Stop the FTAA, On to Miami!

Thousands will be marching in the streets of Miami, Florida, during the week of Nov. 17-21, protesting the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). They will pour into Miami from all over the country and from all over the world. The protesters will be trade unionists, anti-globalization activists, environmentalists, family farmers, religious activists, civil and human rights activists. Thousands will come to Miami to make their voices heard at a meeting of trade ministers from around the Americas.

This, the eighth trade ministerial meeting to discuss the FTAA, is widely viewed as a critical step toward its creation. The official proceedings will take place on Nov. 20-21. The ministers plan to make Miami the permanent headquarters of the FTAA bureaucracy.

The FTAA is a North and South American hemispheric trade agreement that will enhance the influence of U.S. monopolies and corporate economic domination on both continents. The proposed agreement involves 34 countries. Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere not participating. The U.S. aims to have a treaty in place by January of 2005.

‘NAFTA on steroids’

The proposed FTAA trade agreement has been described as “NAFTA on steroids.” NAFTA, the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, has so far resulted in the loss of over one million jobs in the U.S., mostly in manufacturing. In Mexico NAFTA has driven an additional eight million people into poverty. An estimated 28,000 small businesses in Mexico have folded due to unfair competition from huge transnational corporations. Since NAFTA, over a million additional workers in Mexico now make less than $4.60 a day, the minimum wage in that country.

FTAA will accelerate and geometrically increase this “race to the bottom” for all workers in the hemisphere. FTAA will extend the reach of NAFTA (read U.S. and other multinational corporations) to cover 800 million people. This is double the number covered by NAFTA. The FTAA’s expansion will mean about a 400 percent increase in the number of low-wage workers competing for jobs.

If approved, the FTAA will become the world’s largest “free trade” zone. The FTAA will greatly increase the potential power and scope of corporations and banks over local and national economies. The FTAA proposals now being negotiated will extend pro-corporate “free trade” rules to cover many service and financial interests. These include things like the insurance industry, health care, energy, education, transportation, and construction.

Just as NAFTA has been devastating to manufacturing in the U.S., FTAA will accelerate this “race to the bottom” effect by greatly increasing the mobility of capital in the service industries. In fact, with new technologies like the internet and advanced communications, FTAA will mean much quicker and greater job loss for U.S. service workers. And, as has been the case with manufacturing under NAFTA, it will mean even greater poverty and misery for those in areas where work is shifted in pursuit of low wages.

Needless to say, FTAA will not expand labor rights and environmental standards. Both labor and the environmental movement fought long and hard to build a vast coalition to defeat NAFTA. While NAFTA was ratified, it was by a slim majority. Even so, the anti-NAFTA coalition had grown to include most mainstream civil rights, human rights, women, youth, religious and even many small business groups.

Sham ‘side agreements’

This broad people’s coalition forced side agreements to the NAFTA treaty that were supposed to deal with labor and environmental standards. But these side agreements turned out to be a total sham. As of this writing very few labor or environmental violations have been resolved. In most cases, complaints have resulted in stonewalling because there are no mechanisms for forcing companies to comply with labor or environmental standards.

For example, Sony workers in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, brought complaints against Sony and the Mexican government for conspiring together to deny workers the right to organize an independent union at the plant. The company fired workers trying to organize and worked with the government to guarantee that the company union won the election in violation of Mexican labor law. They also used police violence to break up a peaceful picket by the independent union. Even though the NAFTA officials who heard the case agreed that there were serious labor violations, no workers were reinstated, no penalties were assessed, and no independent union was allowed to be organized.

The FTAA negotiators have already made it clear that the new treaty will also have no enforcement power on labor and environmental standards. Meeting in Quito, Ecuador, in 2002, the treaty negotiators set forward a pious sounding set of “principles” on labor and the environment. But number eleven from their statement says it all: “We reject the use of labor or environmental standards for protectionist purposes. Most Ministers recognized that environmental and labor issues should not be utilized as conditionalities nor subject to disciplines, the non-compliance of which can be subject to trade restrictions or sanctions.”

Disaster for agriculture, immigration

NAFTA has been a disaster in agriculture and FTAA only promises to make matters worse. NAFTA has made it easier for large agribusiness to control prices and markets across all borders. Both U.S. and Mexican farmers have seen their incomes decline.

NAFTA has also aggravated immigration issues. The continued impoverishment of Mexican workers and farmers has forced thousands more to leave home in search of jobs to support their families. NAFTA and FTAA are all about freedom of capital to migrate without any barriers, but labor is not allowed the same rights. Instead, these treaties have contributed to new levels of immigrant bashing, racist hysteria and anti-foreign sentiment.

‘Free trade’ and sovereignty

Another key issue that has emerged from bad experience with NAFTA is violations of local and national sovereignty and democracy. The most famous case involves the Canadian postal system. In 2000, United Parcel Service (UPS) sued the Ottawa government for $230 million in damages under provisions of NAFTA. The suit claimed that Canada was hurting UPS’s business with its national postal service monopoly, Canada Post. UPS is suing for damage to future profits claiming that the postal monopoly has an unfair advantage in its express package service. The case is still pending.

Another case involved Canada and its ban on the carcinogen MMT, a gasoline additive dangerous to the human immune system. Ethyl Corporation, a U.S. chemical giant, successfully sued Canada under NAFTA. The Canadian government had to pay $13 million U.S. dollars and drop the ban on MMT.

Switching the players, a Canadian chemical company, Methanex, is suing the state of California because it outlaws another gasoline additive, MTBE, demanding that the state rescind the law or pay damages for lost profits.

Yet another well-known case involves a suit against a local Mexican government in the state of San Luis Potosi by Metalclad, a U.S.-based company. When the Mexican government dared to insist on a regulatory process for Metalclad to reopen a toxic waste dump, the company sued, stating that its right to make a profit had been infringed upon. Metalclad won in a secret three-person tribunal, and was paid $17 million U.S. dollars.

These examples also illustrate the “free trade” attack on basic democracy and the destruction of the people’s right to demand government protection of their interests. It has long been the social compact of this country, and most others, that the government acts for the people to protect citizens against unbridled corporate monopolies and power. This democratic and protective role of government is deeply embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Yet NAFTA provides companies the mechanism to challenge and even overthrow this government function. FTAA would even go further by expanding the use of secret tribunals and mechanisms now in place under NAFTA.

Corporations vs. the public

Another anti-democratic feature of the FTAA is the secrecy surrounding the negotiations. The original talks between trade ministers were begun in deep concealment in 1994. As word leaked out, public demands for transparency, especially from labor and the anti-globalization movement, forced them somewhat into the daylight. Nevertheless, the actual language of the agreement was long shrouded in secrecy and only belatedly published due to intense protest.

While there are no labor, environmental or civil society representatives at the negotiating table, 500 corporate representatives have the necessary secret clearances to read all documents and to participate in deliberations of FTAA drafting and working committees.

Growing movement against capitalist globalization

American labor has been in on the ground floor of raising the alarm on FTAA. The AFL-CIO, working with ORIT, a regional labor organization that includes most of the major labor federations in the hemisphere, held the first labor forum and demonstration against FTAA at the Denver, Colorado, trade ministers meeting in 1995. American labor and the AFL-CIO have increased their participation in FTAA protests exponentially ever since.

The Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999 marked a new stage in opposition to corporate controlled “free trade” in the United States. The labor movement was the critical force around which such a broad coalition of forces gelled in Seattle. Many observers remarked on the “Teamsters and Turtles” phenomenon representing the impressive new unity of labor and the environmental movements in opposing corporate controlled globalization. But the coalition was much bigger and broader, including farmers, women, civil rights and all manner of nationally and racially oppressed people’s organizations, youth, and religious activists.

The Miami protests are shaping up to be even bigger than Seattle, not only in size, but also in their breadth and potential impact. Already the AFL-CIO, and the industrial unions in particular, are working hard to mobilize for Miami. The AFL-CIO has initiated an “I vote no on the FTAA” campaign in the U.S.: www.unionvoice.org/campaign/ftaaballot. The initiative comes out of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, a coalition of unions and community allies from all of the Americas. Plans are to deliver millions of ballots and postcards opposing the FTAA from all around the hemisphere.

The newly formed Industrial Union Council of the AFL-CIO has an ambitious plan of mobilization for Miami. It includes targeting key cities in “battleground” states and designating key unions that are strong in each area to head up the efforts.

Both the Steelworkers and the Teamsters, big participants in Seattle, are hitting the ground running. The Steelworkers have scheduled their executive board meeting and are also calling a conference of their Rapid Response activists at the same time in Miami, just prior to the demonstrations.

The 2004 U.S. presidential elections will figure large in deliberations about the FTAA. George Bush accelerated the FTAA talks after taking office and many consider him vulnerable because of the bad economy and the worsening trade imbalances.

Let’s go to Miami!

Already an exciting mixture of marches, demonstrations and educational activities are being planned for the entire week of Nov. 17-21 in Miami. The week will feature a “People’s Gala,” an evening of speakers, entertainment and cultural presentations.

Many interesting workshops, seminars, and forums are being planned through out the week. And of course there will be a massive march and rally now planned for Nov. 19. Local coalitions are forming all over the place to mobilize for Miami. For a preliminary list of sponsoring organizations see: www.citizen.org/trade/ftaa/TAKE_ACTION_/articles.cfm?ID=10098

Look them up and join the action in Miami!

Scott Marshall is a vice-chairman of the Communist Party USA and serves as chairman of the Party’s National Labor Commission. He can be reached at scott@rednet.org