to fire the air traffic controllers during the PATCO strike. The air traffic controllers' union was broken without a word of fight-back from AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland.

The die was cast. Kirkland was to spend the next 16 years cooperating and collaborating with Wall Street, Washington and the Pentagon. He moved the AFL-CIO further in a conservative, racist and right-wing direction.

He bolstered the forces in the labor movement that aligned themselves with the Reagan-Bush administration.

It was in foreign policy that Kirkland truly distinguished himself. His mindset and dogma were centered on the Cold War policies of each successive administration.

Kirkland restructured the AFL-CIO Department of International Affairs to carry out U.S. imperialist aims. He used the DIA to get funds from the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department, Agency for International Development and other government bodies in order to export counter-revolution and other imperialist foreign policy objectives.

Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy, which financed the DIA and other agencies Kirkland created.

The money involved was greater than the entire AFL-CIO budget. Kirkland spent more on "anti-subversive" operations in other countries than the total domestic budget of the AFL-CIO.

Kirkland built agencies within the DIA. The Free Trade Union Institute was an overall conduit for dubious funds.

The most prominent agency he created was the American Institute for Free Labor Development, under the auspices of the Department of International Affairs. The policies of the AIFLD, which received millions in taxpayer money, jelled with the objectives of the CIA--particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Kirkland also formed the Labor Committee for a Free Cuba to undermine the Cuban Revolution. He spent millions of dollars to bribe counter-revolutionaries and anti-Castro groups into forming a phony trade union in the name of "freedom and democracy." He followed the same strategy in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

These policies were calculated to undermine the progressive struggles of workers and peasants who were fighting for economic and social justice.

In the Dominican Republic and Chile, Kirkland aided Washington and Wall Street in their drive to carry out successful coups to replace democratically-elected governments.

Thousands of Chilean unionists who supported President Salvador Allende, for example, were rounded up and killed during the CIA-backed counter-revolution. The AIFLD, with the blessing of Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was then invited to help train a labor movement under the fascist junta's control.

Kirkland worked closely with Oliver North's "Project Democracy" and was part of the Iran-Contra plot that led to the deaths of thousands of workers and peasants who supported the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

But his crowning "success" was the prodigious amount of time and money he contributed to Solidarity, the anti- communist union that helped the U.S. overturn the workers' state in Poland.

This was noted in the Aug. 15 New York Times obituary about Kirkland's death. None other than Henry Kissinger--the architect of U.S. imperialist policies, the close confidante to Nixon, Reagan, and Bush--praised Kirkland's contributions, saying he had "a big effect on American policy makers."

Kirkland improved on all the labor sins of his predecessors, particularly George Meany--the Cold-War, right-wing, conservative union president who once boasted that he had never walked a picket line.

All this and more is the legacy of AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland.


The key lesson from Lane Kirkland's tenure as AFL-CIO leader is that the members suffered heavy losses. This master of political intrigue and deceit who collaborated with the highest councils in corporate America and government--Democrats and Republicans--was unable to wring any concessions from on high for the many millions in the work force.

On the contrary, Congress passed Clinton's anti-worker trade agreement, NAFTA. And big business continued to shut down plants, lay off millions, export factories to exploit workers and peasants abroad, and accumulate profits at an obscene rate.

Poverty and racism continued to grow while he was in office.

As difficult as it may be, the lesson of all this is that labor must break with the Washington-Wall Street-Pentagon axis and take the road of independent class struggle along with its allies in the multinational oppressed communities.

An alliance with the movements for civil rights, women's and lesbian/gay/bi/ trans liberation would shift the balance of power dramatically. And the economic and social justice so desperately needed could become a reality.

In 1995 a rebellion broke out against Kirkland and his allies in the highest councils of the AFL-CIO. Within months it was clear his administration was so discredited that he and his heir apparent, Thomas Donahue, had to go.

Kirkland resigned prior to the 1995 Constitutional Convention held in New York. Donahue was defeated by John Sweeney in the presidential election held at that time.

While Kirkland retired in disgrace from the labor movement, he was not forgotten for his contributions to U.S. imperialism. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And he was offered the ambassadorship to Poland by President Clinton, which he declined.

Truly his legacy of reaction must never be forgotten--or repeated.

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