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Labor's Cold War | The Nation

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Labor's Cold War

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By this time, the Nixon Administration, working covertly with ITT, Kennecott Copper and other US multinationals, was deep into its campaign to weaken the Chilean economy and punish Allende for nationalizing industries in which US corporations held major stakes. In November 1972 O'Neill told McLellan that a CUT leader had approached him with a plan to unite "trade union support against multinational companies such as Kennecott." In response, he told the official that "since the movement would obviously be communist-dominated, I doubted if the AFL-CIO would publicly take a stand against Kennecott." (It never did.)

Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Public Concern Foundation. Tim Shorrock thanks Fred
Hirsch for his help in interpreting the AFL-CIO files on Chile.

About the Author

Tim Shorrock
Tim Shorrock, who has been contributing to The Nation since 1983, is the author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of...

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AIFLD utterly failed to make inroads into the CUT or win friends among unions striking against state-owned companies, even the copper workers, who took AIFLD by surprise when they went on strike in 1973, despite leadership by Communists supportive of the Allende government. So AIFLD's strategy began to focus instead on the growing right-wing and gremio movements. One of AIFLD's allies, the files show, was the National Party, a notorious right-wing political group that openly backed Pinochet's coup in 1973. In October 1972 O'Neill proposed to use AID funds to send the director of the National Party's labor department to Washington. "He is not a trade unionist in the strict sense of the word since he is a professional but he does have influence in the party structure," O'Neill noted.

In the fall of 1973, a series of strikes by truckers, doctors and shop owners paralyzed Chile, giving Pinochet the pretext to launch his coup. The strikes, which were partially funded by the CIA, were no surprise to the AFL-CIO: The last pre-coup document in the Chile files, dated May 22, 1973, shows that at least two senior AFL-CIO officials had advance knowledge of the work stoppages. Bus and truckers' unions "plan for unified strike action" in "early fall, 1973," McLellan wrote to Jay Lovestone, the apostate Communist who headed the AFL-CIO's international affairs department.

Pinochet, however, saw all unions, not just left-leaning ones, as the enemy. One of his first acts after seizing power was to outlaw the CUT. In the months following September 11, hundreds of trade unionists--including some who had worked with AIFLD--were rounded up, many never to be seen again. Figueroa managed to make his way to the Swedish Embassy, where he suffered a nervous breakdown during a monthslong stay. In a 1975 interview in Mexico, where he died several years later, he accused AIFLD of "13 years of massive social espionage."

The significance of the AFL-CIO documents becomes clear in a 1975 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA's activity in Chile. "The scope of 'normal' activities of the CIA Station in Santiago," the committee said, included "efforts to oppose communist and left-wing influence in student, peasant and labor organizations"; the use of "'black' propaganda to sow discord between the Communists and the Socialists and between the national labor confederation and the Chilean Communist Party"; and "combating the communist-dominated [CUT]." In his final radio broadcast to the Chilean people from the besieged presidential palace, Allende thanked the Chilean "patriots who a few days ago were continuing to struggle against the revolt led by the professional unions--that is, the class unions who were trying to hold on to the advantages granted to a few of them by the capitalist society." His widow, in conversations with Hirsch and others, later identified O'Neill, AIFLD's man in Santiago, as the "number one" US intelligence operative in Chile.

The archives' Chile file for the year of the coup is remarkably thin, as are the files on Brazil following the 1964 military coup, in which AIFLD was heavily involved. Asked to explain, archive director Merrill said, "It sounds like there was a pattern of people looking through and pulling things."

One of the saddest things about the Chile files is the absence of any statement condemning Pinochet's coup. The AFL-CIO's indifference comes across in Meany's response to an October 3, 1973, telegram from Patrick Gorman, then president of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters International Union, beseeching him to protest the pending execution of Luis Corvalan, one of Chile's leading Communists and a prominent member of the CUT. "A trade union leader in Chile could, with the present reactionary progress of the world, be a trade union leader of the United States tomorrow," Gorman wrote. But Meany ignored the message: At the top of the cable appears a handwritten note by Ernest Lee, his son-in-law and director of international affairs: "No response."

In August 1974, after it had become apparent that Pinochet was hellbent on destroying any semblance of democracy in Chile, the AFL-CIO executive council finally issued a statement. "Free trade unionists did not mourn the departure of a Marxist regime in Chile which brought that nation to political, social and economic ruin," the council said. "But free trade unionists cannot condone the autocratic actions of this militaristic and oppressive ruler." For Chilean workers, that was too little, too late.

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