Norwich Aero’s tragic announcement that it was laying off 120 local workers and moving its manufacturing to Tijuana, Mexico, came exactly 20 years after NAFTA went into effect. NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) allowed free movement of finance and commodities between the U.S., Canada and Mexico but not free movement of workers.
NAFTA crippled our manufacturing unions, and wages have remained stagnant ever since. Unions were largely responsible for our greatly expanded middle-class since World War II. As Cornell researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner’s now-famous study documented, employers use the threat of moving overseas (which NAFTA facilitated) to break unions’ ability to win better wages.
NAFTA was the first trade agreement of its kind. It gave international finance capitalists new legal protections that superseded national laws. This helped accelerate the share of wealth hoarded by the top percent of our population. Mexican workers were so unhappy about NAFTA that some of them (the Zapatistas) declared war against the Mexican state on the day it went into effect.
A new report, “NAFTA at 20” by Public Citizen, documents NAFTA’s tragic effect on workers, the environment, our health, and our trade balances. (Find it here: citizen.org/documents/NAFTA-at-20.pdf.) This 35-page report details how prominent corporations, as well as Republicans and Democrats, had promised that NAFTA would create 200,000 new U.S. jobs annually; but instead one million U.S. workers lost their jobs. Over one million Mexican small farmers were forced off the land and another 1.4 million Mexicans lost jobs.
Republican President George H.W. Bush negotiated the deal, and Democratic President Bill Clinton signed it into law. A total of 166 Republicans and 129 Democrats voted to approve it in Congress.
Now Democratic President Barack Obama, ignoring his campaign promises, is negotiating “NAFTA on steroids,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with 11 Asian and Latin American nations.