Joining forces against NAFTA

On August 16, the U.S. will open negotiations with Canada and Mexico to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. The Clinton-era trade deal has been a boon to big business--but a disaster for working people, especially among rural Mexican communities, where economies have been devastated by a flood of cheap U.S. imports and a forced wave of economic migration from Mexico.

As the renegotiations open, the San Diego branch of the International Socialist Organization is joining with local unions and organizations for a press conference and rally against NAFTA and the neoliberalism it represents. Below is their call to action and solidarity.

AUGUST 16 will mark the first day of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the consummation of yet another lie that Trump told during the election: in this case, that he would withdraw from the free-trade deal entirely.

His opposition to NAFTA had formed not only a central plank of his nationalist economic platform, but also a meaningful distinction from Hillary Clinton's past support for NAFTA and her role in similar neoliberal treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Analysts repeatedly attribute Trump's support in important Rust Belt states to workers' broad dissatisfaction with the trade agreements pushed under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

Like the proverbial stopped clock, amid the daily onslaught of racist slander and nationalist invective during the campaign, Trump acknowledged a single fact: American workers suffer when the owners of U.S.-based corporations can extract labor from the least expensive sources of labor on the continent.

Decades of struggle for fundamental labor rights and centuries of Indigenous resistance against Western colonialism can be undone with the simple relocation of a manufacturing plant, devastating communities on both sides of the border.

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We should not be surprised that our so-called president eventually changed his tune--after all, the abuse of non-citizen labor, both at home and abroad, is inextricably baked into the American economy--or that the lasting gains of workers' collective struggle were undermined and reversed, leading to colossal layoffs and an exodus of factories and even whole industries , encouraged by federal trade policy.

Nor should it surprise us that, given the option to shop around for the Mexican workers most profitably exploited or for local governments with the most lenient policy on environmental degradation or the least effective records at enforcing existing protections, corporations in all three NAFTA countries have not hesitated to plunder the Mexican economy to the fullest extent of their abilities.

All of this serves to demonstrate the drive for profit by any means available under capitalism, but more importantly, the absolute necessity of international solidarity against the neoliberal assault on workers across North America.

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DURING THE trade deal's first negotiation process, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari rewrote the Mexican constitution to allow the commoditization and privatization of Indigenous land and ejido [communal land farmed by individuals] commons, which forced hundreds of thousands of indigenous Mexicans from their land, exacerbated poverty and prompted mass migration to America.

That's not to mention the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in the southern state of Chiapas, which declared war on the federal government over its abandonment of the pretense of Indigenous reparations.

This appalling trend will only accelerate under President Enrique Peńa Nieto, who recently engineered the privatization of the formerly state-run gas company Pemex, and has given no indication that he plans to safeguard Mexican health care or education against American corporate greed.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has made no attempt to hide his contempt for workers' basic legal rights either. He signaled recently that he plans to expand on the neoliberal framework already built into NAFTA by demanding a Mexican commitment to limit collective bargaining even further and strengthening the investor-state dispute settlement program, which allows private companies to sue sovereign governments for impeding their accumulation of profit.

Additionally, the emphasis placed on strengthening intellectual property protections bodes poorly for the continued freedom of the Internet, especially as Trump's Federal Communications Commission moves to dismantle net neutrality entirely.

Incidentally, for all the recent nationalist squalling about China dumping steel exports and underselling a quintessentially American industry, NAFTA has allowed American conglomerates to flood Mexico with enough corn to make its production unprofitable in the region where corn was first domesticated. The birthplace of North American agriculture is now a net importer of agricultural goods.

Most tragically, the communities hit hardest by this wholesale destruction of the Mexican farming economy have little choice but to seek employment and stability in service of the interests that usurped their historical role in feeding the Mexican people.

Across America, but especially in border regions like San Diego, enormous sections of the economy rely on the exploitation of undocumented immigrants, who face not only a total lack of legal workplace protections (won by generations of organized labor), but also a federal government hell-bent on hunting down, capturing, imprisoning and deporting these immigrants, regardless of criminal record or past behavior.

This artificially constructed state of daily terror serves the interest of U.S. capitalists in two ways: not only does it reduce the potential power of unions, but it also enriches the owners of the private detention centers, whose stocks have surged since Trump's election.

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IN THE 23 years since it went into effect, we have watched NAFTA achieve, on its own terms, a stunning success.

By outsourcing manufacturing, it has undermined the organizing power of American workers and pressed thousands of local Mexican communities into the service of U.S. capital, resulting in economic devastation and unemployment across the continent. By forcing Mexico to open its borders to the unfair trade of U.S. agribusiness, it has dismantled the Mexican agricultural industry. By opening up indigenous land (which had been protected by the Mexican constitution since 1917) to the American market, it dealt yet another crushing blow to native Mexicans in the latest round of a 500-year campaign of colonial subjugation.

For this reason, on August 16, the San Diego chapter of the ISO, in association with the local Conference for Labor & Community Solidarity and Service Employees International Union Local 221 (which represents over 13,000 employees in San Diego County), and in solidarity with the United Electrical Workers union, the Labor Council For Latin American Advancement and a variety of other leftist and workers' organizations around the country, will call for a press conference and rally to oppose the renegotiation of NAFTA.

As opponents of NAFTA, we wish to discuss San Diego's centrality as a border community to U.S.-Mexican relations, as well as the role of neoliberalism in mass migration, the growth of private prisons, the destruction of Native communities in Mexico and the further undermining of U.S. manufacturing sectors--and, most importantly, the importance of organized workers on both sides of the border fighting for the rights of the entire North American working class.

We encourage socialists and unions across the continent to turn out, make your voices heard and join us in opposing the neoliberal assault on workers, communities and oppressed nations with a single voice.