Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 21:17:19 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Workers World" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Legacy of reaction: Kirkland & the Cold War
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
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
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
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
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
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
WORKERS PAID THE PRICE
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
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
Poverty and racism continued to grow while he was in
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
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