Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Is Supporting CAFTA An Act of Betraying the American Worker?

by Jonathan Tasini,
Why organized labor should hold politicians accountable for betraying workers at home and abroad.

Read the entire article at:
Jonathan Tasini is president of the Economic Future Group and writes his "Working In America" columns for on an occasional basis.
His blog Working Life chronicles the labor movement and other issues affecting American workers.


The 15 so-called Democrats who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement must pay a heavy price for turning their backs on labor: None of them should receive a dime from labor unions and each one should face a labor-backed primary challenger next year.

And the recruitment of good candidates should start now.

If the CAFTA 15 do not suffer the political consequences for their vote, labor will look weak and the march of so-called "free trade" will continue.

In 1993, after a small group of Democrats defected to support the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), unions threatened to get even.

The message this sent to each elected representative was that labor would make a lot of noise but eventually the waters would grow calm---and no one suffered for casting a vote that hurt workers here and abroad.

And so, as each trade vote loomed, Democrats could contemplate wandering off the reservation, either to protect campaign contributions from large corporate donors or to extort some promise from supporters of so-called "free trade" to build a highway, fund a pet project or place a federal research center in a wavering politician's district.

The arguments against taking down the CAFTA 15 go something like this: Trade is only one policy arena and labor can't pillory politicians just for voting wrong on CAFTA; doing so would tar labor with the dreaded "single-issue" constituency label.

According to this line of thinking, many union members care about a broader set of issues; they need politicians who will vote right on other issues, even if those same politicians stray here and there on a vote or two.

And, some would argue, trade only hurts a particular slice of the unionized workforce.

Finally, going after Democrats in "swing" districts makes it harder to take back the Congress from Republicans.

Here's the fallacy with that political pragmatism.

Trade is not just a single issue.

So-called "free trade" is shaping the economy, here and abroad---it is the central issue upon which other economic policy issues revolve.

To overlook a politician's vote on trade means turning a blind eye to the legislative tool most responsible for shifting the power of self-determination from the hands of citizens to the corporate boardrooms of global capitalism.

Compared to a decade ago, a broader segment of unions and their leaders are starting to see how so-called "free trade" hurts them.

A July 25th letter to the House Democratic leadership raising concerns about possible Democratic defections on CAFTA was organized by none other than Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters who was the most visible early supporter of John Kerry.

He could have argued that his members aren't directly touched by CAFTA---you can't get firefighters from another country to put out the fire in your house here.

But to his credit, Schaitberger sees this as a huge fight, hitting his members hard as deals like CAFTA help push down wages and benefits throughout the economy.

I am not unsympathetic to the political calculation of the balance of power in Washington.

If labor had taken out one or two Democrats who voted for NAFTA more than a decade ago, I suspect that the CAFTA 15 might have numbered two or three---or maybe none.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


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