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  • Edición impresa de Febrero 4, 2014

THE WORKERS’ SCORECARD ON NAFTA

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.

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In 1986, a provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act created a commission to investigate the causes of Mexican migration to the U.S.  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 U.S. 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 USAÑNAFTA, the agreement’s corporate lobbyist, walked the halls of Congress, wearing red, white and blue neckties.  They made extravagant claims that U.S. exports to Mexico would account for 100,000 jobs in its first year alone.

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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.

The job loss record in the U.S. 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 U.S. Department of Labor kept track of the claims.  When the total passed 500,000, however, President George W. Bush ordered DoL to stop counting.  The statistic was embarrassing to any politician who’d supported the agreement

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“By 2010, trade deficits with Mexico had eliminated 682,900 good U.S. jobs, most (60.8 percent) in manufacturing,” In a 2006 report, Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute said those deficits “displaced production that supported 1,015,291 U.S. jobs since NAFTA took effect.” In the last few decades Detroit lost half its population as the auto industry left, and today every engine in a Ford comes from Mexico. 

During the NAFTA period, U.S. wages have remained virtually flat.  While factors beyond NAFTA (such as the falling rate of unionization) had an impact, NAFTA and subsequent trade agreements clearly contributed to it. 

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called NAFTA “only the first in a series of trade agreements that have undermined millions of middle-class American jobs and weakened our democratic structures. 

Many Mexicans say that when the U.S. gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia.  They mean, not just that the two economies are linked, but that Mexico suffers when the U.S. economy takes a dive.  On the border that’s not hard to see.  When the current recession started in the U.S., customers stopped buying the products made in the maquiladora factories just south of the U.S. border.  Hundreds of thousands of workers in those plants lost their jobs as a result.

In the 20 years since NAFTA was signed, Mexican labor protections, which on paper were greater than those in the U.S., have been rolled back.  The last administration of President Felipe Calderon forced through a set of “labor reforms” to legitimize contingent work and erode workers’ rights, and more changes are coming.  Unions that have tried to stand in the way of these changes have been attacked by an alliance between the government and employers

(The complete article can be found at: http://truth-out.org/news/item/21370-the-workers-scorecard-on-nafta)

 


 

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