The American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is the largest labor federation in America, consisting of 57 autonomous and international unions. For decades, under the leadership of George Meany and Lane Kirkland, this entity was a bastion of anti-communism. In fact, Meany invited Alexandre Solzhenitsyn to speak at AFL-CIO meetings and brought awareness of Soviet human rights abuses to U.S. audiences. Kirkland, for his part, used his power to funnel more than $6 million in aid to Polish workers — aid that was instrumental in Solidarity’s successful effort to end 50 years of Communist Party rule in Poland.
But after Lane Kirkland’s retirement in 1995, John Sweeney became president of the AFL-CIO and was able to repeal an AFL-CIO rule prohibiting Communists from being leaders of its member unions. Abandoning the blue-color industrial unionism of the past, Sweeney, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, was instrumental in remaking labor into a movement of the Left.