October 2012        

Labour helps Obama to subvert Venezuela

Unconditional trade union support for political formations that are socially democratic in name but that have long abandoned the basic principles of social democracy marks a regressive contemporary political trend.
     To see where such a stance can bring its proponents, consider the unconditional support of the AFL-CIO, the American trade union federation, for the programme of the Obama government, which has led it to connive at US-sponsored subversion in the western hemisphere.
     Let’s have a look at some US foreign policy stances supported by the organised American labour leadership that are unknown, probably, to the latter’s rank-and-file membership.
     While praising the “vibrant democracies in countries from Mexico to Brazil and Costa Rica to Chile,” the Obama government will “press for more transparent and accountable governance” and for “greater freedom” in Venezuela and Cuba. The recent coups in Honduras and Paraguay (both during Obama’s first term), which ousted popular and progressive governments, go unmentioned in its programme. The Obama government, unlike the Latin America democracies, quickly recognised the coup governments in both these countries. The horrendous post-coup panorama of Honduras, where journalists, human rights advocates and labour leaders have been threatened, harassed, and killed, forms no part of the US State Department’s Latin American overview.
     In Mexico, another “vibrant democracy,” thirty-eight journalists have been killed since 1992, in twenty-seven cases precisely because they were journalists. Meanwhile more than forty thousand individuals have been killed there in the US-sponsored drug war.
     Honduras maintains the US military base that the ousted President Manuel Zelaya had threatened to close. The new coup government in Paraguay agreed to open a new US military base—a measure opposed by Fernando Lugo, the president overthrown in the coup.
     The Obama government simply does not mention these developments; instead they mostly focus on bringing “freedom” (i.e. neo-liberalism) to Cuba, where political prisoners, as such, no longer exist. Colombia, chief US ally in the region, houses approximately ten thousand political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, about whom the Obama government says nothing.
     Venezuela is a country that the Obama government also hopes to make “free.” This in spite of the fact that Venezuela already has a democratically elected president, Hugo Chávez, who is improving the lives of the vast majority of Venezuelans and is poised to win the election this month.
     Oxfam says: “Venezuela certainly seems to be getting something right on inequality.” The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says: “Venezuela now has the most equal distribution of income in the region, and has improved rapidly since 1990.”
     As noted by the Council of Hemispheric Affairs earlier this year, “both Colombia (America’s chief ally) and Mexico suffer some of the world’s most unequal distributions of wealth, qualifying them as two of the lowest ranked countries in the world.” The Obama government ignores such inconvenient data.
     American labour, represented by the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, lends aid, comfort and much more to the US government in its destabilisation efforts in Latin America. The Solidarity Center recently admitted on its web site that it has been continuously working in Venezuela these past thirteen years, through the coup in 2002, by funnelling money from the so-called National Endowment for Democracy to the anti-Chávez union CTV, a major player in the coup. It has thus become an active party in the criminal subversion of the political system of a neighbouring sovereign non-hostile state.
     The Solidarity Center claims, in a display of breath-taking hypocrisy, that its aim is to unite the divided labour movement of Venezuela and “to support the promotion of fundamental labour rights in the face of anti-labour actions that threaten both pro-government unions and traditionally independent unions.”
     It has nothing to say about the progressive labour law that President Chávez recently signed into law (without any help from American labour) and that, among other things, outlaws outsourcing and subcontracting, shortens the working week, increases minimum holidays, increases maternity leave, and requires employers to provide retirement benefits.
     The fact that the American labour movement itself is greatly fragmented (the AFL-CIO versus Change to Win), as well as divisions even within these two groups, makes the presumption that the Solidarity Center could unite any union movement outside its borders laughable. The so-called “Chavista” unions want nothing to do with the Solidarity Center, funded as it is by the NED and US Aid, especially after the 2002 coup. Why would the Solidarity Center, which just received $3 million for its “work” in Venezuela and Colombia, want to “unify” the Venezuelan labour movement? The answer is glaringly obvious.
     The AFL-CIO and its Solidarity Center would do well to focus on developing the riven labour movement in the United States so as to challenge the hammer-lock that capital has on the political system there and on pressing for better US labour law. (It could learn a lot there from the Venezuelan labour movement.) Leave it to the Venezuelans to unite their own labour movement!
     The broader lesson is that unprincipled support for parties that have long abandoned their founding principles can draw working-class organisations into class collaboration, if not into becoming active participants in promoting the imperialist enterprise—and not only in the United States, as witness union support for our home-grown “social democrats,” who advocate the construction of a European superstate totally antithetical to working-class interests.
     Determination of general union policy by an active, committed membership is the only antidote to such a dangerous drift away from working-class principles.

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