Fair Trade Movement Under Threat
The battle over U.S. trade policy reached a fever pitch this year. Fair trade advocates applauded the demise of fast track, which allows Congress to approve or reject, but not to amend, trade agreements negotiated by the president. Still, difficult struggles remain.
In order to roll back the "free" trade agenda, we need enforceable international standards for labor, the environment, food and human rights. But most of all, we need unity among those who stand to lose the most -- workers, farmers and consumers, here and across the globe.
Herein lies the danger. Opponents of NAFTA-style "free" trade must not rely solely on arguments to protect U.S. jobs, at the risk of strengthening the hand of free traders while fueling anti-immigrant sentiment. The ability of fair trade advocates to put forth a vision that builds bridges among workers from all nations will determine not just the heart and soul, but the strength of the fair trade movement.
In reality, native-born U.S. workers have no greater allies than their counterparts from around the world. Yet some opponents of free trade resort to fear-based rhetoric about U.S. jobs, appealing to the basest forms of nationalism. Indeed, anti-immigrant activists use arguments against free trade that mimic some Democratic leaders, and go a step further to blame immigrants for stealing jobs and undermining U.S. sovereignty. This presents a problem for the fair trade movement. Nativism serves only to deepen racial and national divisions among those who share a common interest in fighting corporate globalization.
Since NAFTA, deregulation and privatization have deepened poverty in Mexico, driving displaced farmers and workers to the United States out of survival, seeking jobs to feed their families. But NAFTA also led to the loss of manufacturing jobs and to the shredding of the public safety net for millions of U.S. workers. Attacking immigrants for the problems of free trade undermines the unity we need to end the global "race to the bottom", and to win the economic security we all deserve.
The stakes could not be higher. As millions of families across North America are still reeling from the effects of NAFTA, President Bush is meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to hammer out the details of "NAFTA Plus." NAFTA itself was at least contained in a single text, and subject to cursory review by legislative bodies.
In contrast, NAFTA Plus is a series of regulations not subject to any public review. It aims to speed up the corporate goals for economic integration of all three countries by linking them to U.S. government security demands. Policies like shared "no-fly" lists and racialized immigration restrictions are just the tip of the iceberg. There are currently 300 measures ranging from greater U.S. access to Mexican and Canadian oil, gas, and water, to efforts toward a U.S.-dominated joint military command for all three countries.
There is still hope to fight attempts by corporate and political elites to trample our livelihoods, health and well being -- but only if we are unified and organized. We must not allow anti-immigrant sentiment to poison the fair trade movement. As we continue to fight for the social and economic rights we all deserve, let us not bargain away our future by forgetting that our fates are intertwined.
Sergio Salinas is president of the Service Employees International Union, Local 6, in Seattle.
© 2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer