There is a strong solidarity these days between the AFL-CIO and
NATO. It has deep roots that were nurtured by the CIA in the Cold War.
Currently, the AFL-CIO contributes campaign contributions to members of
Congress who previously defended President Clinton against impeachment
and now support NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia.
In the early 1960s one member of Congress who fought both the AFL-CIO
and the CIA was Rev. Adam Clayton Powell. Then the famous minister of
Harlem’s Abyssinia Church, Adam was the first person I ever heard use
the term “AFL-CIA.” He was also the first black congressman since
reconstruction days. He and his wife, singer Hazel Scott, were likewise
the first to integrate movies in the District of Columbia — as well as
congressional dining rooms.
I first met Adam in the early 1960s, when he was Chairman of the
House Committee on Education and Labor. We had adjoining parking spaces
in the Rayburn building garage. One Friday night I mentioned to him
that I was driving to Front Royal, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He
said: “Hey, that’s where the AFL-CIA is located.” I knew what he meant:
it was a training camp where union leaders from foreign countries were
taught how to deal with our communist enemies.
Adam was then at loggerheads with AFL-CIO President George Meany, who
came from New York City’s plumbers union. Meany’s plumbers and the
“hard hat” construction workers were an anathema to Adam. Their unions
were “Jim Crow.” They refused to give apprenticeships to blacks and
For years, Meany had been lobbying Congress for legislation to permit
unions to picket construction sites where non-union workers were also
employed. Adam told Meany: “Until you integrate your unions I will
oppose your picketing bill.” But
Meany and the AFL-CIO were eventually successful in orchestrating Adam’s
The labor unions soon mustered enough votes to strip Adam of his
chairmanship of the Committee on Education and Labor. They then
demonized him. The mainstream media called him a “philanderer,” and
“anti-union.” They claimed he spent most of his time on a yacht in
Bimini partying with mistresses. When his Harlem constituents
re-elected him, the House of Representatives refused to seat him. But
today, one of Harlem’s main streets continues to honor his name.
In the 1980’s I also heard Adam’s term “AFL-CIA” used by William
Wimpisinger, President of the International Association of Machinists.
“Wimpy” was then at odds with a number of other unions regarding a
policy that had been fostered by the CIA and NATO. Our Departments of
Defense, State, and Commerce, were then beginning to give American
companies incentives to sell weapon system to NATO nations, as well as
such countries as South Korea, Israel, and Switzerland.
At first, Wimpy was taken in by the Boeing Corporation, which
employed large numbers of IAM members. Every time Boeing won a
multi-million dollar contract to build planes for an allied country they
announced it proudly to their cheering American machinists. But Wimpy
soon learned that the more planes Boeing sold abroad the more it laid
off members of Wimpy’s union at home.
It was true that NATO and our other Cold War allies were buying
weapons from American companies. But most of those nations insisted on
“offset” clauses in their procurement contracts. In short, the American
company was required to “offset” the purchase price by agreeing to buy
parts and components made in the purchasing country. To Wimpy’s chagrin
most offset were at 150 percent. Thus the effect was to export more and
more American jobs to the countries of our allies.
During that period some notable economists began to disagree with
NATO, the CIA, and the offset arrangements. These included the Defense
Department’s Dr. Robert Costello and TRW’s Pat Choate (who was later to
become vice presidential candidate of Ross Perot’s Reform Party). They
gave congressional testimony warning of what they called “the erosion of
the defense industrial base.”
Wimpy had a more picaresque description: “The road to hell is paved
With modest financing from Wimpy and IAM, William G. Phillips founded
the National Council for Industrial Defense — for which I became pro
bono counsel. Our now-defunct non-profit organization was committed to
fighting NATO’s offset arrangements. On Aug. 8, 1988 Bill Phillips
made a prophetic speech on Capitol Hill that is timely today. He said:
- The best-kept secret in the nation’s capital … is never
mentioned on TV interviews, radio talks, or in political polls. Yet it
directly affects the lives of everyone.
What is this super secret so carefully avoided by public officials
and the nation’s news media? It is the extent to which the ominous
“military-industrial complex” described by President Eisenhower in the
1950s has mushroomed into a gargantuan multinational cartel with global
sales of hundreds of billions of dollars annually. This cartel …
supplies weaponry to both sides in virtually every armed conflict around
the world, from international and civil wars to domestic uprisings and
military adventures. …
The Defense Department’s increasing reliance on overseas
manufacturers for key parts of our weapons system is endangering
national security. … The problem is so severe that, if a war occurred,
the U.S. would be unable to sustain military action beyond a 30 to 60
Bill Phillips and Adam Powell had fought losing battles against
the “AFL-CIA.” They both died with broken hearts before Bill Clinton
became president. Wimpy lived to continue the good fight longer. In
the 1988 Democratic convention, to the chagrin of a majority of other
union presidents, he nominated Rev. Jesse Jackson in opposition to
Michael Dukakis, who was supported by then-Arkansas Governor Clinton.
After that Wimpy quietly retired from the union. He died on December
Today it would be presumptuous, if not profane, of me to try to speak
for my three dead friends. But I now pray that our unions will soon
shed themselves of their Washington-based leaders who defended Bill
Clinton against impeachment and now support the war against Yugoslavia.
Jerome Zeifman was the House
Judiciary Committee’s chief counsel during the Nixon impeachment
proceedings. A lawyer turned author, he was formerly a Professor of Law
at the University of Santa Clara.