First published by The Organizer (USA), December 2019
It’s been called a “historic bipartisan trade pact.” Donald Trump hailed it as a “victory” for his administration and for the American people. Nancy Pelosi called it a trade agreement that is “infinitely better” than both NAFTA and Trump’s initial proposal. AFLCIO President Richard Trumka insisted that the USMCA has been “fixed” — that “swift and certain labor enforcement mechanisms” are now in place.
But is this really a victory for working people? Is the USMCA fundamentally different from NAFTA? To answer these questions, it is worth looking at how the financial press has covered the story.
Interviewed on the NPR News Hour on December 10, Christopher Wilson, director of the Mexican Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, explained that the financial markets are greatly “relieved” that a deal has been reached and that “market certainty” has been restored. “We shouldn’t expect any real changes with the new agreement,” Wilson said. “USMCA is 90% NAFTA. Some adjustments were made, but nothing of substance.”
“Overall, it’s more NAFTA 1.1 than NAFTA 2.0,” echoed the investment bankers at Morgan Stanley. “The deal,” they, too, concluded, “is positive for the markets.”
Forbes magazine elaborated on the theme, noting that, “U.S. interests, especially those involving oil and gas resources, have been secured.” This is a reference to the inclusion in USMCA of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause that prohibits Mexico from renationalizing, or even significantly regulating, Mexico’s energy resources. Such actions would be deemed “barriers to trade.” Income from Mexico’s state-owned PEMEX has fueled Mexico’s economic growth, and particularly its social programs, for the past 70-plus years. Privatization of Mexico’s energy resources began under former President Enrique Peña Nieto and already has negatively impacted working people and the poor across Mexico.
Now let’s look at worker “protections” and the enforcement of labor laws in Mexico, which have been at the center of most of the discussions regarding the USMCA.
If you take only the issue of enforcement, what assurances — written or verbal — could possibly alter the fact that there are, according to Mexico’s Labor Secretary, 700,000 protection contracts with fake, company unions that need to be reviewed and rewritten? According to United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard, this could take decades.
Also, in mid-June Mexico enacted one of the most severe austerity programs in years: the Ley de Austeridad Republicana. Budgets for social spending are being slashed. To expect that there will be funding for labor inspectors and labor attorneys to rewrite the 700,000 protection contracts — or to thwart the anti-labor lawsuits — is sheer folly. It’s not going to happen.
Mexico’s new Federal Labor Law has been in place for close to a year, and the violation of workers’ rights has only increased. More than 6,000 workers were fired in the maquiladoras of Matamoros (Tamaulipas) for going on strike. They have not been reinstated. They have appealed their case to the corporate-controlled labor boards, to no avail.
Dozens of workers at Rockwell Automation in Tecate (Baja California), also on the border, have been fired for organizing an independent union. Like their counterparts in Matamoros, they have been blacklisted throughout the border maquiladora industries. Mineworkers in Media Luna (Guerrero) were killed for organizing an independent union. Little, if anything, is being done to bring the assassins, no doubt company goons, to justice.
In the fields of San Quintin (Baja California), an independent union of farmworkers has been recognized by the government, but U.S. corporations, first and foremost Driscoll’s Corp., have refused to negotiate a new contract with the independent union, claiming they already have contracts — in fact, protection contracts — with the company unions.
Will the “impartial” labor inspectors, or the new tripartite labor tribunal, set up under USMCA address the plight of these workers? No. There may be some slight improvements here and there, but nothing fundamental.
Mexican activist Luis Carlos Haro Montoya explained why opposition to the USMCA is critical. In his presentation to the July 13 Labor Conference Against Privatizations and Deregulation held in San Francisco, Montoya said:
“Under USMCA, Mexico’s food sovereignty will continue to disappear. All the procorporate ‘structural reforms’ implemented under the aegis of NAFTA will continue unabated. The ‘energy reform’ will deepen the capitalists’ drive to fully privatize Mexico’s oil. The ISDS provision has been included in NAFTA, and now in USMCA in relation to Mexico, precisely to prevent Mexico from regaining its energy sovereignty, reversing the privatizations, and repealing all the ‘structural reforms’.”
Labor journalist David Bacon, has spent the last 25 years documenting the devastation wreaked by NAFTA across Mexico. Bacon explains that, “President Trump has used the USMCA negotiations to whip up nationalistic fervor against Mexico, saying his trade agreement will protect American jobs, while history shows clearly that it will not. And his antiMexico nationalism, calculated to win votes in 2020, nevertheless obscures his attacks on workers here at home.”
On November 26, 2018, the San Francisco Labor Council, AFLCIO adopted a resolution that concludes as follows:
“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 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.”
Labor and community activists across the country must urge Congress to vote ‘NO’ on USMCA.
UE: We’re Still Waiting for a Trade Deal that Benefits Working People
The proposed replacement of NAFTA … remains a tool for corporate interests and provides insufficient relief to address the problems for working people embedded in the original agreement.
The USMCA will still allow corporations to move their work to the locations with the lowest standards for workers and the environment while limiting the abilities of democratically elected governments to uphold the interests of working people.
Unless we demand that the rights of workers to organize and live in dignity are upheld everywhere, American workers will see no relief from their fears of jobs moving overseas or to lower-wage communities in their own country.
UE urges Congress to vote “No” on USMCA and instead pursue a new model of trade and economics that will benefit working people and the planet, starting with our own working, living and environmental standard.