NAFTA at 20: “A Vehicle To Increase Profits at the Expense of Democracy”

Thursday the AFL-CIO released a new report, NAFTA at 20. The report makes the point that, “On the whole, NAFTA-style agreements have proved to be primarily a vehicle to increase corporate profits at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.”

In a press release accompanying the report AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says that working people and democratic governance on all sides of NAFTA’s borders are now worse off, and Congress should recognize this before approving any more “NAFTA-style” trade agreements.

“There is no success story for workers to be found in North America 20 years after NAFTA,” said Trumka. “The NAFTA model focuses on lifting corporations out of reach of democratic governance, rather than solely reducing tariffs. This report should serve as a cautionary tale to the Obama Administration and Congress as they consider negotiating and implementing new trade deals.”

Trade Agreements Should Stop Following The NAFTA Model

Preceding the report, Trumka gave a major speech on trade at the Center for American Progress. He talked about the history of “a disastrous, outdated, failed model of global economic policies.” He said that trade agreements should abandon the NAFTA model and instead offer a “global new deal … to bring the basic infrastructure of modern society—electricity, water, schools, roads, internet access—to everyone on Earth.”

The Report

A summary of the report contains these points about NAFTA:

– It’s a flawed model that promotes the economic interests of a very few and at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.
– While the overall volume of trade within North America due to NAFTA has increased and corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages have remained stagnant in all three countries.
– Productivity has increased, but workers’ share of these gains has decreased steadily, along with unionization rates.
– NAFTA pushed small Mexican farmers off their lands, increasing the flow of desperate undocumented migrants.
– It exacerbated inequality in all three countries.
– And the NAFTA labor side agreement has failed to accomplish its most basic mandate: to ensure compliance with fundamental labor rights and enforcement of national labor laws.

The NAFTA architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protections allowed companies to move labor intensive components of their operations to locations with weak laws and lax enforcement. This incentivized local, state and federal authorities to artificially maintain low labor costs by ignoring–or in some cases actively interfering with–such fundamental rights as the rights to organize, strike and be free from discrimination. This dynamic undermined organizing and bargaining efforts even in areas with relatively robust labor laws. Today, it is commonplace for employers to threaten to move south—whether to South Carolina or Tijuana—if workers do not agree to cuts in wages and benefits.

See the report at NAFTA at 20.

The Speech

In his speech Trumka began by outlining how NAFTA failed regular people by killing jobs and keeping wages down, which enriching an already-wealthy few – setting the stage for the 2008 financial collapse.

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Related stories: Mexico’s tomato-farm workers toil in ‘circle of poverty’ and America’s War on Immigrants

America’s war on immigrants

Al Jazeera America

In the name of safeguarding the nation, acute violations of human rights go unchallenged

Activists hold family photos outside the White House on March 12 to protest the nearly 2 million deportations that have taken place during Barack Obama’s presidency while Congress debates immigration reform.Brendan Smialowski//AFP/Getty Images

As the interminable debate in Washington over immigration reform wears on, undocumented migrants in the U.S. continue to exist at the mercy of law enforcement efforts that defy all pretenses of justice and legality.

Earlier this year, Al Jazeera America reported on the stop-and-frisk-style raids being conducted in New Orleans by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to boost migrant deportation quotas. In that article, a Honduran immigrant recounts his experience of being handcuffed and shackled in the back of an ICE vehicle, which had been deployed to round up undocumented people using racial profiling techniques, saying, “I heard one of the agents say to another, ‘This is like going hunting.’ … And the other responded, ‘Yeah, I like this s—.’”

Also mentioned in the article is the fact that ICE agents in New Orleans “use mobile fingerprinting devices similar to those used by the U.S. military during its counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

If we add to this mix the prevalence of abuse that deportees face from federal officials, fatal shootings of migrants by Border Patrol personnel and the rampant construction of nativist border walls, it begins to appear that the U.S. is indeed waging a war on immigration. It starts at the very top: Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama has overseen more deportations than any other president in history — nearly 2 million people in the six years he has been in office.

The severity of such statistics is partially camouflaged by Republican accusations that Obama isn’t tough enough on immigration. Meanwhile, he is able to invoke Republican intransigence to excuse his inaction on reform. That much is clear. What is less clear and much more insidious is that political inertia ultimately benefits those in power, regardless of party.

This is where the story gets interesting:

Read more at Al Jazeera America