What's wrong with free trade?

The uneven consequences of free trade founded upon neoliberal policy protecting the interests of Big Business hurts people from every walk of life. With government complicity, supply side economics, gunboat diplomacy and tax breaks for the rich have been frequent obstacles to the advancement of democracy and human rights.

Throughout our history, corporations have exploited working people from each country, playing one against the other. Penetration of capital, which dictates commerce in the marketplace, upsets the balance between traditional and cultural values accumulated by custom, lifestyle or preference. Local economies are disrupted and displaced due to economic advantages by conglomerates through large-scale production in their drive for maximum profit. Union-busting, factory relocation and employee displacement contribute to subsistence wages and inequality of opportunity. In addition, market control may result in monopolization, thus causing a downward spiral in working conditions that affect human and environmental concerns.

This race to the bottom often includes more government dependence on capitalist remedies (war on terrorism), which deepen the crisis. Poverty, deprivation and human need no longer become a powerful tool for motivation.

Instead, the fear and insecurity that lead to violence and greater exploitation is used to manipulate or weaken workers resolve and class unity.

Socialism interrupts this vicious cycle. By putting workers in charge of the production process through increased ownership of the job site itself, the fuller development of our economic potential is realized. Democratic participation by the majority becomes a political necessity for the realization that capitalism cannot be reformed.

Socialism, so important for human growth and advancement, provides the best path to freedom and independence for working men and women. Profits become subordinated to the good of all for health care, education, decent housing and especially union jobs. In this way, the fruits of our labor are utilized for the benefit of children and the disadvantaged.

Progressive groups should beware that the annexationist design of the Free Trade Area of America is yet another ploy for economic plunder, power and social control by multinational corporations. By proposing to deny Cuba entry into the international economic arena, the Bush administration seeks to polarize people by a fast track scheme extending a long outdated isolationist policy.

A program ending U.S. sanctions on travel and trade with Cuba, and honest dialogue and negotiation for normalization of relations, would benefit workers, farmers and business, both public and private. Finally, repeal of Helms-Burton, the Torricelli Act and the (anti-) Cuban Adjustment Act (1966) are critical before the U.S. government claims to recognize Cuba. Then we can say with one voice, “Fair trade for the Americas. Cuba si, Bloqueo no!”

Richard Grassl is in the carpenters union in Washington State.