Workers, community leaders, clergy and some textile and sugar industry executives angrily confronted members of Congress who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) last month.

A broad, labor-led coalition worked hard to defeat CAFTA, which lifts tariffs and other restrictions on trade between the U.S. and El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

Congress approved it by the narrowest margin of any free trade deal to date. It passed the Senate by nine votes. Twelve Republicans defied the White House to oppose it, while 11 Democrats snubbed grassroots pressure to OK it. It passed the House by two votes, 217-215, with 15 Democrats voting yes and 27 Republicans voting no.

New York City Labor Council President Brian McLaughlin, a state assemblyman, assailed the pro-CAFTA vote as “a ‘no’ vote for good paying American jobs.”

McLaughlin and other labor and Working Families Party activists held a demonstration at New York’s City Hall, Aug. 7, protesting yes votes by liberal Democratic Reps. Gregory Meeks and Edolphus Towns. The two, who were elected with strong labor support, face re-election next year. AFL-CIO unions and those who recently left the federation joined together in the rally.

In North Dakota, a strong labor-led campaign resulted in all members of the congressional delegation rejecting CAFTA.

“CAFTA is death by a thousand cuts,” said North Dakotan Mark Froemke over his cell phone, on his way to work at a sugar beet processing plant across the river in Minnesota. Froemke is a vice-president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

“It going to be harder for farmers,” Froemke said. “The companies will demand more of workers for less. Under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), 30 sugar processing plants have already closed in the U.S. There were side agreements in NAFTA, just like the ones dangled out there under CAFTA. Like I say, 30 plants closed.”

In Fort Payne, Ala., when Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt, who voted for CAFTA, walked into a meeting with the Alabama Hosiery Association, Aug. 4, he encountered an unexpected crowd of over 200, including textile workers. In the last two years, 30 textile mills have closed and 2,000 workers have lost their jobs in the area, known as the U.S. “sock capital.”

When Aderholt was introduced, the room fell silent. Aderholt explained that he had met with Bush and worked out a side deal to CAFTA to protect socks.

Eliza Brinkmeyer of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch said the “sock deal” is not part of CAFTA and would require the unanimous consent of all CAFTA signatory countries and new congressional approval. “The sock deal is designed to be evaded,” she said.

The room went from chilly to frigid. Aderholt mopped his brow.

Richard Minter, organizing director for UNITE HERE Local 274 in Philadelphia, said he saw his Virginia hometown virtually disappear under “free trade.”

“I watched as the textile mills shipped jobs overseas or went bankrupt. Neighbors left. Kids started coming home from college early because there were no jobs to pay the tuition,” he said.

“CAFTA is another front Bush has launched against working families.”

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