FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

NAFTA at 20 Years

by NICK ALEXANDROV

This has already been a rotten year for Washington state’s Boeing workers, who “agreed to concede some benefits in order to secure assembly of the new 777X airplane for the Puget Sound region,” an Associated Press article claimed on January 4. Jim Levitt, a 35-year Machinist at Boeing, gave a shop-floor view of this “agreement,” explaining in a New Year’s Eve piece for Labor Notes that the deal was “rammed down our throats with a calculated voter suppression effort,” the vote slated by the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers for “a day when many, possibly thousands, of our members will not be present.” “Besides losing the defined-benefit pension,” Levitt stated in a follow-up piece, “we’ve lost collective bargaining, for all intents and purposes,” with Boeing’s “new modus operandi” being “Take It or We Leave.” This threat is serious, revealed by the company’s diligent efforts to help eviscerate U.S. labor in recent years. “From 2001 to 2004,” historian Norman Caulfield writes, “Boeing cut more than 35,000 employees from its U.S. workforce,” part of some 3 million domestic manufacturing positions eliminated around the same time.

NAFTA, the so-called “free trade agreement” between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. that turned 20 on January 1, secured rights for investors, and has helped spur this devastation of U.S. manufacturing. It was a bipartisan triumph, Jeff Faux reminds us, “conceived by Ronald Reagan, negotiated by George Bush I, and pushed through the US Congress by Bill Clinton in alliance with Congressional Republicans and corporate lobbyists.” And one of its accomplishments has been “accelerating the offshoring of jobs in the aircraft and aerospace industries,” Caulfield explains, noting that, in 2005-2006, “Cessna Aircraft, Bombardier Aerospace, and Raytheon Aircraft announced plans to move wire harness production from Wichita, Kansas, to various locations in Mexico.” Depicting these developments as “failures,” a common criticism, misses the point, since NAFTA’s supporters shaped it to serve their interests. Activists Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark list “Boeing, General Electric, Motorola, Caterpillar, and IBM, among others” as some of its chief backers—a group, in other words, that most definitely “did not include labor unions, public interest organizations, or small business associations,” sociologists Patricia Fernández-Kelly and Douglas S. Massey observe.

Critics warned immediately that the arrangement would ruin the lives of those excluded from the planning stages. Faux, in 1993, emphasized “the certainty that NAFTA will cause economic and environmental loss to a significant number of Americans,” while Sheldon Friedman, almost a year earlier, concluded that “[t]he victims of NAFTA will be many of the same workers who have already been devastated over the last decade or more by plant closings, permanent layoffs, and real earnings declines.” Furthermore, NAFTA’s proponents were well-aware of its predictable outcomes, having produced scant evidence to counter the grim forecasts. The U.S. International Trade Commission, for example, “found that the highest estimate of a potential NAFTA contribution to employment in the United States was” an impressive “eight one-hundredths of one percent,” Faux pointed out. And the “Hufbauer-Schott study, regarded as the definitive case for NAFTA,” omitted from its final version a table, appearing in a draft, “that showed a job loss over the long term from NAFTA.”

Since both advocates and opponents knew what the arrangement entailed, there was little possibility of its consequences being seriously debated. Paul Krugman, a great fan of the initiative, complained in 1993 about how “hopeless” it was “to try to argue with many of NAFTA’s opponents,” none of whom were able to grasp the obvious—namely, that “NAFTA will have no effect on the number of jobs in the United States,” the future Nobel Laureate proclaimed with a straight face. But NAFTA prevailed not because of its champions’ intellectual finesse, “but because of a mammoth lobbyprop conducted by corporate ‘big hitters’—including Federated Department Stores, Amana, Whirlpool, G.E., Westinghouse, Caterpillar, CitiBank, Fruit of the Loom, and Boeing—that insisted in media adprop campaigns that NAFTA was the key to prosperity,” communications theorist Alex Edelstein clarified.

These campaigns diverted attention from the fact that NAFTA was the key to labor’s misery, as intended. Dean Baker wrote recently that NAFTA was “designed to push down the wages of manufacturing workers by making it as easy as possible to set up operations overseas,” and it has contributed, the Economic Policy Institute’s Robert E. Scott explained, to growing “trade deficits with Mexico,” which “had eliminated 682,900 good U.S. jobs” by 2010, “most (60.8 percent) in manufacturing.” The term “trade,” as used in these contexts, takes on a bizarre meaning, bearing little resemblance to the phenomenon international trade theory purportedly describes. Peter Dicken notes that a significant portion of global “trade” today occurs “within the boundaries of the firm—although across national boundaries—as transactions between different parts of the same firm.” It’s believed that roughly a third of global trade is intra-firm, though Dicken admits “that is probably an underestimate.”

The U.S.-Mexico border, no barrier to the corporations that pushed for NAFTA, has become increasingly militarized over the past two decades, to the point where only the most hostile desert stretches remain free of Border Patrol swarms—a “physical layout” that “promotes the death of migrants,” in investigative journalist Óscar Martínez’s grim assessment. These migrants try to escape a country where huge swathes of the terrain have been transformed from lands serving subsistence needs into potential profit sources, shattering poor farming communities in the process. David Bacon, quoting business columnist Carlos Fernández-Vega, notes that, from 2000-2012, “about 26 percent of the national territory was given to mining consortiums for their sole benefit.” These transfers were concurrent with wipe-outs of both tariffs on agricultural goods entering the country, and subsidies for Mexican farmers—“a death sentence” for these people, Ronald Mize and Alicia Swords conclude, and Laura Carlsen points out that one-quarter of all Mexicans now lack access to basic food, while malnutrition plagues one-fifth of Mexico’s children.

Reviewing a similar catastrophe, the Irish nationalist John F. Scanlan argued in 1880 “that free trade is by far a more formidable agent than war in the subjugation of a nation.” Scanlan was referring to the British-Irish Acts of Union (1800-1801), “designed for British and imperial purposes,” in historian Alvin Jackson’s evaluation, and which created a “free trade area” between the two kingdoms. An earlier historian and economist, Henry Charles Carey, discussed in an 1872 book the impressions of one “English traveler” surveying the wreckage of “the free-trade provisions of the Act of Union” throughout Ireland in 1834; in Kilkenny, the wanderer recounted, rather than “finding men occupied, I saw them in scores, like specters, walking about,” while in Callan, “containing between four and five thousand inhabitants, at least one thousand are without regular employment,” with “six or seven hundred entirely destitute.” The similarities between past and present are obvious, and should be borne in mind, Faux writes, as U.S. officials shed “crocodile tears over jobs and inequality”—while Obama demands the authority to force through arrangements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, described as “NAFTA on steroids.”

Nick Alexandrov reports on the deteriorating political climate in Honduras in the December issue of CounterPunch magazine. He lives in Washington, DC. 

Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.  He can be reached at: nicholas.alexandrov@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail