Blue-Collar Empire

Blue-Collar Empire:The Untold Story of US Labor's Global Anticommunist Crusade

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How the CIA used American unions to undermine workers at home and subvert democracy abroad

Blue-Collar Empire tells the shocking story of the AFL-CIO’s global anticommunist crusade—and its devastating consequences for workers around the world.

Unions have the power not only to secure pay raises and employee benefits but to bring economies to a screeching halt and overthrow governments. Recognizing this, in the late twentieth century, the US government sought to control labor movements abroad as part of the Cold War contest for worldwide supremacy. In this work, Washington found an enthusiastic partner in the AFL-CIO’s anticommunist officials, who, in a shocking betrayal, for decades expended their energies to block revolutionary ideologies and militant class consciousness from taking hold in the workers’ movements of Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.


  • In this comprehensive and consequential study, Jeff Schuhrke sheds light on the often nefarious international agenda of the AFL-CIO. During the Cold War, as Schuhrke documents, the top leaders of the U.S. labor establishment, driven by fervent and indiscriminate anti-communism, helped sabotage nascent union movements in countries across the globe. In doing so, the AFL-CIO undermined cross-border working class unity and bolstered multinational corporate power. Blue-Collar Empire thus offers much vital information and insight, both for scholars seeking to understand the rise and decline of the 20th century labor movement, and for union activists working today to build (or re-build) international networks of solidarity.

    Toni Gilpin, author of The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland
  • In this highly readable and engaging book, Jeff Schuhrke explores the disastrous history of American labor's role bolstering U.S. imperialism in Latin America and elsewhere. He explains that Cold War anti-Communism was not the only key to the AFL-CIO's own "foreign policy." Equally crucial were the ideological linkages that put a liberal brand of industrial pluralism close to the heart of the modernization theory celebrated by the State Department and the CIA. Thus, in trying to transplant a North American version of "free" collective bargaining to the oligarchic regimes of Latin America, U.S. trade unions, whether funded by the CIA or not, found themselves complicit with repressive elites that could tolerate neither left wing insurgencies nor conservative enterprise-based trade unionism.

    Nelson Lichtenstein, author of A Fabulous Failure: the Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism
  • For too many years, too many unions followed the State Department like sheep, supporting lethal, union-member-killing anti-communist policies abroad in the hope of keeping at least a small seat at the table. Jeff Schuhrke’s eye-opening new book, Blue-Collar Empire, is an indispensable history of this devil’s bargain, a chilling lesson why, as a new, different kind of labor movement awakens, unions must never fight for economic justice at home while denying it to those abroad.

    Greg Grandin, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The End of the Myth