Wednesday, January 11, 2012

AFL-CIO Complicity in Violence Against Latin American Labor

School of the Americas Demonstration, 2006 (Image from Flickr, by Crazbabe 21)
Columbia has been called the most dangerous place in the world to be a union member. Since 1986, nearly 2900 unionists have been killed in that country, Counter Punch reported this week.   In 2010, over half the union members killed worldwide were Columbian. At least 28 labor leaders were killed there in 2011, while 600 teachers were physically threatened. 

Though the AFL-CIO has criticized Columbia’s horrendous record on labor, there have been several Wikileaks cables that show a more equivocal role for the union. The AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center’s Rhett Doumitt (who aided in the coup against Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, according to Counter Punch), accused members of CUT, the largest labor confederation in Colombia, of being Stalinists and hardline communists, thus setting them up in the minds of Columbia’s death squads as legitimate targets for violence. He also agreed with the Columbian government that many of the union members killed were victims of “common crime,” and not political violence, thus trivializing the violence against union members and sending the message that killing unionists is okay, so long as it is made to look like a mugging or robbery.

Of course the AFL-CIO has a long history of collaborating with the State Department and the CIA in undermining unions and revolutionary struggles throughout the world (see here, here and here), particularly during the Cold War, but starting back under Samuel Gomper’s leadership and continuing unabated through the present. A Wikileaks cable from Peru revealed that the AFL-CIO sided with the Peruvian government in a recent legal victory that reduced 10-fold the number of teachers who could engage in full-time union activities and still receive their teachers’ salaries. Cables also suggested that anti-Sandinista unions in Nicaragua seek the support of the AFL-CIO in working to unseat Daniel Ortega.

While it is reprehensible that any labor organization would doing anything to jeopardize the safety of fellow workers abroad, the AFL-CIO’s collaboration with the State Department also undermines the interests of American workers. Strong condemnation of Columbia’s treatment of union members combined with direct action locally could have derailed the Free Trade Agreement with Columbia, which has made it easier to export jobs to that country.

So long as wages and working conditions are worse elsewhere, capitalists will continue to move jobs to those countries, not only contributing to local unemployment, but driving down wages and working conditions at home.

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