NAFTA 2.0: Signs of Hope for Labor?

Photo by Jim Winstead | Public Domain

A really refreshing development in the resistance to the current American political regime has surfaced in response for changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Unions are seeing their chance to improve wages and conditions across North America and are using their leverage of good relations with Canada to improve the lives of Mexican workers.

Amid tense talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, one strong alliance has emerged: a pro-worker bond between Canadian officials and the U.S. labor movement.

Both American and Canadian unions want to raise wages in Mexico — in part to improve conditions for workers there and also to level the playing field on production costs.

U.S. Workers have also suffered from the right wing onslaught against the remnants of the New Deal, most lately the socalled “Right to Work” laws. Relabeled “Right to Mooch”, these laws have decimated unions by allowing less than enthusiastic members to receive union benefits without paying the cost of their representation. They are also part of a step-bystep approach to implement a privatized benefit system and a merit based wage scale, where workers compete with each other in a race to the bottom, and the workers who suck up the most receive the best treatment.

… the Canadian government has won union allies with its hard-line position that the U.S. must ban state right-to-work laws as part of an updated NAFTA.

Canada believes that lax labor standards in America — including right-to-work laws — and Mexico give those countries an unfair advantage in attracting jobs.

Right-to-work — now active in 27 U.S. states — allows employees in unionized shops to refuse to pay dues even if they benefit from union protection, ultimately draining labor groups of resources. Jerry Dias, the leader of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector trade union, has praised his government for making right-to-work and other labor reforms a central tenet of the ongoing NAFTA overhaul.

Many American progressives have held out hope that other developed countries of the world would take some leadership on issues such as trade and climate change as the U.S. drops the ball, and create some push-back to the America First mantra of Trump. This recent alliance of Canadian political leaders and American/Canadian unions seems to do just that.

Justin Trudeau says Canada can shine as U.S. is ‘turning inward’ Negotiators from all three countries were in D.C. last week for the fourth session of NAFTA talks.

Tariffs have been part of America from the beginning, in fact they were the main revenue source for the federal government until the income tax was imposed in 1914. The Jeffersonian idea of tariffs was not protectionism.

Tariffs were imposed to provide an even playing field for labor. The “price” of commerce is based on commodities, labor, transportation, currency differentials and profit. Of these, wages paid for labor are the most fragile and in need of protection.

The triangulation of Bill Clinton brought globalization roaring into Americans living rooms as jobs were shipped overseas.

The go-go bubble of the stock market in the90’s disguised this for a while, but the benefits promised for American labor were illusory.

In 1993, the U.S. had an automotive trade deficit with Mexico of $3.5 billion. By 2016, that deficit had grown to $45.1 billion. For auto parts, the U.S. deficit with Mexico was $100 million in 1993; it was 200 times larger by 2016, at $23.8 billion,” Williams said. At the same time, the average wage for a Mexican auto worker has stayed at $3 an hour, he added.

The development of unions standing with more progressive governments to improve the lives of the least well-off in a neighboring beleaguered country gives hope that this is a first step towards an international application of people power based on the idea that there are sufficient resources to build a peace, prosperous society for all.

Source of quotes, Ginger Adams Otis, New York Daily News, October 14, 2017.