Union presidents in the United States and Canada are casting a wary, skeptical eye on U.S. and Canadian negotiators as talks on crafting a “new NAFTA’ opened in Washington. And while Mexican unions, all but one government-aligned, are silent on the new NAFTA, Mexican workers are not: Up to 10,000 took to the streets of Mexico City to protest the pact.
The five days of talks to replace the 23-year-old pro-corporate, free trade pact between the three nations began in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 16, just after Canada unveiled its negotiating objectives for the new NAFTA. Mexico’s government, its Economy Minister says, stands pat.
But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and the Canadian Labour Congress are not. Trumka says a new NAFTA must guarantee workers’ rights in its text and “a fair return on our hard work” for workers in all three countries. And the fed launched an on-line petition to pressure U.S. bargainers towards those goals.
Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yousseff and his colleagues told Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland the day before the talks began that if Canada doesn’t achieve its bargaining goals – including workers’ rights, womens’ rights and indigenous peoples’ rights -- she should walk away.
In a stand U.S. unions also strongly take, Jerry Dias, president of Unifor -- the Canadian union that includes its auto and auto parts workers -- said “Workers and their communities must be at the core of the new deal being negotiated.” He added: “Without strong and enforceable protections” for workers, “Canada should walk away from the table.”
The renegotiation replaces Republican President Donald Trump’s original campaign pledge to scrap NAFTA, which he called a disaster for the United States.
That’s one point where U.S. unions agree with Trump, as studies calculate the current NAFTA benefits multinationals and the rich. They have exploited Mexico’s weak labor and environmental laws and low wages to export 700,000-1 million U.S. jobs -- mostly well-paying factory jobs, but also call center jobs -- south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
But instead of cancelling NAFTA, Trump switched gears, to “new NAFTA” talks, then held hearings on U.S. bargaining goals. The federation, the Teamsters, the Machinists and the Auto Workers all testified – as the only workers’ representatives in a parade of corporate lobbyists – but saw few of their aims adopted. That upset union leaders and their members.
Trumka warned that unless the new NAFTA is negotiated out in the open, and unless it helps workers, labor will lead the movement to trash it.
“We need to replace benefits for the few with a fair deal that raises wages, stops outsourcing and provides a path to the middle class, no matter where working families live or what their background is. America’s working people have earned this. We deserve nothing less,” he declared.