Tom Bogdon
October 26, 2007

 

Haunted by NAFTA
by Tom Bogdon

First of all, this commentary is not an attack on Mayor Mark Funkhouser for standing behind his beleaguered Park Board appointee Frances Semler, despite threats by the National Council of La Raza — threats now carried out — to move their 2009 convention from Kansas City because Semler is a member of a group that La Raza believes is hostile to Hispanics.

Nor is it an attack on La Raza for announcing Oct. 20 that the group will meet in Las Vegas or some other city, instead of Kansas City, because they are offended by Semler’s membership in the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps., whose anti-illegal immigration efforts have included armed patrols of the Mexican border and pickets of local businesses that it believes employ illegal immigrants.

Both Funkhouser and La Raza did what they thought they had to do. And as a Kansas Citian, I’m glad the mayor did not buckle under to civic blackmail regarding the La Raza convention. La Raza, however, viewed the Semler appointment as “racist,” as La Raza (which translates as The Race) also regarded Funkhouser’s decision to stand behind Semler in the face of La Raza’s criticism.

“We had no choice,” said Janet Marguia, the Kansas City, KS, native who is head of the Washington-based National Council of La Raza. “This is about Mayor Mark Funkhouser and his lack of understanding about an issue, his lack of leadership and his lack of respect for the Hispanic community.”

But, as I wrote to start with, this column is not meant to point fingers at Funkhouser, Semler, La Raza, or the Minutemen. All points of view have their place in the diverse America of the 21st century.

What this column is meant to attack and criticize is the misbegotten NAFTA trade agreement that was jammed down the throats of governing bodies of the United States, Mexico and Canada in the early 1990s by misguided leaders in all three countries, acceding to the wishes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups craving low-wage labor.

NAFTA, of course, is the acronym for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was negotiated under “Fast Track” rules by the first Bush administration, then rammed through Congress in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, who was willing to divide the Democratic Party in order to carry out his Democratic Leadership Council agenda.

Clinton and other politicians found with NAFTA that that Big Business interests could be extremely generous in campaign contributions and other perks to those who supported free trade agreements, including the granting of Permanent Normal Trade Agreements with China. And politicians also found supporting trade agreements also paid off in support from neo-con (who call themselves “conservatives”) editorial writers such as The Kansas City Star’s E. Thomas McClanahan.

Besides U.S. trade deficits now pushing $1 trillion annually, NAFTA, China trade and other assorted deals such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which have been promoted by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, have resulted in the loss of three million U.S. manufacturing jobs on the current President Bush’s administration watch alone.

Although free trade propagandists speak brightly of “opening up markets to U.S. products,” the real lure of free trade deals is plentiful supplies of cheap labor. In Mexico, for example, the going manufacturing wage is about $6 PER DAY, approximately the same as the U.S. HOURLY minimum wage. Wages are even lower in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and other U.S. “trading partners.”

Could your family live on $6 PER DAY? Neither can even the most frugal Mexicans, many of whom were driven off their small farms by imports of cheap, government-subsidized U.S. corn. With economic conditions like this in Mexico, millions of Mexicans are willing to leave their beautiful country behind and often risk their lives to sneak across the U.S. border where wages, even at the bottom of the U.S. economy, are an improvement over what they could earn in Mexico.

And in the United States, the influx of millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants has put downward pressure on the wages for low-skill and semi-skilled work, including construction and manufacturing. President Bush says soothingly that these are jobs that Americans don’t want, but that is an over-simplification of the problem. The facts are that these are jobs Americans don’t want at the rock-bottom wages illegal immigrants are earning.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat and former Kansas City mayor, believes NAFTA should be looked at again. Cleaver also has endorsed Hillary Clinton as his choice for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.

“The congressman agrees that NAFTA needs to be looked at again,” said Cleaver’s spokesman, Danny Rotert. “He agrees with many who are running for president, including Mrs. Clinton, that environmental and fair labor standards are weak in the current law. Even President Clinton has acknowledged that NAFTA does not do a good enough job of encouraging worker or environmental protections.”

Rotert added that the lack of good jobs in Mexico certainly contributes to the quandary we are facing with illegal immigration.

“For Mexico, NAFTA has brought a net gain of jobs, but has not had an effect on decreasing the number of people coming illegally into the country to seek work,” Rotert continued. “It is not clear that NAFTA ultimately will be the vehicle that brings stability and prosperity to Mexico.

“But yes, NAFTA needs to be reexamined to better protect workers here and in Mexico,” Rotert added.

A spokeswoman for Janet Murguia, the La Raza president, at the group’s Washington headquarters, said that La Raza has a policy of not commenting on NAFTA or other trade agreements. However, the spokeswoman referred eKC online to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), also based in Washington.

Brent B. Wilkes, the 115,000-member LULAC’s non-Latino executive director, noted that his organization has opposed NAFTA, CAFTA and other trade agreements for years, one reason being that many U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent have lost their jobs because of such trade agreements and because NAFTA has further impoverished the nation of Mexico.

Wilkes said there is no doubt that NAFTA has led to the huge influx of illegal Mexican immigrants into the United States in the last decade and a half, people who he said “were faced with starving or coming to the U.S.”

Wilkes advocated another U.S. Marshall Plan, referring to the plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II, to bring Mexico and other Latin American nations out of poverty and help make them economically viable. Wilkes noted that the European Union was formed over many years and that poorer nations were helped by the richer countries to harmonize labor and environmental standards upward rather than downward.

The alternative to such enlightened economic policies, Wilkes said, is continuation of the current global “race to the bottom” as multi-national corporations continue to move production facilities to countries where wages are ever lower and the workers are ever more docile.

Tom Bogdon can be contacted at tjbogdon@yahoo.com.


              
              
                 

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