Modernizing the Global Working Class: U.S. Labor and Third World Development in the Cold War
thesisposted on 01.05.2020, 00:00 by Jeffrey Schuhrke
In 1962, the AFL-CIO launched its government-funded labor education project in Latin America—the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD)—to spread the tenets of anticommunist, “free” trade unionism. From its earliest days, leftists and anti-imperialists accused the Institute of being a CIA front with the mission of “brainwashing” Third World workers into becoming counterrevolutionaries. While AIFLD was indisputably a Cold War program aligned with U.S. foreign policy objectives, its goal of proselytizing U.S.-style industrial relations should not be understood solely as a CIA-manufactured ploy. It was also the product of a broader social-scientific vision to rapidly “modernize” the Third World and to stabilize labor conflict through rational, pluralist industrial relations. Embraced by President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, this vision of anticommunist modernization would enable the AFL-CIO to access tens of millions of dollars from the U.S. government to fund AIFLD and spinoff institutes in Africa and Asia. But by the time the so-called “Decade of Development” ended, the Cold War controversies associated with AIFLD had served to tarnish U.S. labor’s reputation, both at home and abroad.