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US Labor Imperialism, The CIA, NED, "Solidarity Center" Afghanistan & The AFL-CIO

by Labor Video Project
Labor historian Kim Scipes discusses the history of the US labor unions role internationally. The AFL under Samuel Gompers and the AFL-CIO under their president worked with both parties and the US government to support US coups and wars abroad.
Kim Scipes a history professor at Purdue University Northwest discusses the role of US labor internationally including the National Endowment For Democracy NED and the AFL-CIO "Solidariity Center".
Scipes looks at the role of the early role of the AFL under Samuel Gompers and how the AFL and later the AFL-CIO have collaborated with the Democrats and Republicans to support US economic and political control of the world economy and political control of countries around the world.
The AFL-CIO through NED receives now receives more than $30 million a year and uses it for funding the "Solidarity Center" which according to Scipes keeps much of it's operations secret from the rank and file of the AFL-CIO.
This interview was done on 8/30/21
Additional media:
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AFL-CIO in Venezuela: Déjà Vu All Over Againéjà-vu-all-over-again

The AFL-CIO, Privatization, Ukraine, NED & Imperialism

US Capitalism, The Ukraine & Imperialism With George Wright

US Privatization Of Ukraine, Puerto Rico, PG&E & The Natalie Jeresko Ana Montosantos Connections

CIA and American Labor: The Subversion of the AFL-CIO's Foreign Policy

Victor Reuther Solidarity of Subversion AFL-CIO CIA

“All-Ukrainian Strike” as the big fake of Euromaidan CIA AFL-CIO
Mikhail Volynets, KVPU President (The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine)

To Build a Left-Wing Unionism, We Must Reckon With the AFL-CIO’s Imperialist Past

From Socialism to Neoliberalism: A Story of Capture (Part 2 of 2)

Production of Labor Video Project

The American Federation of Teachers in the Middle East

Labor Studies Journal

Volume XX Number X Month XXXX xx-xx © 2008 UALE 10.1177/0160449X08325993 hosted at

Labor Studies Journal OnlineFirst, published on October 10, 2008 as doi:10.1177/0160449X08325993

Teacher Training as Labor Imperialism

Mayssoun Sukarieh

Beirut, Lebanon

Stuart Tannock

Cardiff University, United Kingdom

The American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) international program is one of the largest of any labor union in the United States, running operations in countries around the world, from Bolivia to Burma and Kenya to Kazakhstan. In this article, the authors analyze the AFT’s recent interventions in the Middle East and, in particular, Lebanon. Contrary to the AFT’s high-minded rhetoric of global labor solidarity, philanthropic goodwill, and democracy promotion, the authors argue that the AFT’s Middle East programs serve U.S. government foreign policy interests in maintaining and extending American control and influence over the region.

Keywords: American Federation of Teachers; labor imperialism; labor internation- alism; Middle East; U.S. war on terror

In January 2005, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) brought eleven Iraqi teachers from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, for a two-week workshop to teach them “how to organize and operate a union in a democracy.” The workshop was “jointly coordinated and executed” by the AFT Educational Fund and the National Endowment for Democracy and had the stated goal of empowering workers, women especially, in the newly “liberated” Iraq. “After so many years under a closed, controlled society,” reported Sandy Wiesmann, AFT Director of Affiliated Services, the Iraqi teachers “were naïve in terms of life in a democracy, both rights and responsibilities. . . . They had never experienced these things before.” AFT trainers educated the Iraqi teachers in proper and democratic ways of “handling grievances, organizing, leadership skills and setting up a political agenda,” in order that they could “return [to Iraq] and share the skills they had learned with their colleagues” (AFT 2005a, 5).

Authors’ Note: We would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for the Labor Studies Journal for their comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this article. Address correspondence to Stuart Tannock, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, 59 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT, United Kingdom. Phone: (44) 2920 875348; e-mail: stannock [at]


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Besides Iraq, and since 2001, the AFT has dramatically stepped up its presence in the Middle East and has run training programs in Jordan, Yemen, and Lebanon. It has made plans to open a permanent regional teacher-training center in Lebanon and hopes to expand its operations in the future throughout the Arab world, from the Gulf States through Libya, Algeria, and Morocco (interview with Larry Specht, AFT International Affairs Department, May 2006). According to the AFT, its work in the Middle East, as in other regions around the world, is motivated by the prin- ciples of international labor solidarity and global democracy promotion: it seeks “to support the development of free and independent trade unions throughout the world and to oppose anti-democratic movements and regimes that deny human and trade union rights.” The AFT’s international program is far larger than probably any other American trade union and has run union-to-union training programs, civics educa- tion, and democracy projects in Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. “We lend solidarity and support to union brothers and sisters who are fight- ing dictatorships and tyrants, whether on the left or on the right,” the AFT International Affairs Department states, and “we [provide] technical assistance and other support . . . to new unions in emerging democracies” (AFT 2007b).

Contrary to the AFT’s official claims, we argue here that the AFT’s current work in the Middle East is part of a long history of American labor unions’ supporting U.S. government foreign policy, which stretches from at least the late nineteenth century, through the rise of the cold war, to today’s war on terror. The AFT’s rhetoric of labor internationalism, democracy promotion, technical training sup- port, and promotion of a “modernized” version of “professional unionism” obscures its actual role of serving U.S. interests in maintaining and extending American global control and influence.

Indeed, the AFT has probably been the union most closely associated with U.S. imperialist aims for the past half century (Schmidt 1978) and shows little sign of changing—despite the opposition and organizing efforts of some of its own members and affiliates (notably, the California Federation of Teachers, Educators to Stop the War, and the AFT Peace and Justice Caucus). The AFT’s international work is largely funded by the U.S. government, through bodies such as the U.S. Department of State, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the quasi- governmental National Endowment for Democracy (NED); it follows closely in the footsteps of wherever U.S. government foreign policy interests are directed, mov- ing through Central America in the 1980s, Eastern and Central Europe in the 1990s, and the Middle East today. In this article, we draw on the AFT’s own publications and public statements, interviews with AFT officials, as well as observations and interviews with participants in a workshop run by the AFT for teacher unionists in Lebanon in the early summer of 2006 to support our argument.

Sukarieh, Tannock / Teacher Training as Labor Imperialism 3

A Junior Partner in the U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment

There is by now a sizeable body of scholarship in the United States that details what Buchanan (1991, 189) refers to as the historical “incorporation of organized labor as a subordinate partner in the US foreign policy establishment” and what McKillen (2002, 46) identifies as the “corporatist partnership between business, labor and the state in promoting American economic expansion” (for useful bibli- ographies, see McKillen 2002; Scipes 2007b). During the cold war era, especially, union leaders in the United States “not only supported Administration foreign pol- icy; they became the most vociferous advocates of a firm stand on behalf of State Department goals” (Radosh 1969, 4). “The preservation of the security and freedom of the United States is the overriding concern of American labor,” began a typical foreign policy statement from the AFL-CIO in 1962: “Our existence as free men and as a free trade union movement depends on the strength and determination of the American people to protect their national survival and free way of life” (quoted in Windmuller 1963, 105).

In the name of protecting “free” trade unions from the global threats of commu- nism and “totalitarianism,” the AFL-CIO worked “throughout much of its history . . . to overthrow democratically-elected governments, collaborated with dictators against progressive labor movements, and supported reactionary labor movements against progressive governments” all across the world, in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America (Scipes 2005a, 23; see also Armstrong et al. 1990; Barry and Preusch 1987; Buchanan 1991; Scott 1978; Thomson and Larson 1978; West 1991). It did this with the direct financial support and close coordination of the U.S. government. For example, the AFL-CIO’s four international cold war agencies—the Free Trade Union Institute, the African American Labor Center (AALC), the Asian-American Free Labor Institute, and most notoriously, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD)—were largely funded by the U.S. state and deeply integrated into the U.S. foreign-intelligence establishment (Barry and Preusch 1987; Carew 1998; Garcia 2003; Radosh 1969; Spalding 1976, 1988). In the 1960s, former CIA agent Phillip Agee claimed that a “CIA case officer [was] undercover in almost every AIFLD office abroad” (quoted in Spalding 1988, 20). The AFL-CIO’s international work was also carried out in direct support of U.S. government foreign policy inter- ests and agendas: as Sims (1992, 4) notes, “the ‘free’ trade unions supported by the AFL-CIO [were] those that [were] most receptive to U.S. economic and political influence in their countries.”

Particularly relevant for this article is the fact that provision of education and training has long been one of American labor’s pivotal points of entry for interven- ing in the labor movements and civil society of other countries (Godfried 1987; Sims 1992; Spalding 1976). The AFL-CIO, along with other U.S. labor bodies, has run workshops and courses overseas for foreign trade unionists, set up regional training

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centers across the globe, and brought foreign union members to the United States to study in American universities and labor education programs. By the late 1980s, AIFLD had trained over half a million Latin American and Caribbean unionists since its creation in 1962, including 5 percent of the entire union membership in Colombia and Peru; AIFLD staff claimed at the time that up to 70 percent of executive board members of “free” trade unions in Central America were AIFLD graduates (Barry and Preusch 1987, 13; see also Armstrong et al. 1990; Thomson and Larson 1978). Training sessions were sometimes overtly political, offering courses, for example, on “Totalitarian Ideologies,” “Democracy and Totalitarianism,” “Political Theories and the Labor Movement,” or the “Recognition and Analysis of Extremist Propaganda.” But, often, they promoted an ostensibly “apolitical” and “pragmatic” program of tech- nical skills that nevertheless served to defuse foreign labor militancy, instill the con- servative American ideology of business unionism, and provide “a generally positive view of U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. political and economic system” (Sims 1992, 72; Godfried 1987, 53). In addition to shaping the “hearts and minds” of foreign union- ists, training programs served as important sites for intelligence gathering and the con- struction of patronage ties, through offering resources, opportunities, and favors not otherwise readily available to foreign union leaders and members (Sims 1992, 72).

What Frank (2004) labels as “organized labor’s embrace of the American Century” was motivated, at least in part, by self-interest. Labor leaders “believed that domination of the world economy by U.S. corporations was good for American workers, and so they allied themselves with those forces that supported U.S. corpo- rate expansion, and especially investment in developing countries” (Scipes 2000, 5). Loyalty and allegiance were to secure for the U.S. working class a “share of the great American pie,” as expanding markets overseas and the growth of a massive defense sector at home were seen through the prism of winning jobs and wages for American workers (Radosh 1969, 452; see also Wehrle 2003). American political leaders, for their part, though often opposing organized labor domestically, saw the AFL-CIO as providing a helpful legitimizing presence in pursuing foreign policy objectives abroad, as well as an institutional vehicle for skirting around legal restrictions on direct government involvement in funding political, labor, and civil society organi- zations in other countries (Lens 1970).

Despite its overall foreign policy record of a corporatist partnership with the U.S. state and business, organized labor’s internationalism in America has never been monolithic: there have always been opposition and countercurrents within organized labor over foreign policy goals and agendas (e.g., Foner 1988; Frank 2004; McKillen 1995, 2002), and periodically, U.S. labor activists have hoped they may be on the cusp of ushering in a new era of anti-imperialist politics in official AFL-CIO over- seas policy and practice (Glassman 2004). Most recently, the 1995 election of John Sweeney to become president of the AFL-CIO has been widely seen as constituting a break with U.S. organized labor’s previous international work. Indeed, Sweeney dis- banded the old labor foreign policy institutes and pushed a number of the old-guard

Sukarieh, Tannock / Teacher Training as Labor Imperialism 5

labor cold warriors into retirement. However, hopes for real change have been under- mined by the AFL-CIO’s continued reliance on U.S. government funding to support its international work (provided through the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and especially, the quasi-governmental NED), its reluctance to open the books and “clear the air” on its past cold war activities, its continued lack of transparency regarding its international work, and its ties to orga- nizations involved in a 2002 coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (Scipes 2005a, 2005b, 2007a; Shorrock 2003). Even in the best-case sce- narios, U.S. labor internationalism today frequently tends to be characterized by paternalism (“a habit of telling foreign workers and unionists what is best for them”), by America-firstism (“seeing our own interests and priorities through a prism of eco- nomic nationalism”) (Ancel 2000, 29, 30), and by a baseline assumption “that the AFL-CIO has the right to use its influence and U.S. government funds to restructure the labor unions of . . . far smaller [countries that are] overshadowed by Washington’s power” (Sustar 2005, 106).

The AFT and American Labor Imperialism

Historically, the AFT has been one of the unions most closely identified with the AFL-CIO’s cold war policies. Albert Shanker, the AFT’s president from 1974 to 1997, has been described as “the AFL-CIO’s most single-minded Cold War hawk,” known early on in his public life for his “uncompromising support of the war in Vietnam” (Buhle 1999, 204; Weiner 1998a, 198). Shanker was a director of the AFL-CIO’s Free Trade Union Institute and trustee of the American Institute for Free Labor Development and served on the boards of the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger, as well as two State Department–funded organizations, Freedom House and the NED, that have been centrally involved in supporting overseas inter- ventions in the political affairs of other countries in alliance with U.S. government for- eign policy interests (Buhle 1997; Schmidt 1978; Weiner 1998a; see also Barahona 2007; Blum 2000; Robinson 1996; Scipes 2005b). Other AFT associates were also tightly integrated into the dense networks that made up the cold war labor foreign pol- icy establishment: Eugenia Kemble, who headed the Free Trade Union Institute, was formerly Shanker’s assistant at the AFT, and Tom Kahn, who directed the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department, was an AFT member (Sims 1992, 47, 121-22).

In his weekly “Where We Stand” column advertisements in the New York Times, Shanker, throughout the 1980s, berated President Reagan for being soft on defense, called for increases in military spending, accused antinuclear protesters of increas- ing the risk of nuclear war by encouraging Soviet aggression, and announced his public support for the Contras in Nicaragua (Shanker 1982, 1983, 1986). In a 1987 column written to oppose a mass mobilization in New York City for justice and peace in Central America and South Africa, Shanker (1987) wrote that “those who

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support freedom and human rights will not advance their cause by marching arm in arm with the Sandinistas, the PLO and their supporters.” Shanker’s defense of human rights tended to be “politically lopsided, targeting violations and repression in communist countries but not those by U.S. allies” (Weiner 1998b, 8). Weiner (1998b, 8), for example, points out that

in 1976, [the AFT] passed Resolution #21 . . . demanding freedom for Yakov Suslensky, a Soviet teacher who wanted to emigrate to Israel. However, when two resolutions came to the floor soon after, dealing with political repression in two countries within the U.S. sphere of influence, South Korea (#23) and in Chile (#24), the convention declined to identify wrongdoing in a specific locale, opting instead to condemn “all nations governed by Fascists and Communist dictatorships.” . . . The same pattern exists in resolutions on foreign policy passed in 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1981.

Under Shanker’s leadership, the AFT used U.S. government money to develop, pro- mote, and run “Education for Democracy” workshops and “Free Society Seminars,” which have by now been held in over thirty countries all over the world, from Bolivia to Burma and Kenya to Kazakhstan (AFT 2007b). Between 1990 and 1996, the AFT received over $1.4 million from the NED for work done in Central America, Russia, and Central and Eastern Europe (NED n.d.). In Nicaragua, the AFT worked closely with the NED and the U.S. Agency for International Development to “depoliticize” the Sandinista curriculum (Gandal and Finn 1992); while in Russia, as more gener- ally elsewhere, the AFT promoted a “‘democracy curriculum’ idealizing US global leadership and the American way of life” (Buhle 1999, 243).

The AFT today continues with its cold war legacy largely uninterrupted. Its cur- rent director of international affairs, David Dorn, was also director during the Shanker era. Rather than question, apologize for, or distance itself from any of its past international work, the AFT celebrates and explicitly claims to be continuing with this exact same line of activity. Edward McElroy, AFT president from 2004 to 2008, insisted in an April 2005 speech on “Unionism and Democracy,” for example, that “the AFT must continue to fulfill its historic role in supporting union democracy throughout the world” (McElroy 2005). Such a statement raises two issues of con- cern: first, it asserts that the AFT’s historical overseas operations should be viewed in a positive light, as having truly been a matter of supporting union democracy, and second, it suggests that the AFT’s current international work should continue in much the same vein as it has followed in the past, without any need for substantive critique, correction, or change. The AFT further embraces the legacy of the Shanker era through its support of the Albert Shanker Institute, a domestic and international democracy, labor, and education think tank established in 1998 after Shanker’s death the year before. The AFT continues to expand its international programs, following as previously in the footsteps of U.S. foreign policy interests, from its 1990s base in Eastern Europe to the current focus on the Middle East.

Sukarieh, Tannock / Teacher Training as Labor Imperialism 7

Despite what it tells those with whom it works in the Middle East, the AFT continues to be an avowedly prowar, pro-U.S. military intervention, pro-occupation organization. It passed a resolution in 2001 supporting an attack on Afghanistan (AFT 2001). In 2003, it passed a resolution supporting the right of the United States to undertake unilateral military action against Iraq, on the grounds that the regime of Saddam Hussein “poses a unique threat to the peace and stability of the Middle East, to the peaceful world order promoted by the ideals of the United Nations and, there- fore, to the national security interests of the United States” (AFT 2003). It continued to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq until public opinion turned overwhelmingly against it, warning against the “precipitous” withdrawal of U.S. troops (AFT 2004). In 2005, its international affairs director, David Dorn, complained that antiwar labor activists in the United States were biased in bringing only antioccupation Iraqi unionists to tour the country (Zeltzer 2005). In the summer of 2006, it passed a res- olution in full support of the Israeli (and U.S.-backed) bombing and invasion of Lebanon (AFT 2006a).

The AFT Comes to Lebanon

The AFT began its work in Lebanon in January 2005, when it approached the League of Public Secondary School Teachers and the Syndicate of Private School Teachers to invite them to a conference on union and teacher training in the United States the following summer. While in the United States, the Lebanese teacher unionists were approached by officials from the U.S. State Department and MEPI, who told the teacher unionists that the State Department and MEPI were the ones funding the AFT’s training outreach effort. The government officials spoke of the State Department’s interest in changing perceptions of the United States in the Middle East and proposed an agreement through which the AFT would offer union and teacher training to Lebanese teacher unionists in Lebanon, who in turn would train other teacher unionists not just in Lebanon but throughout the broader Arab region. When the Lebanese teachers returned home, word of the direct involvement of MEPI and the State Department reached the Lebanese newspapers and the Lebanese parliament, where debate stormed for a month. Bahia Hariri, Chair of the Parliamentary Education Committee (and sister of Rafik Hariri), eventually decided that the AFT could run training workshops in Lebanon on the condition that it focused on “professional” matters only.

The AFT began training in Lebanon from January through June 2006, holding workshops around the country, from the North to the South and from Bekaa to Beirut. These workshops were divided into focusing on the two topics of teaching pedagogy and union-building methodology and were run predominantly by Lebanese unionists whom the AFT trained. Staff from the AFT played an observer role, as one of their main objectives was to identify more potential teacher leaders

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whom they could recruit and train to work with them in running further workshops in Lebanon and other Arab countries in the future. It was soon after this second round of training that Israel’s war on Lebanon broke out in July 2006. The AFT resolution sup- porting Israel in this war was published by the Lebanese news media; AFT’s partners in Lebanon were placed in an uneasy position, and the head of the teachers union that had been working with the AFT vowed never to work with them again.

To erase some of the suspicion and tension that had surrounded their work in Lebanon from the very beginning, the AFT made a regular point of emphasizing its independence and opposition to the U.S. government and claimed to be motivated by a spirit of international labor solidarity, professional interest, and philanthropic good- will. According to Larry Specht, AFT coordinator for programs in Lebanon and Iraq,

people [in the Middle East] are suspicious of us because of the U.S. foreign policy. . . . We usually talk about our political action, our involvement to support the Democrats, the money we paid for the campaign [to get] Bush out of office. . . . This usually breaks the ice and people get more relaxed with us. . . . We tell people we do not like Bush. (interview with Larry Specht, May 2006)

Such statements, however, are disingenuous at best. Democrats and Republicans may differ over tactics regarding the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, but when it comes to basic foreign policy objectives in the Middle East and elsewhere, the two parties are for all intents and purposes the same. The AFT, moreover, takes its fund- ing for the training it is doing in Lebanon directly from MEPI (2006a, 2006b). MEPI is a creation of the Bush administration, geared to support the administration’s over- all “democracy promotion” agenda in the region, and was originally directed by Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The AFT’s ties to the U.S. government in its Middle East programming go far beyond a simple funding relationship. In Lebanon, the AFT coordinates its training efforts with the U.S. embassy, regularly visiting officials there to report and discuss its work. There is also something of a revolving door between staff at the AFT and the U.S. government: Larry Specht, the AFT coordinator in Lebanon and Iraq, pre- viously worked for the U.S. State Department in Europe, during a couple of years of leave from the AFT (interview with Larry Specht, May 2006). Finally, the AFT’s work in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East follows directly from plans laid out by the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy (ACLD) in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (Scipes 2005a). A December 2001 ACLD report, Labor Diplomacy: In the Service of Democracy and Security, argues that international labor diplomacy is essential for “promoting U.S. national security and combating the global political, economic and social conditions that undermine our security interests.” The report targets trade unions in Muslim countries as being a crucial “political battleground because they are proxy political institutions and instruments for controlling the hearts, minds and jobs of workers in these countries”

Sukarieh, Tannock / Teacher Training as Labor Imperialism 9

(ACLD 2001). By 2003, President Bush himself, hardly a friend of organized labor at home, had taken to giving speeches on the importance of nurturing free trade unions throughout the Middle East (Bush 2003, 2004). In the November 14, 2001, minutes for a meeting of the ACLD, Anthony Freeman, director of the Washington, D.C. office of the International Labor Organization and a former thirty-three-year veteran U.S. Foreign Service Officer, emphasized the utility of focusing on teacher unions as part of American labor diplomacy: “Given how the radical Islamists have treated women, one obvious area to work would be teachers’ unions. . . . It would be helpful to initiate small pilot projects that could demonstrate to unions that ties to the Western world can be helpful” (Freeman 2001).

The AFT Training Workshops

“When you hear the word union, what comes to mind?” an AFT trainer asks a group of Lebanese teacher unionists. The teachers respond with words like rights, demands, laws, authority, protection, and defense. “Well,” the trainer says, “now we are adding a new role of the union, which is the professionalization of teachers, and their progress through training.” The AFT workshops in Lebanon were saturated with the language of professionalization and modernization. Whereas old-style teacher unions focused principally on wages and working conditions and acted as the opponents of management, “modern” teacher unions focus on challenges of educa- tion reform, teaching quality, and professional self-improvement and act as the part- ners of management. A large part of the AFT’s work in Lebanon was framed as helping Lebanese teacher unions move themselves and their country from the old, démodé, industrial age into a new, postindustrial knowledge and information age— to the cutting edge of the global economy.

Professional unionism for teachers has been promoted in the United States for the past decade—since the publication of Kerchner, Koppich, and Weeres’s United Mind Workers in 1997 at least. Domestically, it has been criticized by some teacher activists as lacking political analysis, ignoring issues of race and racism, and neglecting the importance of community involvement in shaping public education (Peterson and Charney 1999). The AFT’s promotion of professional unionism in Lebanon, however, takes on new layers of meaning. A professional union, AFT train- ers emphasized over and again, is a union that does not get involved in politics or political conflicts. (Apparently, this does not apply to the AFT’s own intimate involvement with the U.S. government’s foreign policy establishment.) On one hand, the AFT’s emphasis on unions’ being focused on “professional” issues as opposed to “political” ones may be seen as simply obeying the conditions under which it is per- mitted to work in Lebanon. But the invocation of a depoliticized professionalism does much more than this: it silences questions over whether Arab unionists should be working with Americans; it neutralizes local unions in the struggle against U.S.

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control and intervention in the Middle East; and it promotes the neoliberalization of labor and education overall. To act professionally, according to this model, teachers should focus on pursuing excellence in their work and develop skills to teach students for the twenty-first century. This means preparing students to enter and compete successfully in the global knowledge economy—not to question or chal- lenge the forced imposition of this American-dominated, neoliberal, global market economy in the first place.

The AFT training workshops in Lebanon, it should be noted, bear a striking resem- blance in this regard to programs run during the cold war period by the AFL-CIO’s AALC in Africa. Two decades ago, Godfried (1987, 52) observed that the AFL-CIO, when overseas, embraced a global “stage theory of trade union development” that painted “Third World unionism” as “backward” and “primitive” because it was “a highly political form of unionism, with a radical ideology.” The American labor move- ment, on the other hand, was “modern” and “advanced” because it had progressed over time “from ideological (commitment to social change) and cultural goals to institu- tional (building organisational loyalty and participation) and professional (preparing leadership) goals” (p. 53). “The export of American trade union ‘know-how,’” wrote Godfried, was considered by U.S. labor leaders to be “essential for the proper advance- ment of Third World labour movements” and deemed to be a basically “non-ideological” and “pragmatic” task of developing and refining technical union skills (pp. 52-53). However, Godfried noted, U.S. labor leaders “assumed that [their] technical assistance would lead to one of two desirable results: the reproduction of American trade union- ism abroad or foreign labour appreciation of, and support for, American labour’s inter- national policies and ideology” (p. 53). “Technical know-how and ideology,” Godfried concluded, “were inseparable partners” (p. 53).

The irony of the AFT’s stance in Lebanon as tutor, empowerer, and modernizer of backward Arab unionists is that it is selling something that it does not even have itself at home. As Jefferson Cowie (1997, 15) writes, “we must ask why the US labor movement in one context—that of domestic politics—is admittedly bullied and mar- ginalized, but in another context—international affairs—is it held up as the model of ‘free’ trade unionism?” The AFT, whatever its relative strengths and shortcomings may be on the home front, is hardly seen as a leader domestically, either in the matter of teacher training and education reform or in labor movement building and revital- ization. Far from boldly promoting an alternative, social movement vision for a dif- ferent kind of schooling and education in America, the union has a reputation as being conservative, acting often as a junior partner in a corporate-dominated coali- tion to reform schools in the interests of the nation’s business elites (Berube 1998; Collins 2001; Weiner 2005). U.S. public education overall tends to be the despair not the envy of the developed world, while the U.S. labor movement as a whole is weak and in decline. Yet, despite all of this, AFT staff do not come to Lebanon to see what they might learn about themselves and their country from Arab teacher unionists. They come to teach—indeed, to preach—and pose, like their partners and sponsors

Sukarieh, Tannock / Teacher Training as Labor Imperialism 11

in the U.S. government, as global experts and leaders in education, labor, and democracy promotion.

While the promotion of American ideas about education, labor, democracy, and professionalization is an important part of the AFT’s work in Lebanon, it would be a mistake to see AFT training workshops there as being solely, or even primarily, about training. According to Lebanese trainers running the workshops for the AFT, the AFT “are not looking now at the information or the content. What they want now is the leadership skills—how you stand, how you present yourself, how you talk. This session is just to pick up trainers for the coming session.” In Latin America dur- ing the cold war, the AFL-CIO’s foreign policy institutes regularly used union train- ing workshops for “the creation of a huge personal contact list . . . and the compilation of intelligence information about attendees’ particular unions” (Scipes 2000, 10; see also Sims 1992; Spalding 1988). This practice is continued today by the AFT in the Middle East. AFT observers in Lebanon sat in all workshop sessions, methodically taking notes on the actions and attitudes of participants. Suspicious Lebanese teacher unionists told each other that the AFT’s planned teacher-training center in Lebanon would be just “another spying center, another center for surveil- lance.” In addition to gathering ground-level political information, AFT staff identi- fied and targeted local teacher leaders for subsequent recruitment. These individuals would later be invited to come to the United States for further training and then sup- ported in sharing their skills and knowledge, as well as promoting the benefits of col- laborating with Americans, to their colleagues back home in Lebanon and elsewhere throughout the Arab world.

AFT Nationalist Rhetoric on the Home Front

The AFT presents itself overseas to Lebanese and other Arab unionists as an inter- nationalist organization, driven by a commitment to the principles of global labor solidarity. Domestically, the AFT is another story. “Internationalism starts at home,” writes Sam Gindin (2001), and yet, the AFT at home displays a strident form of nationalism, presenting itself as a true America-firster, taking a decidedly partisan approach to global affairs, and adamantly refusing to abide any questioning or criti- cism of the U.S. role in the rest of the world. This is evident in the union’s resolu- tions in support of U.S. wars abroad. It is evident in the public statements of the union’s leaders: when teaching U.S. students about 9/11, Sandra Feldman, president of the AFT from 1997 to 2004, once said, the “AFT believes that anything that implicitly seems to blame America for these attacks is wrong” (quoted in Winston 2002). It is evident also in the union’s vision for what the priorities of the U.S. labor movement should be: “We believe in defending American jobs and creating new oppor- tunities for work that will . . . boost and sustain an increasing and secure standard of living for American working families” (AFT 2005b, 4; emphasis added).

12 Labor Studies Journal

Is the AFT an internationalist union? It is worth taking a look through the pages of Education for Democracy, a 2003 report heavily promoted by the AFT and produced by the AFT-affiliated Albert Shanker Institute (2003)—and endorsed, it should be added, by the leaders of the AFL-CIO and ten other U.S. labor unions. This report, written in response to the events of 9/11, lays out a vision for U.S. educators to use in their battle against “a new tyranny—Islamist extremism—[that is] striking at the heart of our cities and symbols” (p. 3). Education for Democracy complains that “an indus- try of blame” has created a “sour” and “suspicious view of American history,” unnec- essarily focusing on “America’s sins, slights and shortcomings.” This damages young Americans by making them ashamed of their past (pp. 18-19). Educators should instead teach that the United States is a better country than most, that it is “part of the noblest political effort in history,” and that its story is a story of “progress toward a more just and humane society” (pp. 22, 34). American students need to be taught that “there is a world out there where the assault on human rights and dignity is common- place, where the concept of political liberty is unknown.” They need to be taught this so that they can “have a meaningful point of reference” with which to compare America, thereby appreciating America more fully and becoming “innoculate[d]” against the lure of “dangerous” and “utopian” fantasies of better and alternative possi- ble worlds to the one in which they live now (pp. 24, 30).

The AFT and Israel:
The Special Order of Business of 2006

On July 21, 2006, the AFT passed a resolution—the “Special Order of Business on State-Sponsored Terrorism and the Crisis in the Middle East”—in firm support of Israel’s U.S.-backed war on Lebanon. The war was, at that point, just over a week old. The resolution adopted the manichaean rhetoric of American and Israeli neo- conservatives, portraying a Middle East divided between good states, which are to be defended without question and at all costs, and evil states, which are committed to the spread of terror, destruction, and war and must, therefore, be opposed and destroyed. Israel, in the resolution, was portrayed as an innocent victim of violence and injustice, not a perpetrator. Hezbollah was described not as an integral part of Lebanese society and politics but as a terrorist organization in the same mold as Al Qaeda and an external agent of Syria and Iran that was “holding the people of Lebanon . . . hostage.” Israeli citizens and borders must be protected, declared the AFT; Lebanese citizens, on the other hand, were apparently free to be killed, and Lebanese borders open to violation as necessary (AFT 2006a, 2006b).

At first glance, it would seem to be a startling contradiction that an organization so committed to global labor solidarity, which had spent the past year working closely with Lebanese teachers and unionists, would rush to pass such an unequivo- cal and one-sided statement. The resolution, furthermore, was hardly an example of

Sukarieh, Tannock / Teacher Training as Labor Imperialism 13

the kind of “modern,” “professional,” and “apolitical” unionism that the AFT had only recently been promoting throughout Lebanon. In large part, this resolution may be seen as the result of the AFT’s long-standing commitment and close ties to Israel. In September 2006, for example, AFT President Edward McElroy was given the first-ever Yitzhak Rabin Educational Leadership Award at a ceremonial dinner in Washington, D.C. hosted by the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center (AFT 2006c); in December 2006, a special delegation of thirty AFT executive council members and leaders of AFT locals visited Israel on a trip organized by the State of Israel Bonds National Labor Division, in order to attend the dedication of a classroom in the name of former AFT President Sandra Feldman at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv (AFT 2007a; Yitzhak Rabin Center 2006). It may be that this strong relationship with Israel simply superseded other work that the AFT was doing in the region.

It is also possible, however, to see the AFT’s recent work in Lebanon and its Special Order of Business of 2006 as not constituting much of a contradiction at all. For the past few years, the U.S. government has been actively intervening in Lebanon, seeking to erase opposition forces in the country, which it views as a threat to its own political, social, and economic interests in the region. To do this, it has been willing to use both hard and soft power. Through its MEPI, it has funded a wide range of civil society education and training programs in Lebanon—one example of which are the teacher-training workshops run by the AFT (MEPI 2006b). But it has also helped to arm Lebanese militias, authorized CIA undercover operations, and supported Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006 (Hersh 2006, 2007). If, as we have argued here, the AFT’s work in the Middle East closely parallels (and, indeed, itself consti- tutes a component of) the foreign policy goals and agendas of the U.S. government, then the AFT teacher-training program in Lebanon and its 2006 Special Order of Business resolution should no more be seen as constituting a contradiction than the twin soft- and hard-power wings of broader U.S. government efforts to assert American control and influence throughout the region.


“For over four decades,” Barry and Preusch (1987, 63) write in their 1987 AIFLD in Central America, “the foreign policy of the AFL-CIO has been in the hands of a narrow elite. Unknown to most US union members, these men have also directed extensive foreign operations. These operations, rather than serving the interests of US and Central American workers, have served to . . . maintain US political and eco- nomic control of the region.” Writing just over twenty years later, we would argue almost the same point about the work of the AFT in the Middle East (and elsewhere around the world). One goal of this article is to begin to shine a critical light on the vast overseas operations of the AFT—operations that are likely to be little known to most union members in the United States, including most members of the AFT itself.

14 Labor Studies Journal

Our strategy has been to highlight some of the contradictions that exist between AFT representations of its own internationalism and the work it actually does in Lebanon and other countries, between what the AFT says and does when it is overseas and what it says and does while at home, and between what the AFT says when it is working in Lebanon and what it says when it is supporting the state of Israel.

We do not claim to be able to describe here the full and exact nature of the rela- tionship between the AFT and the U.S. state regarding the AFT’s overseas work in the Middle East. Currently, we are only able to sketch out those few visible and pub- licly known parameters of this association. We do assert, however, that this relation- ship is, for the most part, both parallel and close and that the future and fate of the AFT in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East likely depend on the success or fail- ure of U.S. government foreign policy in the region. In conclusion, we return, there- fore, to the point with which we began this article: the training sessions the AFT has held for teacher unionists not just in Lebanon but in Iraq.

Right behind the American military troops entering Baghdad in the spring of 2003 were the education policy advisers of the AFT. By the fall of 2003, the AFT had launched a proposal for a “National Civic Education Initiative” that it would help run in Iraq (American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation and Center for Civic Education 2003). By February 2004, the union was cohosting a conference with the occupation government in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority, in the Hotel Babylon in the center of Baghdad, laying out the details for how to use Iraqi schools and teachers to reform the country in America’s desired mold (Catlaks 2004). The AFT referred explicitly, in its Iraqi conference and civic-education proposal, to its previous U.S. government-backed work in Eastern Europe and Nicaragua as models from which it could draw for its latest international reeducation program. As the security situation worsened within Iraq, the AFT was forced to shift its training efforts to Jordan, Lebanon, and most recently, Yemen, and it continues to look for more opportunities to “promote democracy” throughout the Middle East and North Africa. If and when, however, the focus of attention of the U.S. foreign policy establishment moves on to other regions, the AFT—barring any strong and successful challenge from its mem- bership at home in America—is no doubt quite likely to move along too, bringing once again its high-minded talk of professional interest, technical assistance, philanthropic goodwill, and international labor solidarity.

§The AFL-CIO Support Apartheid Israel & Pushes Israeli Bonds
by Labor Video Project
The AFL-CIO supports apartheid Israel and has pushed the sale of Israeli bonds to help the Zionist state.
§National Endowment For Democracy & CIA
by Labor Video Project
The National Endowment For Democracy NED was formed after the AFL-CIO was exposed for working directly with the CIA around the world.
§The US Wanted A Coup In Venezuela & The AFL-CIO Supported This Effort
by Labor Video Project
The AFL-CIO has and it's international department have worked with the US government and both parties to overthrow the Venezuelan government. They also supported the overthrow of Allende in Chile and coups throughout the world.
§AFL-CIO International Affairs Department
by Labor Video Project
The AFL-CIO International Affairs Department was a vehicle for supporting US military and economic policies around the world.
§Former President Trumka & Sweeney
by Labor Video Project
Former AFL-CIO presidents Richard Trumka and John Sweeney both supported taking millions of dollars from the US government for the international work of the AFL-CIO around the world.
§A Lap Dog For Trump
by Labor Video Project
Former AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka refused to challenge the racist and xenophobic attacks by Trump. Instead he was meeting with Trump and other Building Trades officials were meeting with Trump to build the pipeline on Native American land in Standing Rock.
§AFL-CIO Solidarity Center: An Arm Of The US Government
by Labor Video Project
The AFL-CIO "Solidarity Center" gets over $30 million a year from the National Endowment of Democracy for it's international operations and functions pushes corporate unionism around the world. It was involved in pushing privatization and the policies of the IMF in the Ukraine, Russia and many other countries around the world.
Labor historian Kim Scipes book AFL-CIO's Secret War Against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? exposes how the AFL-CIO top union bureaucracy was and is involved in supported US imperialist operations around the world. This operation is kept secret from the millions of members of the AFL-CIO who are completely unaware of this reactionary anti-labor global operation.
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