This week marked the fourth round of negotiations in the revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Even though worker productivity and corporate profits have increased, wages for working people have remained stagnant. Pennsylvania alone has lost 330,000 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA went into effect in 1994. That’s more than one-third of the total industry jobs across the Commonwealth.
This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce balked at the U.S. Trade Negotiators’ move to raise the percentage of product made in the U.S. or one of the three partner countries to 85 percent on cars and auto parts in order to remain duty-free. Currently, the threshold is 62.5 percent. The Labor movement believes that setting stronger rules of origin and enforcing the standards for manufactured products, cars, and steel will benefit working people in all NAFTA countries.
And while the U.S. Trade Negotiators have not gone nearly far enough to advocate for working people in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already decried the process on behalf of their fellow corporate profiteers.
In an editorial, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard wrote “big corporations and the Chamber want no change to NAFTA. They’re fine with all harm falling on U.S. workers’ shoulders – 800,000 of whom lost their jobs because of NAFTA”.
It is clear to working people that NAFTA has failed working people, not only in the United States but across the North American continent. In Mexico, assembly line workers earn “a dime for every dollar” compared with their U.S. brothers and sisters. And any attempts to organize Mexico’s workplaces are met with harassment and violence. In addition, the Canadian government has formally demanded an end to anti-worker, “right to work” laws. The president of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, Jerry Dias called out current U.S. labor laws for perpetuating “a race to the bottom”.
The National AFL-CIO has put forward a series of recommendations that would benefit working people in the renegotiation process. They include opening the renegotiation process to public comment and review, adding strong labor laws in line with ILO conventions and the establishment of an independent enforcement mechanism, eliminating the corporate courts where private investors and companies can challenge a sovereign state’s laws, and committing to investment in infrastructure to drive long-term sustainable growth. These are just a few of the proposals put forward by the labor movement on behalf of working people across North America.