Stop the USMCA ‘Free Trade’ Agreement!

 

IN THIS DOSSIER:

(1) Stop the USMCA ‘Free Trade’ Agreement! — by Alan Benjamin

(2) Excerpts from SF Labor Council Resolution Opposing the USMCA

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(1) Stop the USMCA ‘Free Trade’ Agreement!

By Alan Benjamin

One of the main themes of the July 13 Panel on “Organizing Support for the Maquiladora Workers in Mexico” was the need to stop, not amend, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. This agreement is scheduled to go before Congress for a vote in September or October of this year. [For the full report on the July 13 Panel on Mexico go to https://tinyurl.com/y43fz7ii.]

USMCA signing

Enrique Peña Nieto (left), Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau sign the USMCA, which now goes before Congress in September or October 2019.

Veteran farmworker organizer and LCLAA leader Al Rojas and Luis Carlos Haro Montoya, a rank-and-file leader with the Organization of Workers and People (OPT) in Tijuana, Mexico, explained why this corporate agreement is not amendable. Brother Haro Montoya centered his remarks on the campaign under way across Mexico to demand that the new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the new legislature repeal USMCA, which was crafted and signed by AMLO’s predecessor: Enrique Peña Nieto.

I would like  to underscore some of these points and explain why the stance taken by the leadership of the AFL-CIO on USMCA — calling to amend this agreement by strengthening the enforcement of labor and environmental provisions — is problematic. I believe that such a stance could lead to acceptance of a treaty which, even if amended as proposed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard, would continue to do great harm to working people in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Need for a “Comprehensive Replacement” — Not an “Amended” NAFTA 2.0

USMCA flagsUSW President Leo Gerard has written a very important article, posted to the Steelworkers’ website, titled, “NAFTA Old and New: Deals by the Rich for the Rich.” It is a must-read.

Gerard does not mince words as he exposes the corporate nature of a NAFTA deal that decimated millions of jobs and devastated living and working conditions in all three signatory countries (U.S., Mexico and Canada). Gerard also demonstrates convincingly why UMSCA is little more than NAFTA 2.0 — just one more deal by the rich for the rich.

But Gerard then goes on to explain that “swift and certain enforcement mechanisms [need to be written] into the text of the new NAFTA.” He writes, in part:

“More significant to preventing a new NAFTA from failing workers like the old NAFTA would be enforcement of Mexico’s new labor laws. As it is now, labor unions in Mexico frequently are fakes, created and controlled by corporations. The new laws, passed in April, empower Mexicans to form their own worker-controlled labor unions that could negotiate for higher wages and exercise the right to strike without workers suffering violent attacks by authorities.

“Realistically, however, free unions aren’t going to pop up overnight in hundreds of thousands of Mexican workplaces. Unions must be formed, voted in and certified, then would have to successfully negotiate labor agreements at factories where owners will dig in their heels to remain in control.

“For workers to get real unions and labor agreements, the Mexican government will have to actively assure workers’ rights. But right now, Mexico has no budget for implementation and has not even started to hire the hundreds of judges and inspectors that the new law requires or to review some 700,000 current labor agreements to determine their validity. The structure to eliminate fake unions and certify worker-controlled organizations is supposed to be phased in over four years, but corporatists and other opponents already are attempting to thwart the labor reforms with lawsuits and other actions. For Mexican workers, nothing has changed.

“Based on the long history of labor suppression in Mexico, organized labor in Canada and the United States legitimately fears free unions won’t emerge in Mexico without swift and certain enforcement mechanisms written into the text of the new NAFTA.”

Two Immediate Questions

All the points raised by Brother Gerard are valid, but they raise two immediate questions:

(1) Need for a Labor Solidarity Campaign — Workers in the maquiladora factories in Matamoros defied all anti-union laws and staged the most important strikes in the 55-year history of maquiladoras along the U.S. border. Wouldn’t it accelerate the drive for true independent trade unionism in Mexico if the AFL-CIO, with the USW in the lead, organized a major cross-border campaign to publicize and build support for the Matamoros struggle?

Wouldn’t such a campaign push the U.S. corporations that own these maquiladoras to insist that their Mexican subsidiaries sign collective-bargaining agreements with the newly formed Union of Industries and Services 20/32 in Matamoros?

Shouldn’t the U.S. labor movement also demand that all workers in Matamoros and Tecate, Baja California, who were fired for their union organizing be immediately reinstated, with back pay?

The U.S. labor movement could organize rallies and press conferences at the headquarters and/or offices in the United States of such auto-parts manufacturers as Rockwell Automation, Tridonex, Adient, FisherDynamics, or Tricon. Wouldn’t this be an important contribution toward “disengaging the vacuum that pulled factories south,” to quote Brother Gerard.

Most important: Shouldn’t rank-and-file and union leaders in our local unions and labor councils be demanding that our union leaders promote such a campaign?

(2) Enforcement Mechanisms Are Not Enough! — While the inclusion of “swift and certain enforcement mechanisms” would be a crucial component of any trade agreement that actually benefits working people in all three countries, inclusion of such amendments alone will not alter the fundamentally anti-labor and anti-Mexican sovereignty provisions contained throughout the USMCA agreement.

In his presentation to the July 13 labor conference in San Francisco, Luis Carlos Haro Montoya explained:

“Under USMCA, Mexico’s food sovereignty will continue to disappear. All the pro-corporate ‘structural reforms’ implemented under the aegis of NAFTA will continue unabated under the USMCA. The ‘energy reform’ will deepen the capitalists’ drive to privatize Mexico’s oil. The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision has been included in NAFTA , and now in the USMCA, precisely to prevent Mexico from regaining its energy sovereignty, reversing the privatizations, and repealing all the ‘structural reforms.'”

So long as the “structural reforms” enacted under Peña Nieto are in place (privatization of healthcare, social security, education, and energy, among others); so long as Mexico’s food sovereignty is undermined and its farmlands are unable to sustain the rural population; and so long as the ISDS provision is included in USMCA, this treaty will continue to favor the rich and hurt the working-class majority. (A more complete critique of the USMCA is contained in the resolution adopted on November 2018 by the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO — excerpts from which are reprinted below.)

The important November 26, 2018 S.F. Labor Council resolution concludes as follows:

“Resolved, that the San Francisco Labor Council opposes the ratification of USMCA and urges the labor movement in all three signatory countries to mobilize to stop the approval of USMCA by the legislative bodies in the three countries, and calls on all U.S., Mexican, and Canadian trade unions, along with community organizations and human rights organizations, to insist on a comprehensive NAFTA replacement that improves the rules of trade; ensures the enforcement of trade union rights and collective-bargaining; creates good, high-wage jobs; protects our environment; safeguards our democracies; and benefits our members and all workers in the United States, Mexico and Canada.”

Stopping the USMCA, as the San Francisco Labor Council resolution put it, “is the necessary first step, the very pre-condition, to opening new negotiations — with the full input of trade unions, environmental groups, and other community organizations in all three signatory countries — that could lead to a trade deal that benefits working people in all three countries.”

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Alan Benjamin is a member of the Editorial Board of The Organizer newspaper and a Steering Committee member of the Labor Fightback Network. For the past 29 years he has served as a delegate from OPEIU Locals 3 and 29 to the San Francisco Labor Council.

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2) San Francisco Labor Council Resolution Opposing the USMCA Renegotiated Agreement

SF Labor Council large logo copy

(Excerpts from resolution adopted unanimously by the November 26, 2018, meeting of the San Francisco Labor Council)

Whereas, on August 14, 2017, by unanimous vote, the Delegates Assembly of the San Francisco Labor Council adopted a resolution titled, “Cancel NAFTA! Tear Down the Wall of Shame / Not One More Deportation! Support Workers’ Rights and Struggles in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada!”; andWhereas, the S.F. Labor Council resolution noted that over the past 24 years, “NAFTA has been used to pit U.S. workers against Mexican and Canadian workers in order to benefit U.S. transnational corporations”; and

Whereas, the S.F. Labor Council resolution further noted that, “NAFTA has been used to privatize railroads, telecom, oil, and education — and to dismantle Mexico’s agricultural industry — causing the forced migration of tens of millions of people from their homelands in Mexico”; and

Whereas, the S.F. Labor Council went on to denounce the Trump administration for “increasing the militarization of the border of the United States and Mexico, and proposing to extend the Wall of Shame all across this border, thus dividing families and children from their parents and other relatives”; and

Whereas, the Trump administration has pushed through the renegotiation of NAFTA without any input from the above-mentioned unions and organizations; it’s an agreement that does not correct the injustices that workers and our communities have suffered from NAFTA.

Specifically:

  • The renegotiated US-Mexico-Canada Agreement calls for lifting all tariffs on agricultural products; therefore it will continue and intensify the devastating impact on the peasant sector in Mexico.
  • USMCA gives U.S. agribusiness conglomerates access to 3.5% of the Canadian dairy market, which is worth $16 billion. This will mean the ruin for thousands of dairy producers, particularly in Quebec. It will also undermine Canada’s sovereignty: Article 32.10 of USMCA impedes Canada’s sovereign right to sign bilateral or multilateral trade agreements involving “non-market economies” — which targets Canada’s trade with China.
  • USMCA liberalizes and deregulates “financial services,” i.e., it lifts all restrictions on private banking and other private financial entities, handing over broader control to transnational financial capital.
  • USMCA compels the Mexican government NOT to modify the 2013-14 energy sector privatizing “reforms,” thus ensuring continued transnational control over the hydrocarbon and energy sectors. (In fact, USMCA will prevent Mexico from taking back the railroads, mines, telecom and other industries that were privatized by NAFTA and sold off to the U.S. and other multinationals around the world, as it maintains the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, with Mexico. It will allow the continued privatization of education and public services in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.)
  • USMCA liberalizes e-commerce and the services sector; i.e., it opens up the Mexican market to this sector.
  • USMCA protects “intellectual property,” especially of pharmaceutical companies. It will continue to benefit big pharmaceutical corporations by increasing drug prices in Canada and Mexico, and it will place yet another obstacle in the way of achieving a “Medicare For All” single-payer healthcare system in the United States.
  • USMCA opens Mexico even more to transnational corporations through the deregulation of foreign investments.

Therefore be it resolved, that the San Francisco Labor Council opposes the ratification of USMCA and urges the labor movement in all three signatory countries to mobilize to stop the approval of USMCA by the legislative bodies in the three countries, and calls on all U.S., Mexican, and Canadian trade unions, along with community organizations and human rights organizations, to insist on a comprehensive NAFTA replacement that improves the rules of trade; ensures the enforcement of trade union rights and collective-bargaining; creates good, high-wage jobs; protects our environment; safeguards our democracies; and benefits our members and all workers in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Be it finally resolved, that the San Francisco Labor Council will submit this resolution to the California Labor Federation for concurrence.

— Submitted by Olga Miranda (SEIU 87), Alan Benjamin (OPEIU 29), Alisa Messer (AFT 2121), Susan Solomon (UESF), Allan Fisher (AFT 2121), Tony Vargas (UFCW 5), Rodger Scott (AFT 2121), Tom Lacey (OPEIU 29)

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