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Labor’s Cold Warriors: The American Federation of Labor and “Free Trade Unionism” in Cold War Japan

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image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

During the 1950s, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) led a global covert attempt to suppress left-led labor movements in Western Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, Central and South America, and East Asia. American union leaders argued that to survive the Cold War, they had to demonstrate to the United States government that organized labor was not part-and-parcel with Soviet communism. The AFL’s global mission was placed in care of Jay Lovestone, a founding member of the American Communist Party in 1921 and survivor of decades of splits and internecine battles over allegiance to one faction or another in Soviet politics before turning anti-Communist and developing a secret relation with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after World War II. Lovestone’s idea was that the AFL could prove its loyalty by helping to root out Communists from what he perceived to be a global labor movement dominated by the Soviet Union. He was the CIA’s favorite Communist turned anti-Communist.


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