Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa holds up the George Meany Human Rights Award as AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland applauds during the AFL-CIO convention in Washington (Nov. 14, 1989).
J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS
I suspect that the outspoken anti-Communist legacy of Munkastanascok, just like that of Solidarnosc, was one of the reasons for the special interest of the North American AFL-CIO. President Imre Palkovic told me once that he personally had been invited by AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland to visit him in Washington officially but also at home. An unusual state of affairs. That Munkastanascok had a special meaning for the AFL-CIO, was confirmed in april 1994 when I had a lunch with three staff members of the AFL-CIO in Washington about their policy in Central and Eastern Europe. At the beginning of the lunch they congratulated me with the affiliation of Munkastanascok to the WCL as if we had won a kind of super prize.
"From 1979 to 1995 Kirkland was president of the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). On the international front, Kirkland's support of the Solidarity movement in Poland contributed to the decline of communism. According to Michael Szporer's Solidarity: The Great Workers Strike of 1980, American Unions under the leadership of Lane Kirkland contributed $150,000 shortly after the successful Solidarity Strike, as early as September 1980. At the time, the Carter administration, including its two prominent Polish Americans, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ed Muskie advised against such aid fearing Soviet reaction. Kirkland boldly took the initiative persuading Zbigniew Brzezinski of the wisdom of supporting the Solidarity movement. In all US union support of Solidarity far exceeded its European counterparts. Solidarity aid was part of Lane Kirkland's internationalist vision for the labor movement and the building of the global consensus on human rights. After the changes in Eastern Europe, Kirkland became a mentor for many prominent labor leaders who saw him as a visionary and visited him in his office at the George Meany Center. He befriended Lech Walesa as well as Marian Krzaklewski who replaced Lech Walesa at the helm of Solidarity. Kirkland was awarded posthumously with the highest Polish award, the Order of the White Eagle."
While the AFL-CIO was a member of the ICFTU, it had its own policy in Central and Eastern Europe. This policy was executed by offices of the AFL-CIO through the Free Trade Union Institute FTUI in various capitals in Central and Eastern Europe and even in Moscow.
“The Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) was created in 1977 when the AFL-CIO resurrected and renamed the moribund Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC). The purpose was to increase U.S. influence with European trade unions, especially in Spain and Portugal. (16) It was almost defunct in 1983 when Congress began funding the newly-created National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and FTUI has been the largest grantee ever since. (3) NED's purpose is "to encourage the establishment and growth of democratic development in a manner consistent both with the broad concerns of United States national interests and with the specific requirements of the democratic groups in other countries which are aided by the endowment."(14) FTUI is one of four core grantees of NED. The other three are the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), National Republican Institute for International Affairs, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In 1988 NED received over $20 million from the U.S. taxpayers. (15) Congress authorizes U.S. Information Agency (USIA) funds for NED which in turn gives money to FTUI and other grantees. FTUI then funds overseas projects which are usually managed by AFL-CIO's three regional labor institutes: American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), and the African-American Labor Center (AALC). (2)”
FTUI says it "supports programs that provide assistance for democratic education, training in basic union skills, and organizing assistance... sponsors exchanges between trade unionists... and supports research on labor rights and human rights..." ( see: Right Web of the Institute of Policy Studies)
The direct involvement of the AFL-CIO in Central and Eastern Europe had been started with Solidarnosc in Poland. On support for Solidarnosc we read the following on the afore mentioned website:“Poland: The largest recipient of FTUI grants from 1985-1989 is the Solidarnosc. (8) With its funding Solidarnosc was to disseminate information, sustain union ativists, maintain its adminstrative infrastructure, and through its Brussels-based office disseminate information to the West on worker rights violations in Poland. (15) Jerry Milewski, director of Solidarnosc's Brussels bureau said the grants were used for a social fund for Solicarnosc members, and for printing and communications equipment. Radical factions within Solicarnosc criticise the tight hold on funds by Lech Walesa and the union leadership. (8)”
On the same webpage we find Portugal, Spain and France. In Portugal, the support went to the social-democratic oriented trade union confederation UGT as a counterweight to the Communist-oriented CGTP. The WCL maintained friendly relations with a group of Christian workers within the CGTP. In Spain, the Basque nationalist trade union confederation ELA-STV was supported as a counterweight to the radical left terrorist group ETA. ELA-STV was like Solidarnosc member of both ICFTU and the WCL, these two federations were the only ones in the world with a dual membership. In France FTUI / AFL-CIO supported the trade union confederation Force Ouvrière as a counterweight to the then socialist government of President Mitterand, according to the website.
|Photo taken during the Cartel Alfa Congress in 1995 in Rumania. On the right Amaia Betel, international relations ELA-STV. in the centre WCL President Willy Peirens. The Spanish Journal El Pais published on the 18th of June 1988 an article on the funds ELA-STV was receiving from the United States.|
I assume that European Social Democratic Parties and Trade Unions were at least aware of this AFL-CIO policy in Europe. It can be concluded that the Cold War was waged also in European trade union country by the AFL-CIO. Given the network of AFL-CIO/FTUI offices in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, the mission of the FTUI / AFL-CIO had apparently not yet completely finished after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).
During our trip through Poland along the various national sectoral federations affiliated with Solidarnosc at the beginning of this year (1992), regularly we heard about North American trade union assistance. A few times, we met some North American trade unionists, usually with a Polish background. They were involved in some kind of solidarity program of a national federation or regional organization. So Ryszard Dabrowski, President of Solidarnosc Wood and Building Federation, told us that his union gets help from Canada, Italy, Sweden and North America. "The help from North America consists mainly of technical training of steel benders, masons and carpenters. The North American people are giving this technical training. "(Report, L.Soleil, March 1992) Of course, it is not surprising that Polish migrants in the U.S. like to help their former compatriots to rebuild their country and trade union.
|Bob Fielding listening to a presentation at the seminar on "World Federation of Labor for New Trade Unionism after Communism", Budapest March 1993. On his left writing Marleen Mens, one of the very capable WCL secretaries.|
I was soon introduced to the North American Bob Fielding who worked at the International Department of Solidarnosc. When I asked how he had become involved with Solidarnosc, he told me that while he was studying in Poland during the rise of Solidarnosc, he had become active in the clandestine Solidarnosc. His stay in Poland and his involvement with Solidarnosc pleased him so much that he decided to stay in Poland and help Solidarnosc with its international contacts. A few years later he told me he went to work for the AFL-CIO in one of the Caucasian republics. I believe he mentioned Georgia, but I can be wrong.
To be continued