Labor in 2000: No Place to Go?
the movie version of Steven King's classic, "The Dead Zone,"
Christopher Walken reads the mind of the mother of a demonic serial killer. His
psychic powers discern that she had long been aware of her son's vicious
murders. His eyes widen with shock and repulsion: "You knew!" he
so it was, the day after the China trade vote, when Washington woke up and
stared down the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It seems the Journal--
and other supporters of the bill-- knew all along what this legislation was
the vote, noted the Journal, "business lobbyists emphasized the beneficial
effect the agreement would have on U.S. exports to China. They played down its
likely impact on investment, leery of sounding supportive of labor-union
arguments that the deal would prompt companies to move U.S. production to
many businessmen concede that investment in China is the prize."
means that our enormous trade deficit with China will increase, as will the
downward pressure on the wages of American workers. And manufacturing workers
will continue to lose jobs.
President Al Gore, and the 73 House Democrats who voted for the bill went along
with the ruse because they assume that labor has no where else to go. However
many times they get kicked in the face, they reason, unions will stick to the
Democrats because they have only the Republicans for an alternative.
will they? United Auto Workers' President Steve Yokich declared that it was
"time to forget about party labels and instead focus on supporting
candidates, such as Ralph Nader, who will take a stand based on what is
was not the only angry voice heard from labor after the vote. Steelworkers'
President George Becker called it "a blatant betrayal of American workers,
their families and communities by elected politicians in both parties," one
that the Steelworkers "would never forget." Teamsters' President James
P. Hoffa made a similar statement. Neither the UAW nor the Teamsters has yet
endorsed a presidential candidate.
was willing to break with the President over the case of Elian, but remained a
loyal and disciplined soldier for the China vote. The difference was clear: Big
Business was calling the shots this time. And the message was not lost on those
who were wondering what labor could expect from a Gore Administration.
may well turn out to be a much more serious candidate than the experts give him
credit for. Unlike his last campaign, which never really happened, this one is
expected to raise millions of dollars and get him on the ballot in 45 states.
The relevant comparison may be Ross Perot, who was actually ahead in the polls
for a bit in the 1992 Presidential race-- until he repeatedly shot himself in
the foot. He still ended up with 19 percent of the vote.
course Nader can't draw on $60 million of his own money, as the billionaire
Perot spent in '92. But he is already known and respected by millions of voters,
some of whom remember his battles with General Motors over auto safety as he put
the American consumer movement on the map. Unlike other candidates, who tritely
pledge that they will "fight for the little guy," Nader has actually
spent his entire adult life doing just that.
by corporate contributions, Nader is campaigning on issues that really matter:
national health insurance, clean elections, and stopping the erosion of labor
and environmental standards that is worsened by globalization.
discontent with both Republicans and Democrats remains high. People see both
parties as mainly bought by big money. The China vote-- which was clearly framed
as a contest between non-commercial values such as human rights and economic
fairness versus the ruthless pursuit of business interests-- did everything to
reinforce that impression.
course the election is still too far away to make any predictions. Another
possibility is that many working-class Democrats will stay home, as they did
after President Clinton pushed NAFTA through Congress by similar means. That
response was widely seen as contributing to the Republican takeover of the House
if the China vote brings union endorsements to Nader, and helps push him over
the crucial media threshold, we could be headed for the most interesting
election year in decades.
Exactly Free Trade
By Mark Weisbrot
our political leaders learned anything from the last seven years of political
conflict over our trade and commercial policy? From the looks of the latest
trade bill now being whisked through Congress, it appears not.
legislation combines two controversial bills that have been held up for years:
the Orwellian-named "African Growth and Opportunity Act" and the
Enhanced Caribbean Basin Initiative.
combined package retains almost all of the offensive material that public
interest groups have fought against. In exchange for increased access to US
markets, countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean and Central America
would cede more power and privileges to foreign corporations and organizations
like the International Monetary Fund.
the same time, every attempt to make the new trade benefits "trickle
down" to the poor and working people of Africa and the Caribbean was
defeated. The right to organize unions, or human rights in general, will not be
protected or advanced by this law.
their deeds ye shall know them." When the international spotlight was on
the protesters in the streets of Seattle last December, President Clinton said
he was for a new kind of trade agreement: one that included enforceable labor
rights. We can now see how sincere that commitment was, as his Administration
lobbies to make HR 434 into law while no one is looking.
again, American workers at the lower rungs of the pay scale are being asked to
sacrifice their jobs and wages on the altar of "free trade," so that
the poorer countries of the world might pursue an economic development strategy
that offers little hope for the vast majority of their own populations. Over the
last 25 years, we have lost more than a million jobs in textiles and apparel. At
the same time, the median wage in the United States has not risen-- in other
words, the majority of the American labor force has been literally excluded from
sharing in the gains from economic growth for a quarter-century.
is the natural and inevitable result of negotiating NAFTA-like trade agreements
that create new rights and benefits for corporations, while providing nothing
one can say that there was no alternative to this bill. Last year Congressman
Jesse Jackson, Jr. put forth a bill that expanded Africa's access to US markets,
while also including labor rights and genuine debt relief. The latter is
especially important for sub- Saharan Africa, which loses about a quarter of its
export earnings to never-ending foreign debt service. Despite having more
Democratic co-sponsors than the current legislation, his bill never even got a
the Senate, an effort was also made to protect Africa, where 23 million people
are infected with the AIDS virus, from the predatory practices of pharmaceutical
companies and their advocates here. An amendment sponsored by California Senator
Diane Feinstein and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold would stop our government
from bringing economic and political pressure against countries that try to make
anti-AIDS drugs more cheaply available to their citizens, so long as the
countries' measures did not violate WTO rules. Until the end of last year, the
Clinton administration leaned hard on South Africa not to use local manufacture
or "parallel importing"-- importing outside of the drug companies'
authorized channels-- to make these life-saving drugs more available to the
millions of South Africans who have AIDS or are HIV-positive.
Feinstein amendment has been removed from the final version of the bill. It
appears that our political leaders are not prepared to abandon protectionism--
yes, that's what it is, in strictly economic terms-- so long as it is the $80
billion monopoly profits of pharmaceutical companies that are being protected
from the competition of free international markets. And as if there weren't
enough special interest pieces tacked on-- for companies like Fruit of the Loom
in the Caribbean-- Congress added a special "banana rider" for
Chiquita, whose chief Carl Lindner is cashing in on his family's huge political
campaign contributions. This little gem would increase the power of retaliatory
tariffs for WTO decisions, like the one that gave Chiquita the right to wipe out
tens of thousands of small banana farmers in the Caribbean and Africa.
Feinstein and others have threatened a filibuster in the Senate. Given the way
this bill has been rammed through the House, with Members not even seeing the
bill until the debate was under way, it's a reasonable response. If ever such
tactics were called for, this would be the time.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.