The Workers’ Scorecard on NAFTA

From Truth Out:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21370-the-workers-scorecard-on-nafta

By David Bacon
Thursday, 23 January 2014

Sold by its promoters as a migration-preventing device that ultimately would produce more and better-paid jobs in all three countries, the North American Free Trade Agreement has displaced jobs and people, weakened unions and ravaged US cities and rural Mexico. But worker solidarity may prove to be its most important product.

In 1986, a provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act created a commission to investigate the causes of Mexican migration to the United States. When it made its report to Congress in 1992, it found, unsurprisingly, that the biggest was poverty. It recommended the negotiation of a free trade agreement, modeled on the one that had been implemented a few years before between the United States and Canada. The commission argued that opening the border to the flow of goods and capital (but not people) would, in the long run, produce jobs and rising income in Mexico, even if, in the short run, it led to some job loss and displacement.

The negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement began within months. When completed, it was sold to the public by its promoters on both sides of the border as a migration-preventing device. During the debate, executives of companies belonging to USA-NAFTA, the agreement’s corporate lobbyist, walked the halls of Congress wearing red, white and blue neckties. They made extravagant claims that US exports to Mexico would account for 100,000 jobs in the agreement’s first year alone.

Some skeptics warned that the agreement would put downward pressure on wages and encourage attacks on unions, because its purpose was to create an environment encouraging investment and free markets. Their warnings were met with another promise – that a parallel labor side agreement would establish a mechanism for protecting workers’ rights.

Twenty years later, workers have a scorecard. The promises of profits from increased investment and freer markets were kept. But the promises of jobs and benefits for working people were not. As the commission predicted, NAFTA did lead to increasing unemployment, displacement and poverty. Workers in all three countries are still living with these devastating consequences, while the predicted long-range benefits never materialized.

US and Canadian Impact

The job loss record in the United States is not hard to document. Legislation passed by Congress when the treaty was approved contained extended unemployment benefits for workers who could show employers had moved their jobs to Mexico, and the US Department of Labor kept track of the claims. When the total passed 500,000, however, President George W. Bush ordered the Department of Labor to stop counting. The statistic was embarrassing to any politician who had supported the agreement.

Continue reading at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21370-the-workers-scorecard-on-nafta

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