[Fred Hirsch is Vice President of Local 393 of the Plumbers' Union in San Jose
and a delegate to the South Bay Labor Council. He delivered this address to
Hands Off Venezuela on July 15, 2005 in San Francisco.]
HANDS OFF VENEZUELA event San Francisco, CA - 7/15/05
Fred Hirsch, 831/475-4192, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brothers and Sisters, Friends,
CONGRATULATIONS ON THE ESTABLISHMENT of Hands Off Venezuela. The urgency
for solidarity with the people of Venezuela demands an ongoing organization
which can bring people together, coordinate events and distribute
Venezuela's position today is very similar to that of Chile in 1972. Then,
progressives the world over focused their hopes on Chile, a nation following
a democratic course which challenged imperialism. The program of the Unidad
Popular, the coalition which empowered the government of Salvador Allende
was, essentially, class conscious, nationwide community organization. Its
example and potential threatened, not only U.S. investments in Chile, but
U.S. economic and political domination in Latin America. Richard Nixon
corralled his covert intelligence apparatus and drowned Chile's vitality in
a bloody coup. The Pinochet coup was aided, abetted and enabled by the
AFL-CIO. In his last words, Salvador Allende spoke of the "treason" of the
leaders of "gremios," unions of professionals, subsidized and supported by
the AFL-CIO. In 1975 Hortencia Allende identified Robert O'Neill, the
AFL-CIO's chief in-country operative, as the "number one" intelligence agent
in Chile. The Pinochet coup could not have happened without the
destabilizing role of the AFL-CIO. Over three thousand militants, largely
trade unionists were tortured, killed and disappeared.
Chile was no exception. Similar AFL-CIO foreign operations were undertaken
against many governments and/or labor movements that have challenged the
interests and dominance of Corporate America. AFL-CIO operatives helped
overthrow democratically elected governments in Guatemala (1954), Brazil
(1964) and Chile (1973). They subverted and repressed progressive movements
in countries such as Guyana (1964), Dominican Republic (1965), El Salvador
(1980s) and South Africa (prior to 1986), Nicaragua, (1980s & early '90s).
In the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia and South Africa they backed labor
movements which supported dictatorships. The AFL-CIO has refused to "clear
the air" with an honest accounting of any of these events.
Today, as we saw in Chile, we see in Venezuela a nationwide movement to
empower the people through participatory democracy, the engine of national
development at a grassroots community organizing level. We see a defiant
fist raised against "neoliberalism," today's term for corporate driven
imperialism. In Venezuela today, democracy is a robustly muscular force
that shouts out from the heart of the people. That force was palpable,
surging in the crowds of voters who waited on lines, some overnight and
into the next day, to vote "No!" to defeat last year's Referendum to oust
President Hugo Chavez Frias and to support their Bolivarian Revolution.
With critical oil reserves in the balance, the example of Iraq, and with
Bush and his junkyard dog neocons in power, the stakes and the danger are
much higher than in Chile in 1973.
As in Chile, and in most Washington interventions, a main strategy is to
penetrate the labor movement, to divide it where possible and to use it to
win state power for a reliable elite. We hardly ever hear the term "class
consciousness" used in the AFL-CIO. With Cold War abuse and red baiting the
term was tarnished, and may remain tarnished for many years in the U.S.
vernacular. It is, however a common term in Venezuela, and among Latin
American trade unionists generally. In Colombia thousands of trade union
leaders and activists have been murdered. When you ask union leaders why
the paramilitary forces target trade unionists, their most common answer is
something like: "Because we are the organized working class. The
transnational corporations and elites know that when we get it together we
can make a new society. We can build a better future where there will be no
special privilege for the rich. They kill us to decapitate the future."
The truth of such understanding is that the wealthy elites who control so
many governments have an acute class consciousness. They will violate any
moral boundaries to maintain control. They share that class consciousness -
from diametrically opposed interests - with the trade unionists of Colombia,
of Venezuela, and of much of the world. Unfortunately, with almost a
century of mostly business unionism that made anti-communism more important
than winning for workers, and a pervasive corporate culture, the AFL-CIO has
been starved of the rich food for thought and action which such class
consciousness would provide.
In that context, it should be no surprise that forty three years ago top
leaders of the AFL-CIO sat down with top leaders of the corporate elite to
form the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD.) Their aim
was to destroy class conscious unions and support business unionism in Latin
America, paralleling U.S. government efforts to make Latin America safe for
transnational corporations. With the wealth of Venezuelan resources, the
corporate CEOs and their AFL-CIO counterparts gave the corrupt leaders of
the CTV (the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers) a seat at the table and
drew on government funds for their operations. The CTV was taken on as a
junior partner. That may be when the corrupt officials of the CTV learned
to sit in the laps of the bosses where, for forty plus years the CTV was
nourished and nurtured with our tax millions, from the deep pockets of the
State Department, the CIA and assorted other agencies.
John Sweeney was elected AFL-CIO President in 1995, he dissolved AIFLD in
Latin America , and the other three regional labor institutes, AAFLI in
Asia, AALC in Africa, and FTUI in Europe. Sweeney replaced them with a
centralized operation, ACILS,the American Center for International Labor
Solidarity ( called the Solidarity Center.) Acils operates in forty
countries, federally funded mostly through the National Endowment for
Democracy (NED,) and financed to the tune of $32 million In 2003. To give
you an idea what that figure means - on December 1, 2003 the AFL-CIO
budgeted $35 million for member mobilization and political action to beat
George W. Bush. It was, perhaps, the biggest nationwide campaign in AFL-CIO
history. BUSINESS WEEK estimated the AFL-CIO budget at $100 million in 2001.
ACILS gets federal money, equivalent to about one third of that AFL-CIO
budget and passes it off for use and distribution as union "solidarity." If
money laundering were as much of a legal crime as it is an amoral sleight of
hand, the top leaders of the AFL-CIO would have been behind bars years ago.
ACILS does some good things with the multi-million dollar sop from the Bush
administration, but "he who pays the piper calls the tune." In Venezuela
the tune they played promoted collusion with the bosses and treason.
The facts as stated by my union, and the labor councils of San Jose,
Monterey-Santa Cruz and San Francisco are the following:
"ACILS received a 2002 grant of $116,001, awarded by the NED under 'the
authority contained in P.L. 98-164, as amended...and Grant No. S-L
MAOM-02-H-0054 between the United States Department of State and the
National Endowment for Democracy..,' part of $703,927 that had been granted
by NED to ACILS between 1997 and 2002 for ACILS' work in Venezuela. During
2001 NED granted $154,377 to ACILS as part of a massive increase in NED
funding that year to $877,000 for activities which coincide directly with
the efforts of the Bush administration leading toward the April 11, 2002
coup in oil rich Venezuela"
We accuse that: "according to ACILS' VENEZUELA: QUARTERLY REPORT 2001-045
January to March 2002, 'The CTV and FEDECAMARAS (Venezuela's Federation of
Chambers of Commerce)...held a national conference on March 5...to identify
common objectives as well as areas of cooperation...the culminating event of
some two months of meetings and planning...during which the two
organizations announced a 'national accord'...The joint action further
established the CTV and FEDECAMARAS as the flagship organizations leading
the growing opposition to the Chavez government'" - THIRTY SIX DAYS PRIOR
TO THE APRIL 11, 2002 COUP!
We are outraged at ACILS' boasting that they "helped to 'support the event
in planning stages, organizing the initial meetings with...FEDECAMARAS...
Solidarity Center (ACILS) provided assistance for the five regional
preparatory meetings...held between January 22nd and March 1st...The March 5
national conference was financed primarily by counterpart funds,'" ACILS
money. Our unions question why "ACILS...is operating...as part of the Bush
administration's drive for regime change in Venezuela, a replay of the Nixon
administration's bloody collusion in crimes in Chile over 30 years ago."
But for them, enough is never enough. Their history shows that they will
attempt to penetrate, poison and destabilize Venezuela until they can, one
day, put its resources back into the claws of the oligarchs and
transnational corporations. Witness 45 years of the same in Cuba! The
Venezuelan workers and the solidarity movement have to be in this for the
When, after the 2002 coup the people returned Chavez to power, the CTV
facilitated the boss sabotage and lockout of the oil industry. When the
workers overcame that shameful treason, the Washington neocons, FEDECAMARAS
and CTV at their side, financed and promoted the Referendum against Chavez.
Beaten back by the democratic and overwhelming power of the people, they now
twist the screw of destabilization with a fraudulent complaint to the
International Labor Organization of the "denial" of trade union rights.
If their complaint is recognized, the ILO will send a Commission of Inquiry
to Venezuela, designed, with the help of the monopoly media, to smear the
Bolivarian Revolution and undermine the work of the robust, new National
Workers' Union (UNT). It is one more step to destabilize and stunt the
growth of the power of the workers and people, and to isolate President
Chavez, the UNT, and the nation from friends and allies.
The FEDECAMARAS-CTV Complaint was aired at the ILO in March and was
postponed to its Administrative Council in November. According to people
with the UNT, Stan Gacek, AFL-CIO International Affairs representative,
lobbied for a deal to support a long sought Commission of Inquiry to
Colombia, where trade unionists are murdered with impunity, in return for
support of a Commission of Inquiry to Venezuela. We are told that, smelling
a cynical CIA move, the UNT folks would not meet with Gacek. Gacek, by the
way told me and fifty others that ACILS spent only $20,000 on CTV activities
in the period prior to the coup - to support CTV democratization. He has
never said where the rest of the money went. $20,000???? The NED reports
that over $700,000 went to the Solidarity Center for work with CTV alone!
The issue came to the floor at the ILO Commission on Norms on June 10.
There, at the urging of the U.S. Employers' Representative, Edward E.
Potter, the Chair shut down Marcela Maspero, spokesperson for the UNT while
she described the absolute freedom of workers in Venezuela to organize and
bargain collectively. Potter launched into a long argument defending the
FEDECAMARAS/CTV complaint for supposed violation of labor rights. Central to
their complaint is the fact that Carlos Ortega of the CTV along with Albis
Munoz and Carlos Fernandez of FEDECAMARAS are under restrictions and review
by the Venezuelan legal system, not for anything to do with labor rights or
ILO norms, but for actions taken against the Constitution during the coup
d'etat in April 2002. Their problems stem from matters of treason involving
the deaths of 18 people.
Edward E.Potter's defense of trade union rights is glaring hypocrisy.
Potter speaks, not only for the U.S. Council for International Business, he
is Director of Global Labor Relations for Coca-Cola, a company accused of
conspiring with Colombian death squads in the murder of nine union leaders
in Coca-Cola plants. Do you find this hard to believe? You should!
The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, through Stan Gacek, finds unity and common
ground in a common effort with Corporate America's top international
spokesman, Coca Cola's global anti-union henchman, in scheming against the
majority unions and the people of Venezuela. The multiple union victims of
Coca-Cola in Colombia suffer death squad labor relations. Is there something
wrong with this picture? You damnbetcha there is!
We mean to get the AFL-CIO off the government dole. We have a resolution,
passed unanimously last July by the California Labor Federation which could
do the job. The resolution titled "Build Unity and Trust Among Workers
Worldwide" demands that the Federation comes clean, country by country,
about all facets of its past and present operations. The resolution also
demands that the AFL-CIO accept government funds only with "extreme caution"
and "only to pursue the goals of honest international labor solidarity...and
renounce any ...tie that would make us paid agents of the United States
government or the forces of of corporate economic globalization"
The movement for solidarity with the people of Venezuela is part of an
ongoing, long term struggle. It won't be won tomorrow, but it will never be
won if it is not continually fought.
As workers and union people, we do our damndest to stop AFL-CIO
intervention abroad, not just in Venezuela, but wherever it serves corporate
American Imperialism. This is our responsibility - our fight for as long as
it takes. The struggle must go on!
Hands off Venezuela!