US low-intensity warfare in South Africa: the labor movement

Louis R Godena louisgodena at
Fri Oct 4 19:28:09 MDT 1996

While the American Institute for Free Labor Development's (AIFLD) long and
sordid record in Latin America is generally well-known,  the full extent of
its activities as an active arm of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
in South Africa is just coming to light.    New evidence indicates that from
at least 1972 until well into the 1990s,  the AIFLD,   acting in concert
with American,  British,  and German intelligence agencies and so-called
"Non-Governmental Organizations" (NGOs) in and without South Africa itself,
committed numerous criminal acts against the peoples' movements rivalling,
in prolifigacy and viciousness ,    those  committed by their colleagues in
central America.

The ongoing hearings of the current South African Truth and Reconciliation
Commission,  begun in April 1996 and scheduled to run until the end of 1997,
have begun to focus on this nefarious arm of US foreign policy and its role
in destabilizing the anti-apartheid movement in virtually every area of
South African life.   [The National Lawyers Guild has a number of formal
observers at these hearings,  together with individuals from the National
Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) and the International Association of
Democratic Lawyers (IADL).   Some of what follows is drawn from the reports
of these individuals,  together with conversations with a number of
activists within the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Coalition
of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)]

In 1972,  the CIA greatly expanded its role in South Africa,  exponentially
increasing its subsidies to both the African American Labor Center (AALC)
and the Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI).    Both organizations
had rendered prior service to their organizational parent ,  the AIFLD and
the CIA,  among which was the promotion of a "general strike" in Guyana in
an attempt to defeat Cheddi Jagan;  supporting the overthrow of the Bosch
government in the Dominican Republic (through an allied "free" trade union),
and instigating a reign of terror against a Communist led plantation workers
strike in El Salvador.    Both were to play a major role the following year
in the overthrow of President Salvadore Allende and the installing of
Pinochet's fascist junta regime in Chile.

The campaign to infiltrate,  subvert and destroy left and "Communist"-led
trade union movements in South Africa began in earnest in the fall of 1972.
In October of that year,  a number of "vocational training centers" were
established in neighboring Namibia,  Botswana (the Botswana Trade Union
Education Centre,  opened the previous month,  was actually the model for
similar efforts elsewhere),   Malawi,  and Zimbabwe.    They were under the
general supervision of Mr Justin Liabuna,  headquartered until recently in
Nigeria as General Secretary of the Trade Union Institute--named as CIA
front during congressional hearings in 1975--and Chuck Ford,  former
principal of the so-called Ghana Labor College,  named in 1976 as another
CIA entity.

Their aim--according to recent testimony-- was to imbue thousands of trade
unionists with "anti-communist,  anti-socialist,  and anti-democratic ideas,
corrupt trade union leaders with money and other perquisites,  and to
support wherever possible divisive groups in the trade union movement."
A laudatory article in the *Rhodesian Financial Gazette* (November 18,
1977) outlined the general thrust of  "new" and "refreshing" movements
within the "traditional left wing and radical labor movements":

"[T]he AFL-CIO,  to its credit ,  is attempting to disrupt the existing
trade unions so that it may impose another centre which will be used to
fight...against foreign ideologies..."    "Enlightened" business interests
in Southern Africa even began to see the benefits of improved labor
conditions for black workers as a bulwark against communism.

Arthur Grobbelaar,  General Secretary of the all-white,  pro-government
Trade Union Council of South Africa,  put it to visiting AFL-CIO dignataries
without squeamishness:

"Rather than pull out of South Africa,  US and other foreign firms should
institute far-reaching changes in terms of wages,  benefits and conditions
of work for their black employees,  all the while combatting ferociously the
activities of those whose allegiance to foreign ideologies and totalitarian
methods would destroy the economy and the standards of living for all
workers...We are ready to help,  but we will not make a move without the
government...we are ready to use private means against radicals...but it is
equally important to realize that unless responsible black leadership is
encouraged rather than isolated,  the next series of strikes could be

It is,  in fact,  this policy of co-opting "responsible"`black leadership
that formed the cornerstone of the US' low-intensity conflict against the
left-led union movement from the mid-1970s onward.     And when this project
all but faltered after the upheavals of the early and mid 1980s,   the same
strategies were then used to develop a "responsible" black leadership among
the churches.

The strategy developed by the CIA/AIFLD was predicated with an eye toward
four specific goals:

1) to divide,  disrupt and corrupt the African trade union movement,
especially in South Africa,  Zimbabwe,  Namibia,  under the guise of
promoting trade union "rights".   This involved a massive program of
disinformation,  propaganda and outright bribes,  as well as creating an
entire structure of subversion within the growing trade union movement.
Unions  were pressured to follow if not a pro-business line than one that
did not conflict with American foreign policy.    For example,  it was
learned in May of 1996 that America's 1975 withdrawal from the International
Labor Organization--due to that body granting observer status to the
Palestine Liberation Organization--was instigated by the AALC and the AAFLI,
acting in concert with the Israeli and South African governments.

Such activities were facilitated by an almost inexhaustible supply of
American cash.     While funding (through the state department) for the AALC
was a paltry 21 million dollars in 1977,  it had increased nearly TENFOLD by
1990. Indeed,  the Inspector General of Foreign Assistance,  Department of
State,  formerly recognized the AALC as the "principle instrument employed
in Africa" to "meet the legislative mandate" of strengthening "free labor

2) to promote "labor peace" among workers employed by the main American
corporations doing  business in South Africa,  especially Chrysler,  ITT,
Ford,  Coca-Cola,  Mobil,  Firestone and IBM.   It has recently been
revealed that an arm of the AALC,  acting in concert with the South African
Defense Forces (SADF),  created a "sanctions unit" to murder or otherwise
"neutralize" radicals and communist organizers in those industries.    It
has not yet been ascertained how many were killed outright in this manner,
but estimates range upwards of several thousand between 1976 and 1989.

3)to develop the AALC and similar agencies as an "unofficial" liason between
the US government and "potentially friendly" elements within the governments
of southern Africa.    Investigators have uncovered evidence that several
high ranking military officers within the SADF were recruited into
intelligence activities for the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA) through this channel.    The AALC was also apparently instrumental in
obtaining lucrative positions for former high ranking South African
politicians in the regional offices of Caltex,  General Motors,  Chase
Manhattan,  and General Electric.   And now it has been discovered that AALC
provided a logistical springboard,  especially after 1982,  into the
universities of South Africa as well,  where students sympathetic to the
"labor movement" were coopted into policies and actions favorable to the
apartheid government.

4)To develop a "labor mask" that could not only compensate for the loss of
American "prestige" due to the murder of Patrice Lumumba,  and the numerous
overthrows of legally constituted governments,  but that could deal
effectively with "irresponsible nationalization" and to maintain control of
the key sectors of the economy throughout the whole of Africa itself.    The
AALC,  using funds earmarked for South Africa,   successfully developed
trade union "leaders" (each partial to the neo-liberal policies of the World
Bank and the IMF) in key industries in Zambia, Tunisia,  Lome,  Nigeria,
and elsewhere.

Many of South Africa's trade unions still contain elements having links to
the AALC and the AIFLD,  though most of the known collaborators have been
pushed from key positions in the leadership.    The *Rand Daily Mail*
recently reported that revelations emerging from the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission could have the effect of precipitating a "purge"
in the trade unions of those who were directly on the American payroll
during the last two decades of apartheid.

Louis Godena

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