POLITICS AND ECONOMICS: REGIONAL ORGANISATIONS OF TRADE UNIONS IN THE CARIBBEAN

By the third year of its existence, CADORIT’ s position was firm enough for its Information Bulletin to put less emphasis on national political affairs and more on local union activities.

Control of the more obvious recalcitrant elements and the firm establishment and development of those trade unions accepted by the foreign. and international concerns active in the area were achieved by 1960 when further regional re-organisation took place. A new Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) was created to take over from CADORIT. The CCL was also a sub-regional division of the inter-American ORIT which was to “supersede CADORIT as the regional organisation in the Caribbean area” and to “resuscitate what was originally the Caribbean Labour Congress”. In fact, the new CCL, apart from being at least superficially, an independent organisation of Caribbean trade unions was not comparable to the old Caribbean Labour Congress. Article II of the new Congress’ constitution states, “the purpose of the CCL shall be to support and work for the furtherance of the principles of Free Democratic Trade Unionism as exemplified by ORIT and the ICFTU”. The Jamaican Sunday Gleaner commented, “The CCL is the latest regional organisation which has been formed to serve the West Indies along the trade union front. It is the foster child of ORIT the Latin American arm of the ICFTU and as such it has a political purpose as well as a trade union identity … its major support is the ICFTU and this organisation is becoming suspect in many countries across the world as not being a genuine trade union movement so much as an arm of the United States’ State Department. Internationally and regionally the Caribbean Congress of Labour is considered by those competent to know to be a political organisation rather than a workers’ organisation.”

Even if the Gleaner’s contention that the ICFTU was an arm of the State Department could be doubted, reputable writers in industrial relations were prepared to identify the ICFTU with the AFL-CIO whose policies in the Caribbean at this time were virtually interchangeable. The same phenomena could be found too, in the executive of both the AFL-CIO and the ICFTU. John P. Windmuller writing in the British Journal of Industrial Relations of June 1963 observed that “Irving Brown, who for over fifteen years was the AFL’s and later the AFL-CIO s overseas representative specializing in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, agreed to come into the ICFTU fold as director of the New York office. It is not yet quite clear, however, whether Brown has completely switched roles from an AFL-CIO to an ICFTU representative”.

But in spite of this, in 1962, a split between the AFL-CIO and the ICFTU which had been growing for some time over the latter’s unwillingness to follow AFL-CIO international policy, became open and showed the way for a new U.S. based regional organisation which was to expand the functions of ORIT. The American Institute ‘or Free Labour Development (AIFLD) founded in 1962 for this purpose, was backed by the U.S. government, business firms with interests in the Western Hemisphere, and the AFL-CIO, and financed by loans and contributions, AlD grants and foundations. Among its activities are the training of labour leaders (both at its school in Washington and in the unionists’ own countries) and sponsoring social projects such as housing for trade unionists. By mid-1965, 365 unionists attended the Washington school and in 1964-65 over 20,000 unionists attended short-term courses and seminars in their own countries. By 1967, 500 Washington-trained unionists had been placed on the AIFLD payroll to work in their own countries for a nine-month period after having completed their U.S. training.

According to the Monthly Labour Review of September 1965, the principal objective of the AIFLD is “to buttress democracy in Latin America through free and strong labour unions, and to accomplish this by helping to raise the living standards of the Latin union member and by increasing the bargaining and administrative effectiveness of his leaders”. The board of trustees of the AIFLD includes the President of the Anaconda Company, a former President of Costa Rica, the President of W.R. Grace and Company the Chairman of the Executives Committees of the International Power Company, and the President of Nationwide Insurance Company of America.

Several American writers commenting on the international activities of U.S. labour have stated that the AIFLD is virtually an agent for the U.S. government. And AIFLD members have admitted their involvement in the overthrow of governments in Brazil and the Dominican Republic. In 1963, Cheddi Jagan, then Premier of Guyana, charged that$1.2 million had been made available to his opponents from United States sources. In a letter to the New York Times in June 1963, he wrote:

“Local trade unionists known to be hostile to the government and none others have been trained by the American Institute for Free Labour Development to overthrow my government … Serafina Romualdi, head of the Institute, had described his opposition to my government”. Later, writing of the 1963 Labour Relations Bill strike, Jagan commented: “During the whole period of the 1963 disturbances, a United States trade unionist was instigating political Opposition and the Trades Union Council to continue the strike while the British trade union adviser, Mr. Walter Hood, was urging a settlement. With the help of other trade unionists, the ICFTU, and the American Institute of Free Labor Development, a blockade was imposed which almost completely stopped sea and air communications with the outside”.

But although the AFL-CIO has, with the backing of the U.S. government and business, become a factor in the internal affairs of other nations, it is not always successful in its attempts in spite of its resources. In a dispute with the Latin American Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CLASC) over the disbursement of Alliance for Progress labour funds, the OAS was asked to mediate, with the result that the AIFLD was no longer permitted to be the sole channel of these funds to Latin American labour. CLASC was given access to the funds for its affiliates.

The terms of the AIFLD advanced education course indicate that many trade unionists would refuse to participate. But the AIFLD has been successful enough to be used as a model for a similar organisation in Africa. The African-American Labor Centre was opened in 1965, but has so far not been as influential in the internal affairs of the African nations as the AIFLD and ORIT have been in those of Latin America and the Caribbean.

It appears that while Caribbean trade unionists may have benefited from the intervention of foreign labour movements, the advantages offered have been marginal and have been enjoyed by only a minority of the Caribbean working class employed in certain occupations. The more important effect of this intervention has been to prevent such structural changes that would bring long-term benefits to West Indian workers as a whole. In addition, it has prevented the establishment of a Caribbean regional trade union organisation with a policy made in the Caribbean.