Workers Were Sold a Lie

As NAFTA renegotiations drag on, Steelworkers and our allies across the continent are dogging the governments of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico with a clear message: if this trade agreement is worth saving, it must serve the interests of working people.

An open letter co-authored by leaders of the USW and Los Mineros, Mexico’s mineworkers union, attracted media coverage when NAFTA negotiations shifted to Montreal in January.

“With NAFTA, workers were sold a lie,” stated the joint letter from USW Canadian Director Ken Neumann, USW Quebec Director Alain Croteau, USW International President Leo W. Gerard and Los Mineros President Napoleon Gomez.

“NAFTA has not served the needs and expectations of working people and the most vulnerable in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. It was a corporate-rights agreement that … benefited the rich and powerful while effectively excluding ordinary people in all three societies.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has portrayed himself as a knight in shining armour, committed to negotiating a so-called “progressive” NAFTA.

To be truly progressive, however, a trade deal needs strong, enforceable provisions on key issues such as labour rights and environmental standards. Trudeau’s credibility on these issues took a severe blow in January when his government completed secret negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a corporate-friendly trade deal among 11 Pacific Rim countries.

A “progressive” deal in name only

Prior to the 2015 federal election, Trudeau denounced the Conservative government’s secret negotiations on the TPP. He promised a Liberal government would be open and transparent in pursuing trade deals.

Once elected, the Liberals continued the same secret TPP agenda. And with NAFTA’s fate in limbo, Trudeau became desperate to secure a Trans-Pacific deal.

As TPP details leak out, it has become clear why the Trudeau government kept Canadians in the dark. The agreement will further erode Canada’s manufacturing and industrial base, eliminate middleclass jobs and drive down wages and working conditions.

The TPP embraces corporate rights and power, while Canadian auto, steel, dairy, transportation and construction workers will face a race-to-the-bottom competition from cheap labour and poor working, safety and environmental standards in Asia.

The TPP entrenches one of the greatest failings of such trade deals – the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. ISDS allows multinational corporations to sue our government – in secret tribunals – if they believe our laws infringe on their potential profits.

Incredibly, the Trudeau government also is fighting to preserve ISDS in a new NAFTA, while even the rightwing American government recognizes that ISDS must be removed from the agreement.

“In its desperation to sign the TPP, the Trudeau government was severely outplayed in the negotiations by countries including Japan, Australia and Vietnam. Facing a choice to accept a bad deal or no deal, Trudeau blinked,” Ken Neumann said when the deal was announced.

The Liberals can take credit for one particular change – insisting on a cynical revision of the TPP’s official title. The new deal is now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. But it is a “progressive” deal in name only.

A NAFTA for all workers

Steelworkers are not anti-trade. To the contrary, we recognize that many jobs rely on trade. We also believe trade deals must raise living standards for all workers and reverse growing inequality.

Canada’s government must recognize that NAFTA faces a crisis of political legitimacy because it places corporate rights and powers ahead of Canadian jobs and meaningful labour and environmental standards.

If NAFTA is to survive, it must create a fair, democratic and secure trade regime. It must finally serve the interests of working people.

This article can be found in the March 2018 edition of the National Director's Update.

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