American Center for International Labor Solidarity

American Center for International Labor Solidarity

The American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), better known as the Solidarity Center, is a non-profit organization established in 1997 by the AFL-CIO, the labor federation that represents 9 million working men and women in the United States, to assist unions and workers around the world. The Solidarity Center was created through the consolidation of four labor institutes: the American Institute for Free Labor Development, the Asian-American Free Labor Institute, the African-American Labor Center, and the Free Trade Union Institute. Its stated mission is to help build a global labor movement by strengthening the economic and political power of workers around the world through effective, independent, and democratic unions.


The American labor movement has engaged in foreign labor operations since the early years of the Mexican Revolution (1911-1917) under American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers. Gompers played a key role in getting the US to enter World War I on the side of the Allies, and was very involved in creating US foreign policy against the Bolsheviks of Lenin and the newly-established Soviet Union. Earlier research claimed that this was always done at the initiative of external forces (over time, including the US Government, the White House, the State Department, and/or the Central Intelligence Agency--however, since 1989, it has been generally recognized that the labor movement's foreign policy is a product of internal processes. [ [Kim Scipes, 1989. “Labor’s Foreign Policy: Its Origins with Samuel Gompers and the AFL.” Newsletter of International Labour Studies [Institute of Labor Education, Research and Information, The Hague, The Netherlands] , Nos. 40-41, January-April: 4-20; Gregg Andrews, 1991. "Shoulder to Shoulder? The American Federation of Labor, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1924." Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press;] [ David Nack, 1999. “The American Federation of Labor Confronts Revolution in Russia and Early Soviet Government, 1905-1928: Origins of Labor’s Cold War.” Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Graduate Program in History, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.] ]


The AFL-CIO's foreign policy program has received U.S. government funding, with the stated mission of promoting the cause of workers and the development of democratic trade unions in countries all over the world, but critics allege that the programs are intended to undertake labor activities in furtherance of US foreign policy. [For the ideological rationale of the AFL-CIO's foreign policy after the Cuban Revolution, see George C. Lodge, "Spearheads of Democracy: Labor in the Developing Countries," NY: Harper & Row, 1962.] Most of the Solidarity Center’s funding comes from the U.S. government, mainly from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Department of Labor. It also receives funding from the AFL-CIO itself and other organizations, although this has always been a small portion of the money financing foreign operations.

The AFL and then, after 1955, the AFL-CIO have been proven to have played key roles in laying the groundwork in overthrowing democratically-elected governments in Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964) and Chile (1973). They have also supported dictators around the world, most notably in the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea. [See Fred Hirsch, 1974. "An Analysis of Our AFL-CIO Role in Latin America or Under the Covers With the CIA." San Jose, CA: Self-Published; Kim Scipes, 2000, “It’s Time to Come Clean: Open the AFL-CIO Archives on International Labor Operations.” [ ]

The Solidarity Center has been accused by some of taking part in destabilization campaigns against national leaders and for having what is claimed to be a bias towards public sector unions that support leftist politicians.Fact|date=February 2007 Critics of the Solidarity Center argue that most of--but not all--of the Solidarity Center's policies fit within the strategic interests of the United States, and deride the fact that over 90% of their funding comes from the US State Department.Fact|date=February 2007 What is unclear is the amount of joint communication and joint operations between the State Department and the Solidarity Center; what is clear, however, is that the Solidarity Center (under its formal name, the American Center of International Labor Solidarity) is one of four key "institutes" of the Reagan Administration-created and US Congress funded "National Endowment for Democracy" (NED). [Kim Scipes, 2005, "An Unholy Alliance"; William Blum, 2000, "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower." Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press: 179-183.]


The Solidarity Center’s major partner in Venezuela is the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), which at one time was said to represent more than 1 million workers in 52 national and 25 regional federations and more than 2,000 local unions. The President of the CTV, Carlos Ortega, was a major actor in the attempted coup against democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez in April 2002, although he was betrayed by his fellow coup-plotters and excluded from their coup-initiated government that only lasted a couple of days. [Kim Scipes, 2004, “AFL-CIO in Venezuela: Déjà vu All Over Again.” Labor Notes, April: 5. On-line at] Kim Scipes has subsequently established--after examining closely arguments from a number of independent researchers as well as arguments by a representative of the AFL-CIO--that the Solidarity Center was consciously and actively involved in helping to lay the groundwork for the coup attempt, and that the AFL-CIO has repeated denied CTV President Carlos Ortega's involvement in the coup attempt [ Kim Scipes, 2007, "The AFL-CIO Foreign Policy Program and the 2002 Coup in Venezuela: Was the AFL-CIO Involved?" Journal of the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences, Vol. X: 133-147.] [ An earlier version of this peer-reviewed article is on-line at] ]

In 2002 and 2003, the center ran NED-funded labor programs on collective bargaining, union elections, and worker rights with the CTV and a few smaller labor organizations. The annual budget of more than $100,000 included support to train union leaders for new leadership posts, modify union statutes to allow for broader representation, and carry out union elections. The program also focused on developing technical collective bargaining skills, broadening issues included in bargaining, surveying members more extensively, and designing bargaining plans to ensure sustainable agreements for workers. Some, including Chavez, have accused the NED of providing funding to “anti-government” civil society organizations in Venezuela. [ [ Hugo Chávez Accuses U.S. of Spending Over $1 Million To Help Oust Him] ]

Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger documented more than $776,000 in different grants that the Solidarity Center received from the NED specifically to support the CTV between February 2001 and March 2002.Fact|date=February 2007 The ACILS got another CTV support grant for $116,000 in September 2002, five months after the coup and three months before the oil stoppage.Fact|date=February 2007 In his history as AIFLD labor activist Harry Kelber says the grants continued in the same amount every three months until at least March 2004. [] According to Golinger, the ACILS continues to receive grants in excess of $100,000 annually for its work with the CTV. [ [ acils ] ]


In 2003, as tension mounted in Haiti, the Solidarity Center began criticizing the Haitian government for worker rights violations, a weak Labor Code, and the negative impact on worker rights and living conditions of donor policies toward Haiti.Fact|date=February 2007 Following the 2004 overthrow of Haiti's democratically elected government the Solidarity Center began two State Department funded programs with the Batay Ouvriye, in which $449,965.00 was spent.Labor Notes. May 2006

The Batay Ouvriye which had agitated for the elected Aristide government to "leave the country" received some attention for its successful negotiation of a contract in Haiti's FTZ (Free Trade Zone). When textile manufacturer Grupo M, the Dominican Republic’s largest employer, applied to the International Finance Corporation (the World Bank’s private sector lending arm) for a $20 million loan to open a factory on the Haiti-Dominican border, the Batay Ouvriye, the Solidarity Center, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the AFL-CIO, and the Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers (FEDOTRAZONAS) worked together to condition the loan on respect for worker rights, including the right to form a union.

Following the successful negotiation of a contract in the FTZ, the World Bank adopted a new performance standard that obliges all companies receiving loans from the IFC to abide by the International Labor Organization’s core labor standards: freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and prohibitions against the use of forced labor, child labor, and discriminatory practices. Companies also must observe health and safety standards, provide protection for contract workers, and set a policy for managing workforce reductions.

Throughout the late 1990s and the early 2000s the ICFTU, ILO, and ORIT supported the CSH (another Haitian labor organization) which was the main labor component of the opposition to the Aristide Government (the Group 184). While the Group 184 criticized the Haitian government from the right, the Batay Ouvriye criticized the Arsitide government from the left. Some of the largest Unions in Haiti that supported Lavalas and Arsitide government policies received no attention or aid at all.{Labor Notes, Failed Solidarity} AFL-CIO officials have also indicated that they helped in supporting the foundation of this opposition aligned labor coordination union.Labor Notes, June 2006]

While the Aristide government was under attack by foreign funded paramilitaries based out of the Dominican Republic and an elite civil society provided tens of millions of dollars from foreign aid agencies, it was also subjected to a Bush administration backed government aid embargo, which stripped the government of 30-35% of its yearly budget. Even under these conditions, according to researcher Jeb Sprague, the Aristide government attempted to aid labor with what little it could: "While labor conditions remained extremely poor and corruption persisted, as foreign destabilization plunged Haiti’s economy, the Aristide government took some steps towards aiding labor. The minimum wage was increased from 36 gourdes to 70 gourdes a day in early 2003, the right to organize in the free trade zone was successfully negotiated, a provision of the labor code that sanctioned child domestic service was repealed, and legislation prohibiting human trafficking was passed. A 20-person police unit was set up to monitor cases of suspected human trafficking along the border, while steps were taken to promote access to education, offering a 70% subsidy to cover education supplies and calling on families who employ children to release them during school hours. The second Aristide administration (2000-2004) also refused to privatize public sector industries, requested by the IMF. Following the coup d’etat many of the labor reforms were suspended, with numerous employers reverting to the old minimum wage."

Following the 2004 coup between 10,000 and 15,000 public sector workers (often workers who were members of Lavalas) were fired, with many coming under persecution and fleeing into exile. While the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center began a large program with the Batay Ouvriye, it failed to engage in any single investigation of the 26 months of public sector labor persecution. The Solidarity Center did not issue a single condemnation. Meanwhile IMF and the Interim government, supported by France, Canada, and the US, began plans for privatization of Haitian public assets.

One high-ranking Solidarity Center official explained, during the summer of 2005, that these workers affiliated with the ousted government were "revolutionary ideologues". Harry G Kamberis, Senior advisor of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center explained that the Solidarity Center provides information to the U.S. State Department and the NED. He also noted that supporting the Batay Ouvriye fits within "U.S. Strategic interests".

In Haiti, the Solidarity Center has only supported a labor organization that while working in the Free Trade Zone, also agitated for the ousting of the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Interestingly, the Solidarity Center's precursor AIFLD had a long and murky history in Haiti, supporting unions that aggitated for the first coup against Aristide first administration (1991) and other unions heavily infiltrated by secret police and sanctioned by the Duvalier dictatorship.Fact|date=February 2007 Arsitide was the first democratically elected president in Haitian history.

The Solidarity Center simultaneously has failed to act against or condemn the massive persecution/attacks upon pro-Lavalas, pro-Aristide, and public sector trade unionists since the 2004 coup.Fact|date=February 2007 Their association with the International Republican Institute, which is in turn associated with the US Republican Party, has also drawn criticism.Fact|date=February 2007


In Iraq the Solidarity Center does not play any role in backing the Coalition occupation. It recognizes and works with all unions in the country. A number of its partner organizations have seen their leaders assassinated by different forces intent on preventing unions from exercising their basic labor rights. The Solidarity Centers' activities in Iraq are coordinated out of Amman, Jordan.

Other Program Areas

The Solidarity Center also has programs in other countries in Latin America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.


* Kim Scipes, "Contemporary Labor Issues" Bibliography--most extensive listing of references on AFL-CIO foreign operations. On-line at

External links

* Solidarity Center, AFL-CIO [ ]
* National Endowment for Democracy [
* Worker to Worker Solidarity Committee [ ]
* International Endowment for Democracy [ ]

Articles critical of the Solidarity Center

* Diana Barahona, 2005, Venezuela's National Workers Union" Counterpunch, October 25 []
* Kim Scipes, 2000, “It’s Time to Come Clean: Open the AFL-CIO Archives on International Labor Operations.” Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer: 4-25. [Posted on-line in English by LabourNet Germany at .]
* Kim Scipes, 2004, “AFL-CIO in Venezuela: Déjà vu All Over Again.” Labor Notes, April: 5. On-line at l
* Kim Scipes, 2005, "Labor Imperialism Redux? The AFL-CIO's Foreign Policy Since 1999" Monthly Review, May [ ]
* Kim Scipes, 2005, "Unholy Alliance: The AFL-CIO and the National Endowment for Democracy in Venezuela" Z Net, July 10 [ ]
* Kim Scipes, 2006, "Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee to AFL-CIO: Cut All Ties with NED" [ ]
* Kim Scipes, 2007, "The AFL-CIO Foreign Policy Program and the 2002 Coup in Venezuela: Was the AFL-CIO Involved?" Journal of the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences, Vol. X: 133-147. [An earlier version of this peer-reviewed article is on-line at .]
* Jeb Sprague, 2005, "NarcoSphere: The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center and Haiti" [ ]
* Jeb Sprague, Free Haiti Blog [ ]
* Lee Sustar, 2005. “Revolution and Counter-revolution in Venezuela: Assessing the Role of the AFL-CIO” and “Lee Sustar Responds to Stan Gacek.” New Labor Forum, Vol. 14, No. 3, Fall: 97-108. On-line at .

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