Sen. Jesse Helms is retaliating against the AFL-CIO for its role in last fall’s elections by blocking millions of dollars in government funding for the giant labor federation’s activities abroad.
Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has prevented the distribution of $9 million to the union, forcing it to lay off employees at so-called “democracy institutes” in Africa and Latin America, AFL-CIO and government officials said Friday.
The AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor organization with 13 million members, gets the money from the Agency for International Development, which dispenses U.S. foreign aid.
Through its government-funded programs, the AFL-CIO takes credit for having helped trade unions topple dictators in countries ranging from Poland and Russia to South Africa, Chile and the Philippines.
In the United States, the union participated actively in the 1996 elections, targeting several dozen congressmen - most of them Republicans - for defeat and spending $35 million on political ads against them.
Helms, a Republican, first notified AID of his intent to block the $9 million for the AFL-CIO’s activities overseas in late December, according to AID spokesman Jay Byrne. The hold was reaffirmed Jan. 24.