Pro-worker Dems mistrust Trump, want worker rights written into ‘new NAFTA’
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka speaks during the delivery of petitions in Washington, D.C., at Capitol Hill. Behind him is Rep. Rosa DeLauro. People's World Washington Bureau Chief Mark Gruenberg is visible, right. | AFL-CIO via Twitter

WASHINGTON—A coalition of pro-worker House Democrats, led by veteran Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., opened talks on June 25 with President Donald Trump’s trade negotiator about writing strong and specific worker rights straight into Trump’s “new NAFTA,” rather than just into U.S. legislation to implement the controversial “free trade” pact.

“We have made it clear from Day One there must be changes in the agreement” itself, DeLauro said in an interview after a Capitol Hill press conference that day with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, other union reps, and other pro-worker lawmakers.

Trumka called the confab to present more than 200,000 names on petitions to Congress demanding Congress not even consider, much less approve, legislation implementing the “new NAFTA”—formally called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement—unless there are strong and enforceable worker rights sections.

With such strictures, Mexican wages would increase, unions and workers say. “If Mexican wages are not allowed to increase, they”—corporations—“will continue to suck jobs out of the U.S.,” Trumka warned.

One reason the lawmakers and unions want the pro-worker requirements written into the trade pact’s text itself is they don’t trust Trump, or U.S. multinationals, to follow any law implementing the new agreement.

“Go back to 1992-93, when NAFTA passed,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker and former head of the South Jersey Building Trades Council. NAFTA proponents “promised we’d get more and better-paying jobs, but if you were a worker, you got royally screwed.”

“So the idea of ‘Trust me again and somehow it’ll be different’ isn’t going to do it.”

“My workers asked for” a new trade pact, “but they also said ‘Don’t give us the shaft,’” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose district includes Detroit 3 auto plants, such as Ford’s River Rouge. “We need an enforceable deal that pays American workers fairly and Mexican workers fairly.”

The worker rights sections of the USMCA are important. NAFTA, the 25-year-old pact it would replace, cost the U.S. between 770,000 and one million industrial jobs and thousands more white-collar jobs, such as in call centers. Machinists Legislative Director Hasan Solomon said his union alone lost 40,000 aerospace jobs as bosses moved 300 factories to Mexico.

As a result, the AFL-CIO and its member unions have been lobbying hard for enforceable worker rights, and Trumka led a three-day trade pact town hall listening tour to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit earlier in June.

Those enforceable worker rights include extensive labor law reform in Mexico, the establishment of a Mexican Labor Department, and a new court system to handle worker rights, free Mexican unions (not pro-company ones), and hiring of thousands of labor rights inspectors there.

They also include an end, in four years, to the 700,000 contracts those sham unions signed with multinational corporations, Trumka said. He previously doubted Mexico could achieve those goals, even more so since he reported multinationals are now challenging USMCA’s Mexican ratification in 96 court cases.

All those worker rights proposals and more were thought to be in the enabling legislation Trump has yet to send to Congress to implement the USMCA. DeLauro and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., made it clear those rights must be in the pact itself, especially since lawmakers theoretically cannot change the USMCA or the legislation Trump sends with it.

“There must be amendments to the text” of the “free trade” pact, DeLauro said in an interview after the press conference. “That has been our understanding from the outset and the U.S. Trade Representative has been told that,” DeLauro said of Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer.

“We have said we want changes in the agreement,” not just in the bill Trump sends to Capitol Hill, Schakowsky added.

“Activists are demanding there be no vote on NAFTA 2.0”—the USMCA—“until it’s fixed,” said Lori Wallach, a trade expert who heads Public Citizen’s Trade Watch. “The petitions demand strong labor and environmental standards” in all three countries, but particularly in Mexico, “and that enforcement be swift and certain.”

She also noted there is precedent for rewriting the actual texts of trade pacts once they’re supposedly signed, sealed, and delivered to presidents by Congress, with the enabling laws, too.

Three trade pacts the Republican George W. Bush administration signed in 2006 were reopened and renegotiated after congressional Democrats took power that fall and demanded it. The one pact Bush refused to reopen lost, Wallach said.

And both Wallach and Hassan warned of political trouble should Lighthizer, and Trump, not budge. “Expect an ugly fight” in Congress over the USMCA if Trump stays stubborn, said Wallach.

“I want to be crystal clear,” Hassan added.” This message is for any candidate for president or running for Congress: If you support NAFTA 2.0 as currently written, please do NOT call the Machinists union for an endorsement, political support or a contribution. You need to call Mexico for support! Because that’s exactly where NAFTA 2.0 will send our good American jobs.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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