Beyond the Cold War? American labor, Algeria’s independence struggle, and the rise of the Third World (1954-62)

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During the late 1950s, trade unions came to be vital actors in the solidarity movements of the Global South, especially in pan-African initiatives. The case of the Union générale des travailleurs algériens (UGTA) is particularly illustrative of this development. Algeria’s long and brutal independence struggle was championed throughout the Afro-Asian bloc, and the UGTA became an important auxiliary in the bloc’s campaigns to secure that end. In this essay, the case of Algeria and the UGTA serves as a prism through which to study how some of the most powerful Western trade union federations of the day—especially the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)—responded to the “subaltern” internationalisms engendered by decolonization and the “spirit of Bandung,” whether in the guise of positive neutrality or the project for pan-African unity. In this way, this essay sheds new light on the nature and role of labor internationalism in the context of the global Cold War. The case of Algeria is emblematic of the ways in which decolonization and the “spirit of Bandung” came to challenge traditional understandings of labor internationalism, whether as an identity or a practice. What is more, the case of Algeria allows us to reconceptualize AFL-CIO attitudes and designs vis-à-vis the decolonizing world. In highlighting American weakness when confronted by non-Western agency, this essay argues that the polarized view of the federation as an anticommunist crusader with an imperialist agenda is flawed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454
Number of pages486
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2019


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