Vol. III, Bulletin No. 15. August 7, 1998
Steelworkers Union Files Lawsuit in Federal Court
Challenging NAFTA as Unconstitutional
Despite its name, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) deals with much more than trade. It also covers the policies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico on investment, financial services, transportation, telecommunications, intellectual property, energy, government procurement, and trade in services.
NAFTA is not just a misnomer. It is also unconstitutional. At least that is the claim of a federal lawsuit filed in mid-July by the United Steelworkers of America and the Made in the USA Foundation. At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, Steelworker President George Becker said:"NAFTA is a treaty that should have been subject to a two-thirds ratification vote by the U.S. Senate as called for in the U.S. Constitution."In approving NAFTA in 1993, the Senate did so by five votes short of the supermajority that a treaty requires under Article II of the Constitution. So the lawsuit asks that NAFTA be declared null and void.
But is NAFTA a "treaty"? The issue transcends NAFTA. The outcome of this lawsuit could well affect the politics and therefore the content of future "trade" agreements negotiated by the United States. Such agreements, says Becker, should "serve the interests not just of Wall Street and the bond market but of workers, their families, and communities in the United States [and the other countries covered by the treaty]." He calls NAFTA "an unmitigated disaster for working people throughout North America."
Also a plaintiff in the lawsuit is Steelworkers Local 12L, representing workers at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Gadsden, Alabama. That facility is one of more than 30 USWA-organized locations where workers have qualified for U.S. Labor Department "adjustment assistance" because of lost employment due to NAFTA.
(For details, check http://www.naftalawsuit.uswa.org.)
Demonizing Sanctions (Everyone Else's)
It's highly fashionable these days to denounce sanctions. The title of a Washington Post article calls them "The Snake Oil of Diplomacy." Mobil's "Public service" ads condemn them. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups mount a lobbying attack against them. In short, sanctions are bad, bad, bad.
Or so it seems.
Strangely, however, the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), much loved by business, provides for sanctions against nations that violate its rules. Same goes for the trade agreements enforced by the World Trade Organization. Same goes for bilateral commercial agreements between nations.
I still have the clipping of the Feb. 5, 1995, New York Times page one headline that announced: "President Imposes Trade Sanctions on Chinese Goods." The threatened sanctions covered $1 billion of China's exports to the United States. Why? Because China was blatantly stealing software, movies, music, and other "intellectual property" from American business. No business protests against those sanctions followed. In fact, it was a protracted corporate campaign protesting against Chinese "piracy" that prompted the President to take action.
Kissinger on Sanctions Uncontaminated by 'Snake Oil'
More recently, Henry Kissinger embraced sanctions in an op-ed piece urging the President to call an emergency meeting of the heads of leading industrialized nations to deal with "the Asian collapse." The very first item on their agenda, Kissinger wrote, should be "an early warning system with sanctions to oblige both lenders and borrowers to prevent [financial] crises and make setbacks more manageable." (My emphasis.)
The fact is that sanctions are inevitable in the operation of an international economy, just as they are necessary in individual nations (imagine the carnage on highways if there were no sanction against drunk driving). Corporations love international sanctions that promote commercial interests, and they are right if a given sanction makes sense. They are abysmally wrong, however, in holding that sanctions against evils like slave labor never make sense.
China, Worker Rights, and the WTOIf the [World Trade Organization] were eventually to adopt some global rules on worker rights, how would that affect China? The subject is not on the negotiating agenda for China's entry [into the WTO], but participants would be wise to consider seriously how a kinder, gentler WTO could benefit China and how, in contrast, a market-obsessed WTO could worsen China's traumatic economic transition. In other words, a WTO with a broader vision, going beyond prescribing and enforcing trade and investment formulas, could help China cope with the internal and external forces buffeting it.The above paragraph is excerpted from an article of mine appearing in the summer issue of China Rights Forum, published by Human Rights in China. The article, titled "Exploring a New Frontier," argues that it is time for the WTO to cure a free-trade myopia that is blind to the freedom of ordinary working men and women. You can read the full text at wtoprc.htm. (I have also just compiled a listing of Bulletins and other articles of mine dealing with China. Check it out at china.htm.)
The theme made in the article needs much further development. Stay tuned.
Consumer Action on Labor Abuses in China
"I got an idea." That was the subject line of an email message I got recently from Paul Thompson of RR #2, Barry's Bay, Ontario, Canada. Here's his idea.We are a very small group in rural Ontario called Consumer Action for Worker Rights. About the only action we've taken is a few newspaper ads [alerting consumers to] labor conditions in China.There certainly is a great need for innovative approaches to promoting a wider awareness of worker rights issues. What do you think of this one?
Recent events, or non-events, in China have brought to the fore an idea for a campaign. How about you and me and a whole bunch of other people go shopping. We get a whole bunch of stuff. Then after it's all paid for, and we're putting it in the bag, we stop and pick up one of the items and say, "Oh! This is made in China. I've heard bad things about low wages and poor working conditions in China. I want to return it." Then we pick up another item and say, "Oh! This is made in China too. I want to return this too." We could return a whole lot of stuff.
Do you think people would do this?...Please let me know what you think
You can write Paul Thompson direct at the postal address above or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I did give Paul my reaction, and I'll go into that later. In hopes of stimulating a discussion, he agreed to my publishing his letter in HRFW.
Diary: One Day at the State Department
I spent a day at the State Department last month attending a conference of Foreign Service labor officers, past and present. I had intended to skip the afternoon session that closed the July 30 conference. It was titled "The Future of the Labor Diplomacy Function." My suspicion was that the discussion would be a waste of time. I'm glad I stayed on.
Prior to the session, I thought that the "labor diplomacy function" didn't have much of a future. Now I'm no longer quite that skeptical.
Objectively speaking, the work of labor officers should remain important in a global economy beset with labor issues. That's not so in the day-to-day conduct of foreign affairs. State has downsized labor officers in numbers, downgraded them in rank, abbreviated their training, and diminished their influence. It'll be difficult to reverse that trend, but under the leadership of Ambassador Wendy Sherman, Counselor of the Department, that could happen. At least that's the impression I got from her active participation in the discussion on the afternoon of July 30. We'll see.
* * *Summer Holidays
My wife and I are off to New England for a visit with friends during the last half of August. See you here after Labor Day.
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. III-15, August 7, 1998
Robert A. Senser, editor
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Back to Human Rights for Workers Home Page A short cut to a list of previous Bulletins in 1998, 1997, and 1996 For subject indexes, check these categories: China, Global Rules, Sweatshops and Child Labor, and Women Workers.