Three years ago, on the 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s passage, North American labor, environmental groups, human rights organizations, and other citizen watchdogs—united to call out the terrible impact of this trade agreement on working people and our communities. As attention returns to NAFTA, now that President Trump has notified Congress officially of his intention to renegotiate, we caution against any belief that his administration will seek a deal benefitting people and the planet. NAFTA benefits corporations and those who have an interest in the free flow of capital, rather than improving the lives of workers, our communities, or the environment. Past attempts to appease concerns from labor and environmentalists have not been meaningful. .
We see the consequences of this failed treaty vividly: Across the continent, workers and families have been hit hard, as evidenced by persistent unemployment, wage stagnation, and record wealth and income inequality. There continues to be a decline in good-paying, union manufacturing jobs, as well as a loss of high-paying jobs in smaller businesses. In those pockets where manufacturing has expanded, the jobs created have been mostly low wage with little attention to worker health and safety. In Mexico, the jobs that have emerged have been at such low rates of pay that poverty rates have risen—not fallen—since 1994. Mexico has experienced a loss of jobs in agriculture, where heavily-subsidized US corn, sugar, and other commodities led to the collapse of the Mexican farm economy. Since the implementation of NAFTA, workers in the three countries have suffered, while wealthy investors and big corporations have seen their profits balloon.
Communities of North America continue to suffer under NAFTA as corporations continue to exploit our shared environment for profit and pollute our land, air, and water as governments are unable or unwilling to force corporations to clean up hazardous mistakes created by negligence. This is evident from the St. Lawrence River in Québec, which is threatened by fracking from Lone Pine Resources, to the Midwestern plains, where oil leaks from the TransCanada-owned Keystone Pipeline, to the hills of Guadalcázar, where residents pray they have seen the last child born with birth defects from the toxic waste MetalClad has refused to clean up. Corporate profits continue to grow while the health of our communities and environment suffers.
NAFTA enables the unrestricted flow of capital causing misery for working people, including: the forced migration of people looking for jobs; increased rates of homelessness; mental health problems associated with dislocation; higher rates of diabetes and other ailments linked to cheap high fructose corn syrup; and rising violence, particularly against women. NAFTA devastated the Mexican economy, particularly agriculture and family farms by allowing US corporations to dump cheap corn and other staples into Mexico. It is a key reason why millions upon millions of Mexican workers have been forced to migrate north to the US looking for better work.
President Trump says he wants to renegotiate this “bad deal,” but his vague plans are anchored in building a wall for workers and tearing down walls for capital. He makes a xenophobic argument for renegotiation, and we reject its racist and nationalistic orientation. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have stated that the rejected and discredited Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be the starting point for a renegotiated NAFTA. Unionists and environmentalists rejected TPP for good reasons and to have that as the administration’s starting point is very troubling.
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in NAFTA infringes on sovereignty and citizens’ rights to self-governance by allowing corporations to sue governments who restrain profit-making opportunities. This would have been made more powerful under TPP. TPP would have weakened US health and safety standards, including those that ensure safe pharmaceuticals and food. TPP attacked net neutrality and a free and open Internet. NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990’s and the internet was not included in the original NAFTA. We expect this to be a major target of the administration’s renegotiation.
We reject the corporate-led vision for a renegotiation of NAFTA and call for a new set of trade policies that prioritize workers common interests and relies on international solidarity as its cornerstone. Any renegotiation of NAFTA must be oriented around the improvement of workers’ lives and protection of the environment focused on those regions of the continent where conditions are the most desperate.
We call for the end of the ISDS protections NAFTA offers to corporations to exploit working people and the environment. As we said three years ago, 20 years after the passage of NAFTA, any new treaty must “strengthen governments’ ability to protect social, environmental and labor rights, particularly for migrants.”
We demand, as required by the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions 87 and 98, an end to laws that allow employers to prevent workers from choosing their own unions or from exercising their rights to assemble, organize, and represent workers without any employer interference. This includes an end to attacks in the U.S against unions seeking to negotiate union security clauses with employers.
We demand government investment to create good-paying jobs in our communities, to build affordable housing, accessible public transportation, and green energy production, with quality food, education, and healthcare for all, and with improved access to clean air and water, public parks, and green recreation spaces. All trade negotiations must be opened to civil society participation, which includes prior publication of the texts and the construction of mechanisms for information sharing, social participation and deliberation, while avoiding the imposition of any “fast track”. A renegotiated NAFTA treaty must include effective mechanisms to protect human, labor, and environmental rights with meaningful sanctions and enforcement provisions to assure the supremacy of human rights over corporate privilege.
We support the “Political Declaration of the Encounter of the Social Organizations of Canada, United States, and Mexico” which came out of meetings held in Mexico City on May 26 and 27, 2017. We unite in international solidarity with these goals in mind and are prepared to fight back against any and all attempts to divide or devalue our work, our communities, and our environment.
Reposted from our friends at Portside.
What We Are Really Seeing When We Look At Comey v. Trump
SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus (NYSUT, NWU, AFL-CIO)
Anything can be done under color of law, (e.g., segregation, the Holocaust, strike-breaking, ‘pre-emptive wars’ like in Iraq, water boarding and other tortures, police murders etc.), So please let us dispense with the fiction of the neutral “rule of law.”
The dominant characteristics of the rule of law in any society express the power of the dominant social group or class and the prevailing or dominant property relations at the time.
So what we are seeing in Comey v. Trump is the mediated expression of internal struggle within the ruling class, the Comey forces also expressing at the same time the mediated and historically required needs of the working class. (Hegel refers to what is happening as the “cunning of history.”)
In this context, only the Comey forces point the way to a possible human future.
But if the Comey forces prevail, the working class and all other progressive and democratic forces will still need to press their demands.
And since all of this is a basic question of humanity’s survival, American workers must finally decide to oppose war with Russia and China and any other country. Indeed, they must also stop making weapons of war since their continued production and proliferation can only lead to war.
Diego Low, Metrowest Workers Center
This is an update to the case of José Flores (Injured Worker Detained by ICE in Retaliation). At 11:30am on May 22, José Flores was released to his family for deferred action due to pressure from Metrowest Worker Center, MassCOSH, and other members of the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative and legal allies. While this is a victory, the need for financial support has increased, in order to be able to assist the entire family with legal counsel. We are so grateful for the more than $7,500 already raised. Our current goal is to raise another $12,500 for a total of $20,000. Please consider making a donation here.
Last week, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters released a statement against this kind of retaliation, saying “The New England Regional Council of Carpenters represents all carpenters regardless of their status. If someone works they deserve to be paid. If they are injured on the job they are entitled to workers compensation coverage. End of story. A worker’s immigration status should not play any role in whether these right apply. Immigration officials going after any worker involved in a workplace dispute has a chilling effect on others exerting their rights under the law.”
We are organizing with a broad-based coalition of allies to speak up against this situation. We know that, beyond the workplace, the threat of ICE tends to drastically reduce the community’s willingness to report any kind of serious situation to authorities, from domestic violence to medical emergencies. This makes our communities far less safe, and provides protection for those who prey on the vulnerabilities of others. We urge you to join us in standing up for the safety of our communities.
At the end of February immigration agents descended on a handful of Japanese and Chinese restaurants in the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi, and in nearby Meridian. Fifty-five immigrant cooks, dishwashers, servers and bussers were loaded into vans and taken to a detention center about 160 miles away in Jena, Louisiana.
Their arrests and subsequent treatment did more than provoke outrage among Jackson’s immigrant rights activists. Labor advocates in California also took note of the incident, fearing that it marked the beginning of a new wave of immigrant raids and enforcement actions in workplaces. In response, California legislators have written a bill providing legal protections for workers, to keep the Mississippi experience from being duplicated in the Golden State.
Once the Mississippi restaurant workers had been arrested, they essentially fell off the radar screen for several days. Jackson lawyer Jeremy Litton, who represented three Guatemalan workers picked up in the raid, could not get the government to schedule hearing dates for them. He was unable to verify that the other detained immigrants were being held in the same center, or even who they were.
The Geo Corporation, formerly known as the Wackenhut Corporation, operates the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena. Geo’s roots go back to the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which became notorious in the nineteenth and first half of the 20th century for violent assaults on unions and strikers.
Today Geo operates 16 immigrant detention centers around the country, according to its 2015 annual report. It runs privatized prisons as well, some of which have been investigated by the federal government after allegations of bad conditions and understaffing. The LaSalle facility has 1,160 beds. Litton says it is normally full, so taking in an additional 55 detainees would result in severe overcrowding.
The use of Jena’s immigrant jail to hold workers detained in workplace raids has a bitter history in Mississippi. In 2008 481 workers were arrested at a Howard Industries electrical equipment factory, in Laurel, Mississippi, in the middle of union negotiations. They, too, were taken to the LaSalle detention center. There they were fed peanut butter sandwiches at mealtimes, and according to Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), “There weren’t even enough beds and people were sleeping on the floor.” Eight workers detained in that raid were charged with aggravated identity theft in federal court, for having given a false Social Security number to the employer when they were hired.
“This latest raid is causing a lot of fear in our community,” says MIRA director Bill Chandler. “There’s fear everywhere now because of the threats from Trump, but here in Mississippi our history of racism makes fear even stronger.”
Agustin Ramirez, an organizer for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in California, told me that the Mississippi raids have heightened fear among West Coast immigrants, too. “What we have seen in the past, and the threats from Trump, tell us this is coming. We may not have had a raid like this here yet, but we can see the sky is dark, and we know it’s going to rain. We just don’t know when.”
In California, with many times the immigrant population of Mississippi, the potential impact of workplace raids is enormous. Of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, over 2.6 million live in this state—almost one in every 10 California workers is undocumented. They make up almost half of its farm workers, and over 20 percent of its construction workers. The National Restaurant Association says that of the country’s 12 million restaurant workers, 9 percent are undocumented, while the Restaurant Opportunities Center estimates that in large cities they make up almost half of that industry’s workforce.
The legislative response in California came from United Service Workers West (USWW), the union for janitors, security guards and airport workers affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. “We want to lead the nation with the strongest resistance efforts to protect workers, not just in the community, but in the workplace,” explained David Huerta, USWW’s president.
In cooperation with labor attorney Monica Guizar, USWW worked with San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu to craft Assembly Bill 450. The bill, called the Immigrant Worker Protection Act and introduced March 24, addresses workplace immigration raids in four ways:
·AB 450 requires employers to ask for a judicial warrant before granting access to a workplace by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
·The bill prohibits employers from sharing confidential information, like Social Security numbers, without a court order.
·If there is an immigration raid, or if an employer is told by ICE to hand over information that employees provide on I-9 immigration-status forms, the bill requires the employer to notify the state labor commissioner, the workers themselves and their union representatives.
·AB 450 authorizes the labor commissioner to certify workers who report claims against their employers, prohibiting employers from retaliating against them, and helping them to gain visa status as witnesses in legal proceedings.
Assembly Bill 450 was co-authored by Bay Area Assemblymembers Phil Ting and Rob Bonta, and State Senator Scott Weiner. “Trump’s threats of massive deportations are spreading fear among California workers, families and employers,” Chiu told a news conference, adding that the bill “goes beyond California’s existing defense of immigrants to offer new legal protections for individuals in our workplaces.”In a highly publicized April 11 event on the Arizona-Mexico border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions emphasized the Trump administration’s hard line on enforcement.
In a highly publicized April 11 event on the Arizona-Mexico border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions emphasized the Trump administration’s hard line on enforcement. Chiu cited Sessions’s previous statements and orders as a reason for the bill’s new measures of protection. Sessions told the press in Arizona that enforcement would now prioritize identity theft among other factors. “And it is here that criminal aliens, and the coyotes, and the document-forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration,” he announced.
By using phrases like “identity theft” and “document-forgers,” Sessions is treating as a criminal offense the means used by every undocumented worker to get a job. Like all other workers, undocumented immigrants must supply Social Security numbers to employers to get hired. But since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, they have been prevented from applying for them. Workers therefore invent Social Security numbers or use numbers belonging to others.
In the past, the federal government has occasionally interpreted this as not only as a reason for deportation, but as a federal crime. Sessions is threatening to make these occasional charges mandatory in every case. The irony is that undocumented workers, using those bad numbers, contribute about $13 billion annually to the Social Security Trust Fund, and are disqualified from receiving any benefits that those contributions are supposed to pay for.
Heavy immigration enforcement against workers is hardly new. Under President George W. Bush, large-scale raids led to the detention and deportation of thousands of workers, especially in meatpacking plants. At Smithfield Foods in North Carolina and Agriprocessors in Iowa, 389 immigrants were jailed, charged with felonies for using bad Social Security numbers. Under President Obama, ICE agents audited the information provided by workers on I-9 forms, comparing it with the Social Security database. ICE then told employers to fire those immigrants whose information didn’t pass muster. The government developed an enormous database, called E-Verify, for rooting out undocumented workers. Thousands were fired, and in 2010 alone ICE audited about 2,000 employers.
Anger over these enforcement actions has a long history in California. Los Angeles janitors, members of USWW, sat down in city intersections to protest firings by Able Building Maintenance in 2011. The union fought similar firings in Stanford University cafeterias, and among custodians in the buildings of Apple and Hewlett-Packard. Two thousand seamstresses protested their firings at Los Angeles’s American Apparel. Members of UNITE HERE, the union for hotel workers, mounted a hunger strike outside the Hyatt in San Diego over the same issue. In the Bay Area, 214 workers at the Pacific Steel foundry fought firings for almost a year, while at the Alameda County Industries recycling plant in San Leandro, they even went on strike to try to stop them.
Over the years, unions have charged that employers use the firings when workers try to organize, or when they are negotiating contracts. Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, says, “raids drive down wages because they intimidate workers—even citizens and legal residents. The employer brings in another batch of employees and continues business as usual, while people who protest get targeted and workers get deported. Raids really demonstrate the employer’s power.”
To help workers protect themselves in the workplace, the ILWU, Filipino Advocates for Justice and several other groups organized a training session about actions workers can take on the job, in the face of a raid or I-9 firings. Workers from Alameda County Industries acted out a teatro-based sketch on their own strike to stop the company from terminating them for not having papers. In another skit, they dramatized the way workers might demand that their boss bar ICE agents from the workplace if the latter have no court order. Other unions described their experiences over the past decade in organizing workers to fight off raids and firings.
“Our experience tells us that workers can resist raids at work, and the more they do that the better off they are,” Agustin Ramirez says. “We are getting prepared, trying to give people as much information as possible. We’re trying to spread this idea that in addition to AB 450, workers can take action on the job to protect themselves.”
ALEC and the Minimum Wage
By Seth Sandronsky
The American Legislative Exchange Council is against raising the
minimum hourly wage. We turn to Missouri’s statehouse. Lawmakers there
passed bills barring every past and future law to hike the minimum
“By enacting legislation today to prohibit all past and future local
minimum wage laws in Missouri, the Missouri state legislature dealt a
blow to democracy and workers in the state,” said Christine Owens,
executive director at the National Employment Law Project.
“Legislators have stripped Missouri communities of their long-standing
rights and taken away all hope for cities like St. Louis of addressing
low wages that deny people the opportunity to support themselves
Missouri’s anti-minimum wage legislation mirrors a bill that Iowa
state lawmakers passed. In Iowa, that bill reverses local minimum wage
hikes that counties approved, while prohibiting cities and counties
from changing the standards for wages and benefits.
What is going on, and why? According to the NELP, state legislatures
are responding to popular sentiments to increase minimum wage rates.
Over 40 cities and counties have enacted increased minimum wages.
However, 24 states have approved laws to roll back these minimum wage
The University of California at Berkeley Labor Center maintains an
inventory of US city and county minimum wage ordinances. There are
wage levels, scheduled increases and other law details, as well as
links to the ordinances:
Back to ALEC. It argues that raising the minimum wage harms those who
earn low pay. This stance echoes businesses that oppose low-wage
workers earning higher hourly rates.
However, public support for raising the minimum wage is strong. The
same US public opposes misnamed “free-trade” pacts that help
capitalists pay workers abroad less than Americans earning the minimum
“The only wages ALEC seems to like are the $1 an hour wages paid in
countries like Vietnam,” said Mary Bottari, deputy director of the
Center for Media and Democracy. “ALEC was a huge backer of the Trans
Pacific Partnership and every trade agreement that has shipped US jobs
The CMD has been investigating the involvement of the Kochs,
billionaire GOP funders of ALEC. Let us not, though, focus solely on
Republicans and their wealthy donors such as the Kochs in pushing a
corporate agenda that runs roughshod over working families.
Recall the role of Democratic presidents, for instance, in promoting
corporate investment in low-wage foreign labor. Former President Obama
also backed the TPP. On that note, Hillary Clinton’s failed White
House run in part claimed to continue Obama’s legacy on investment and
GOP President Donald J. Trump made opposition to the North American
Free Trade Agreement, enacted under Democratic President Bill Clinton
in 1994 [with Republican support], central to his successful 2016
campaign for the White House. During that recent campaign, Secretary
Clinton had little in the way of a solid response to candidate Trump’s
NAFTA critique, which resonated in Rust Belt states where NAFTA has
wrecked communities, devastating working families.
To be clear, ALEC has its eyes on the ball, and is moving it down the
court. The daily drama in the nation’s capital can distract us from
“Taking away local control over wages (and a range of other
pro-worker, pro-environment, and pro-civil rights policies) has become
a major priority of ALEC, a corporate-backed group with extensive
lobbying resources and influence in our state legislatures,” according
to an NELP statement. “ALEC drafts “model” minimum wage preemption
bills for conservative legislatures to simply copy and paste.”
This is not rocket science. Rather, ALEC’s agenda, less sexy than the
Kardashians on social media, is class warfare of the 1% against the
Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media
Workers Guild. Email email@example.com.
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2017. http://www.populist.com/23.11.sandronsky.html