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«In the Interest of Democracy»

The Rise and Fall of the Early Cold War Alliance Between the American Federation of Labor and the Central Intelligence Agency


Quenby Hughes

Until recently, there has been little concrete evidence linking the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to the U.S. government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In this book, based upon recently opened archival collections, the author investigates this controversial and complicated early Cold War relationship. Contrary to arguments that the AFL’s international activities were entirely controlled by the U.S. government to the detriment of the independent international labor movement, or that the AFL acted on its own without government involvement to foster legitimate anti-communist trade unions, the author’s examination of the archival sources reveals that the AFL and the CIA made an alliance of convenience based upon common goals and ideologies, which dissolved when the balance of power shifted away from the AFL and into the hands of the CIA.
In addition to tracing the complicated historical threads which resulted in an apparently unlikely relationship, three specific examples of how the AFL worked with the CIA are investigated in this book: the development of the anti-communist trade union federation Force Ouvrière in France; the AFL campaign against the Soviet Union’s use of «slave labor» at the UN; and labor’s role in the activities of the National Committee for a Free Europe, including Radio Free Europe and the Free Trade Union Center in Exile.


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Preface -vii


Preface In the autumn of 1995, as a first year history graduate student, I found myself in Silver Spring, MD puzzling over hundreds of pages of documents related to the American Federation of Labor’s Free Trade Union Committee. I had arrived at the archives of the George Meany Memorial Institute of Labor Relations in the suburb of Washington DC expecting to investigate the international relations of the labor movement in the early Cold War. This topic, I naively believed, would be relatively straightforward and would form the basis for a respectable seminar paper incorporating my familiar undergraduate interests in the labor movement with the new issues raised in a course directed by Ernest May on the history of the American role in world politics. As a bonus, the archivists at the Meany Center had only recently opened the files, and I relished the opportunity to examine files almost entirely unknown to historians.1 I had no idea, however, that the brief visit to the Meany Archives would lead to anything more substantial than a seminar paper. Nor could I have anticipated that I would discover documents that conclusively ended a controversy that had bothered his- torians of both labor and international relations for decades. Many of the documents found in the Lovestone collections at the Meany Archives were just what I had expected to find in the files of a labor organization interested in international relations: interminable of fice memos, countless letters to trade unionists around the world, and folder upon...

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