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Nikos Valence on Organizing Against the North American Free Trade Agreement

During the 1980ís and 1990ís international free trade agreements encouraged by the United States government increased the power and global reach of multinational corporations. The most controversial of these agreements, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), made it easier for U.S. companies to buy low cost goods from Mexico, which were often produced by U.S. subsidiaries that migrated to take advantage of low-cost labor. Organized labor and most liberal Democrats opposed NAFTA because they feared the loss of American jobs and the increased bargaining power of corporations who could easily transfer production overseas. As Nikos Valence, head of the Fair Trade Campaign, explained, these agreements also stimulated international labor solidarity, as workers in different countries struggled against the free reign of capital and in many cases against the same corporations.

Listen to Audio:

VALENCE: NAFTA was a watershed event in the economic debate in this country. It mobilized communities in ways they had never been mobilized before on economic issues. And to a certain extent, in a way that created a sense of solidarity with workers in other countries. And this is a crucial issue. Mexican workers need jobs. Indonesian workers need jobs. So do U.S. workers need jobs. So all too often I think there’s a misunderstanding of what the implications of that are for groups here versus groups there. And so it becomes a question of do you see the Mexican worker or the Indonesian worker as your competition or your enemy? Or are you actually in solidarity or should you be in solidarity with those workers vis a vis the real culprit which is the transnational corporations or capital. In Southern Hemisphere countries this paradigm of growth, the neo-liberal paradigm, which again is, you know, economic liberalization, which is deregulation of the economy, ending public-sector deficits, privatizing public-sector industries, which, you know, can be the street lights, you know, or the highways so you have to pay tolls to get on to it. Now this paradigm has been imposed on Southern Hemisphere countries ruthlessly in response to the debt crisis so that they can become credit-worthy again. We’re facing the same policies, so how can we learn from their experience and their models and how can they learn from us?

Source: Interviewed by Janine Jackson, 1995
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads