When Sikorsky Aircraft landed a contract to build Comanche helicopters for the Army, Connecticut’s media headlined the 500 jobs it would bring to Bridgeport. In small print, they revealed that there would only be 150 new jobs – the rest are transfers from a neighboring town.

Nowhere did they talk about the 1,435 workers laid off in Connecticut last year as a result of NAFTA and similar trade policies.

Starting in 1994, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) eliminated trade, investment and regulatory barriers between the USA, Canada, and Mexico. It allows powerful corporations to build assembly plants in Mexico and bring the finished products back into the United States.

Mexicans work in these ‘maquiladoras’ because their own industry and agriculture have been decimated by the more powerful U.S. monopolies. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) promote similar policies worldwide.

The 1,435 layoffs listed by the Connecticut Department of Labor in the past year are only the tip of the iceberg. They only include workers who applied and qualified for special assistance – we don’t know how many failed to apply, or how many jobs were never created in the first place.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that in NAFTA’s first seven years (1994 through 2000), there was a net loss of 766,000 jobs nationwide, with 9,200 lost in Connecticut.

If we look at total U.S. trade policy, 3 million jobs were lost in the U.S., and 34,341 in Connecticut.

These job losses are far larger than any gains from the military buildup, no matter how large it gets. And there is a connection between the U.S. military and NAFTA-related layoffs.

Why do Mexico, Argentina and countries around the world agree to policies that allow multinational corporations to control their economy, destroy their environment and impoverish their people?

Thomas Friedman, a leading supporter of corporate globalization and U.S. trade policy, explained in The New York Times Magazine in 1999, ‘The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist – McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.’

This hidden fist is seen in U.S. policy toward Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia. Cuba and Venezuela have the only two governments opposed to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), an extension of NAFTA to the entire Western Hemisphere.

The U.S. has imposed an economic blockade against Cuba for forty years. President Bush supported a coup attempt in Venezuela just last month, and it is likely that U.S. military and intelligence services lent their support.
U.S. aid to the Colombian government (including Sikorsky-made helicopters) supports fumigation policies, which force people off their land and destroy self-sufficient communities.

The Colombian military has ties to right-wing paramilitaries, which have killed hundreds of union activists. This helps makes Colombia a profitable place for multinational corporations to conduct business.

Now, the Bush administration policy of permanent war has U.S. troops occupying much of Central Asia, making that part of the world safe for the multinational corporations.

Back in the U.S., even military production is being downsized and outsourced. According to union sources, large military contractors like GE and United Technologies (which owns Sikorsky) have been outsourcing and contracting out jobs, in order to reduce their union workforce. They are demanding that their suppliers move production to plants in Mexico, presumably to lower costs and to put them out of the reach of union organizers.

Last July, 160 Connecticut jet engine workers at Pratt and Whitney were certified as having lost jobs due to ‘free trade’ policies.

There is another way out. The federal government could contract for production of trains and subway cars, efficient gas and wind turbines for sustainable energy, water treatment and pollution control devices. The U.S. could even provide helicopters for emergency health services throughout the world. Workers here and in other countries would have greater security and the planet would be a safer and healthier place.

The Bush administration is trying to get authority to extend agreements like NAFTA to more countries. Call your Senators and Representatives today and tell them to vote no on ‘Fast Track trade authority.’

The toll-free number, provided by the AFL-CIO, is 877-611-0063.

The author can be reached at arthur.perlo@pobox.com


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries