This article, published in The Nation in 2002, remains current as far as AFL-CIO complicity in Chile goes (although the federation’s Solidarity Center still receives a big chunk of government money, its operations have greatly improved since the late 1990s and generally reflect the will of U.S. unions). As a writer and a trade unionist, I ask my labor leadership to take a hard look at its past actions and express contrition for one of the worst crimes of the Cold War – the destruction of Chilean democracy).
September 11, in 1973, was the day Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a bloody military coup that ended a brief experiment in democratic socialism and took the lives of Allende and thousands of Chilean workers, students and political activists. Today, many trade unionists remain haunted by the knowledge that their own federation, the AFL-CIO, played a key role in the US campaign, led by the Nixon Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency, to destabilize Chile in the years before the coup. From 1971 to 1973, the AFL-CIO’s American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), one of four US-government-funded labor institutes created during the cold war, channeled millions of dollars to right-wing unions and political parties opposed to Allende’s socialist agenda. That aid helped finance the revolt by Chile’s professional class and fanned the flames of social unrest that provided the pretext for Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s violent crackdown and the justification for his seventeen-year dictatorship.
According to documents I unearthed in the AFL-CIO’s archives, AIFLD’s program in Chile was closely coordinated with the US Embassy and dovetailed with one of the CIA’s key aims in Chile: to split the Chilean labor movement and create a trade union base of opposition to Allende, who was viewed as dangerously anti-American and a pawn of the Soviet Union. The campaign’s political agenda was summarized in a 1972 cable in the archives from Robert O’Neill, AIFLD’s representative in Chile, to AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington.
Chile, O’Neill proudly told his superiors, had become the site of “the first large-scale middle class movement against government attempts to impose, slowly but surely, a Marxist-Leninist system.”
To read the full article, which also probes “Labor’s Cold War” in Venezuela, Japan and South Korea, click here.
UPDATE: An excellent look at “The Other September 11” published in, of all places, Forbes Magazine.