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Resistance to market madness
Allies across the border

April 13, 2001 | Page 12

LANCE SELFA shows how free-market policies have been a disaster for workers across the Western Hemisphere--and how a movement of resistance can upset the bosses' plans.

MORE THAN 60 unions, non-governmental organizations and left-wing political parties demonstrated in Buenos Aires in early April against a summit of corporate and government officials discussing the FTAA. Some 20,000 ordinary people from Argentina, Brazil and other countries turned out to show their opposition to the bosses' free-trade rip-off.

And that was only those who made it to Buenos Aires. Twenty-four buses carrying about 1,000 Brazilian activists traveling to the demonstration were blocked from entering Argentina. Authorities forced the activists to sign papers that classified them as "pseudo-tourists"--which means that they could be arrested if they set foot on Argentine soil.

If anyone wanted to know why so many wanted to protest the FTAA in Argentina, all they had to do was look around Buenos Aires. The city stands as a monument to the disaster of free-market policies that the bosses want to impose from the North Pole to Antarctica.

A decade ago, former Argentine President Carlos Menem pegged the country's currency to the dollar. This slowed hyperinflation and encouraged investors to plow money back into the economy.

At the same time, Menem embarked on a program of privatization, elimination of labor protections and cutbacks in spending for the poor. After a brief expansion in the mid-1990s, Argentina fell back into recession. For three years, the economy hasn't grown at all.

And because of the insistence of its rulers and international financial barons on maintaining the dollar peg, the country is in a straightjacket. Official unemployment has jumped from 15 to 20 percent in the last three years. As many as one-third of Argentines live under the poverty line.

"We are facing a social breakdown in Argentina, and though we are trying to cope with the problem, Buenos Aires is reflecting the national crisis," Daniel Figueroa, the city's social services secretary, told the Washington Post. "The middle class is slipping badly, sometimes slipping straight to the bottom. Buenos Aires has become like a boat taking on water. We are helping as many homeless as we can, but there are more and more. We keep on bailing, but the boat is sinking."

Argentina's left-liberal government was elected in 1999 on the strength of its promises to stop these terrible conditions. But it promptly buckled to International Monetary Fund demands for more austerity in exchange for a $40 billion loan.

Argentina may represent the sharpest edge of the corporate agenda for the Americas. But the bosses are pushing the same kind of program throughout the hemisphere--even in the U.S.

After all, what is George W. Bush's economic program other than the Reaganite "neoliberalism" that's become the reigning orthodoxy in Latin America? In fact, free trade and free-market "reforms" have underpinned attacks on U.S. workers long before Bush and Cheney took over the White House.

Even the U.S. government's official monitoring agency set up under NAFTA admits that just under 300,000 Americans lost their jobs because of free trade with Canada and Mexico. And many believe this estimate is far too low.

Meanwhile, even as the U.S. economy boomed, the government continued to cut back on essential programs for ordinary people. From eliminating welfare to threatening to privatize Social Security, Washington--under both Democrats and Republicans--has brought the policies it foists on other countries right into its own backyard.

The polarization between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. is approaching levels seen only in countries like Brazil and Argentina. For many people involved in the fight against the FTAA--as well as many others--it's clear that U.S. workers face the same enemies as workers in Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.

The multinationals that pollute the environment and exploit workers in the U.S. do the same in Latin America. Politicians front for the same corporate sharks. And their solutions--making workers pay for their crises--differ only in the details.

But the movement to protest the FTAA shows that thousands--and potentially millions--of ordinary people won't accept this any longer. We can beat the multinationals and their political puppets if we join together with our allies across borders who are fighting around the same issues that we are. This means building real solidarity--and rejecting the voices that would pit workers of different countries against one another.

The U.S. labor movement has taken a step away from its mixed record of the past by participating in the anti-FTAA protests, as it has other antiglobalization protests of the past two years. But some unions are still looking backwards.

For example, after the Bush administration agreed to implement a NAFTA ruling opening U.S. roads to Mexican truckers, Teamster President James Hoffa called for a blockade of "unsafe NAFTA trucks" at different border crossings in Texas and California. This is a disastrous course. It will only heighten divisions between workers who should be fighting together against the unsafe conditions that trucking bosses have imposed on all drivers.

Workers have to fight together to turn back the bosses' free-market tide. Otherwise, the bosses will blackmail U.S. workers into accepting lower wages and worse conditions--or see their jobs go to Mexico. Mexican workers, in turn, will be forced to compete with workers in even poorer areas of the Caribbean or Central America.

The only people who win in this hemispheric "race to the bottom" are the multinational bosses. The protests against the FTAA--including the historic cross-border protest planned for San Ysidro, Calif., and Tijuana, Baja California--show the potential to forge an international fight against the corporate agenda.

Workers in Latin America are organizing to resist the bosses' attacks. The recent mass protests and general strike in Bolivia that turned back a government scheme to hand the country's water system over to California-based Bechtel Corp. show the kind of fight that's needed today.

We need to take this fighting spirit into workplaces and communities throughout the hemisphere. To our corporate enemies, we say, "Our world is not for sale." And to our allies around the Western Hemisphere, we say, "An injury to one is an injury to all."

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