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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

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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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Conclusion Until recently, much of the scholarship devoted to the American Federation of Labor’s role with the U.S. government during the early Cold War years has painted a landscape colored strongly by the political biases of the authors, and, because of a lack of primary source evidence to illustrate the complexities of that relationship, the AFL-U.S. government alliance has been presented in a misleadingly simple manner. A further tendency of some scholars has been to separate the story of the alliance from the histories which provided its basis, leaving the readers puzzled as to why a labor organization would partner with the U.S. government in the first place. In reality, the incredibly tangled web of individuals, institutions and ideologies associated with that alliance resulted in an exceedingly com- plex, ever-evolving and tenuous alliance. This book has sought to provide a strongly contextualized and nuanced presentation of the relationship between the American Federation of Labor and the U.S. government’s foreign policy wings, most specifically the Central Intelligence Agency. Part I of this book provided the bulk of the historical context for the alliance. Between the late 19th century and the end of the 1920s, two major trends characterized the international labor movement and the political scene associated with that movement: the conservative craft unionism rep- resented by the American Federation of Labor, and socialism, represented by a variety of left-wing political parties around the world. Both the AFL and the socialists devoted considerable ef fort to attracting adherents to their cause,...

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