NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In Tennessee, we have felt the loss of more than 25,000 textile and industrial jobs due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Many of these jobs were union jobs that paid workers good wages for a 40-hour workweek.
Too often, workers who have experienced NAFTA and other trade-related job losses have found themselves working in low-paying temp jobs or working two or more jobs just to make ends meet. These low-quality jobs and long work hours are detrimental to families and communities that were often built around once-thriving industries.
Trade Promotion Authority, better known as Fast Track, would only make things worse. Fast Track threatens democratic principals by moving decision-making power from working people to an increasingly smaller pool of power holders. Fast Track gives the president the authority to negotiate trade agreements. This authority not only limits congressional debate on trade legislation but also allows Congress to vote only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the legislation without any amendments.
The president has permission to negotiate trade agreements without Fast Track authority, but he now must allow Congress to debate the agreement at length and possibly add amendments that would modify the agreement. With Fast Track, either the legislation will pass or it won’t.
Fast Track is being pushed by corporate coalitions and the Bush administration who want to expand free trade to the entire western hemisphere except for Cuba. Without Fast Track, NAFTA has already had a severe impact:
More than 400,000 U.S. workers have lost their jobs in NAFTA-related plant closings.
The U.S. has also lost more than 33,000 small farms, as U.S. farmers discover that they cannot compete with subsidized agribusiness any better than Mexican farmers can.
A million Mexican farmers who can’t compete with U.S. grain imports have been driven off their land.
Another million Mexican workers have lost their jobs in small- and medium-sized industries that cannot compete with transnational corporations.
Most displaced Mexican workers are forced to emigrate. Mexico has the largest amount of people emigrating in the world, mostly to the United States. Many of these immigrants are working in dangerous jobs where they do not have equal protection under our legal system.
They can fall victim to unscrupulous employers who are seeking to avoid basic wage and safety regulations. Fast Track is designed to speed up the implementation of policies like NAFTA.
Instead of jumping into trade deals, the United States needs to slow down and design trade agreements that will have positive impacts for workers and the environment in all member countries. These agreements must be formed in ways that include meaningful input from working people and organizations concerned with protecting human rights, worker rights and the environment.
It’s time to bring U.S. trade policy into an open national debate, not to speed up trade by shutting out the voices of working people who are most affected by these policies.
Disney is a trade staffer for the Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network, a coalition working to make economic policies fair to workers and communities, based in Knoxville and Nashville.