JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our second part of our conversation with David Bacon on the 20-year anniversary of NAFTA.
David Bacon is an award-winning photojournalist, author, immigrants’ rights activist who’s spent over two decades as a labor organizer. His most recent book is The Right to Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration.
Thank you so much for joining us again, David.
DAVID BACON, AUTHOR, JOURNALIST, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Thank you.
NOOR: And, David, I’m reading a 2012 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll that says more than half of Americans want the U.S. to withdraw or renegotiate NAFTA. Only 15 percent believe that the U.S. should continue its current participation in NAFTA. When President Obama ran in 2008, he said he voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, he never supported NAFTA, and that he would not support NAFTA-style free trade agreements in the future. Yet now he is aggressively pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, which has been described by critics as NAFTA on steroids. Has the U.S. government, has the Obama administration learned the right lessons from NAFTA?
BACON: No. I think what happened is that once the Obama administration took office, it began bowing to the wishes of corporate America, which wanted these new trade agreements and certainly did not want the administration to renegotiate the existing ones. But we could have predicted this, because actually during the campaign itself, one of Obama’s aides kind of whispered quietly that corporations didn’t really need to worry about the renegotiation of NAFTA, because he was only saying it for the purpose of the campaign.
People in the United States do not like the North American Free Trade Agreement. And I think those poll numbers are undoubtedly accurate, because we also lost on this side of the border. While big U.S. corporations were making a lot of money from their investment policies and the low wages in Mexico, what happened also here is that workers in the United States lost their jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimated that 680,000 U.S. workers lost their jobs because they were directly transferred to Mexico as a result of this agreement. In fact, the Bush administration, before Obama, told the Department of Labor to stop releasing publicly the number of workers who were applying for special extended unemployment benefits (which was part of the trade treaty) as a result of losing their jobs because of NAFTA, because it was kind of providing political ammunition for the Democrats in the middle of an election campaign. So we don’t even really know how many U.S. jobs were lost as a result of it. That 680,000 is undoubtedly a very low estimate.
So here in the U.S., people lost jobs because of this transfer to Mexico. But that doesn’t mean that Mexicans won something as a result of it, because not only were the conditions for those jobs, once they were in Mexico, very poor and the wages were low; a lot of other things happened to Mexicans as a result of it at the same time, so that, for instance, the dumping of corn and meat and agricultural products in Mexico by huge U.S. corporations, like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland and Smithfield Foods, led to a situation in which Mexican farmers could not sell what they were growing—corn, for instance, or pigs—couldn’t sell them for a price that was high enough that it would pay for the cost of growing these things. And this was an effort by U.S. corporations to take over the Mexican market, which they’ve done. Right now, 25 percent of all the pork meat sold in Mexico is coming from one company, Smithfield Foods—has headquarters in Virginia. The largest retailer in Mexico that’s selling all these products is Walmart, the same large retailer that we have in the United States.
So I think that in many cases working people in the United States, especially if they belong to unions, which campaigned very heavily against NAFTA, kind of started to open their eyes about what the real conditions of their compatriots or their fellow workers in Mexico actually were, what was leading to this relocation of jobs.
So one of the good things, really, that came out as a result of NAFTA is that workers and unions, especially progressive ones, on both sides of the border, have drawn together in ways in which they are beginning to participate in defending each other’s interests. When the Mexican government, for instance, tried to change Mexico’s labor law or campaigned for the same kind of education reform that we’ve seen in the United States with standardized testing, or when it campaigned to privatize the electrical industry and the oil industry, U.S. unions also participated with Mexican unions in trying to oppose these changes, understanding that the effect wasn’t just going to be felt in Mexico, but was going to be felt in the United States as well, both by the displacement of people and the migration of people to the United States, but also because in many cases U.S. unions and Mexican unions were starting to face the same economic policies, the same trade policies, and even the same employers.
So this kind of cross-border cooperation and this cross-border solidarity, I think, is a permanent fact of life in our labor movements in all three countries. In fact, this includes Canadian unions as well. And this was sort of a positive development, and not an intended one, certainly, I don’t think, by the authors of NAFTA, who I don’t think were sympathetic and aren’t sympathetic to unions at all. But nevertheless, it’s something that took place as workers learned that the effects of the agreement were being felt by working people on both sides of the border in very negative ways.
NOOR: David Bacon, thank you so much for joining us.
BACON: It’s my pleasure.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.