PITTSBURGH – As far as working families are concerned, nothing good came out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Economic Policy Institute estimates that NAFTA has cost 765,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs since 1993.
“The fact is,” says Jim English, secretary-treasurer of the United Steelworkers of America union (USWA), “NAFTA has been a disaster for workers on both sides of the border. It has reduced wages by 22 percent for Mexican workers and at the same time it has cut by more than half the number of successful organizing campaigns in this country when employers threaten workers with moving their plants out of the country.”
On Nov. 20, trade ministers from 34 Western Hemisphere countries will meet in Miami to create the world’s largest “free trade” zone under the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) pact – “NAFTA on steroids,” according to steelworkers.
In September a caravan departed from Seattle for Miami. On board are union leaders, workers, environmentalists, clergy, farmers and human rights activists. The March to Miami has a single message, “Stop the FTAA,” and it is taking that story directly to the American people, especially in the politically volatile and vote-rich states of the West, Mid-West and South: Spokane, Wash.; Coeur d’Alene and Kellogg, Idaho; Missoula and Billings, Mont.; Bismarck, N.D.; East Grand Forks, Eveleth and St. Paul, Minn.; and on to Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois where riders held rallies and dialogued with a mosaic of heartland families.
Under the umbrella of the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment (ASJE), steelworkers have forged a coalition – one that George Becker, former USWA president who was on the bus as it rolled into Des Moines, Iowa, predicts will stop FTAA. “I think we can stop this,” Becker said. “There’s a movement of people out there who understand something is wrong.”
And they are talking with their elected officials, running for public office and making arrangements to get to Miami in November. Even in municipalities and cities not on the caravan route, steelworkers are building coalitions, and holding rallies and town hall meetings to get the FTAA story out to the people and bring the other side of the trade debate to Miami.
John Campbell, an executive board member of USWA Local 310, has 15 years of service in the Firestone plant in Des Moines. He is on a mission to take back his country and build a kinder, gentler nation for all people.
Campbell helped organize the Oct. 13 Stop the FTAA rally in Des Moines that drew 300 people. He worked with George Naylor, a farmer who has taken time off from the harvest, to build the Blue/Green coalition.
“I think the spirit of democracy is alive and well and that spirit is not consistent with these trade agreements,” Naylor told the rally. “My message is that corporate trade agreements are not good for family farmers.”
In a telephone interview with the World, Campbell said, “Cheap Iowa corn goes to Mexico and runs Mexican farmers off the land. They cannot compete. But Iowa farmers aren’t getting any more for their corn. Only the corporations are getting fat off of this deal.”
A group of Mexican farmers, visiting Iowa under the auspices of the Catholic Conference on Rural Life, also spoke to the rally and met with Iowa farmers and workers.
“This is what we do,” says Campbell. “Dialogue. Open up and bring people together to challenge how the right-wing, conservative faction dominates and destroys people’s lives. Together, we can redefine a world view.”
Campbell said the “important thing is we are not going away. It is like the Civil Rights Movement that started with a committed core who were no longer willing to accept injustice. The Blue/Green coalition is taking workers, farmers and environmentalists to Miami. Believe me, no one knows better than an industrial worker, like me, about dirty air, asbestos, disease because of our working conditions. Our needs are the same as any other human being. That is why, coming together, we can defeat greed and make our lives safe and secure.”
The caravan rolled out of Des Moines, headed to St. Louis, Granite City, Kansas City and Chicago.
The road to just trade agreements, like the trek from Seattle to Miami, is long. It requires determination, compassion and humanity. Is it worth it?
“You betcha,” say Campbell, Naylor, Becker, English and the thousands from Washington State to Florida who will be in Miami’s streets on Nov. 20.
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