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Capitol Hill Shop Steward

Flunk NAFTA Test

As featured in
Labor Party Press

How many members of Congress can answer this simple question: "Can you give me the name and address of at least one new factory that has opened in your state or district directly as a result of the 1993 passage of NAFTA?"

Tough question ...

When I jumped into the labor movement in the late 1970s, our manufacturing unions were being hit hard as corporations pursued the "runaway" strategy. Companies were downsizing or closing their northern and midwestern factories and scooping up taxpayer-financed corporate welfare to reopen primarily in the U.S. south and southwest.

What began as a corporate and government strategy to reduce wages and increase profits by moving to southern states has now become a tidal wave of job migration out of the country entirely. The "runaway" problem is now called "globalization." We are literally witnessing the dismantling of one of the most productive and diverse manufacturing economies in human history.

You might call it ironic that most of the products being manufactured by those low-wage workers overseas are being shipped back here for sale in the U.S. When the U.S. spy plane was recently snagged by China, we heard reports about how nearly half of all the exports we receive from China go directly onto the shelves of your neighborhood Wal-Mart. Maybe we should have asked the Wal-Mart management to go over and retrieve the crew and plane.


The hard numbers of this job exodus are shocking: More than 10,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities shut down just since 1993, and more every day. The Economic Policy Institute just released a blockbuster report detailing this carnage, much of it brought on by the North American Free Trade Agreement (you can find the report "NAFTA at Seven" on the Economic Policy Institute's website).

At this point all normal people have concluded that NAFTA has been one gigantic disaster for working people and one huge profit bonanza for bosses. Or have they? What do our elected lawmakers here in Washington, D.C., think? As you can tell from the way most of them have been voting for the past seven years, they think NAFTA has been a big hit, a "win-win." About 90 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Democrats continue to support NAFTA and its expanded version, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

By 1999, the members of my union were tired of arguing with politicians about how many jobs were lost because of NAFTA. They were tired of being subjected to politicians’ stupid answers about how NAFTA was really good for us after all.

So when UE members visited their lawmakers in Washington on our annual spring lobby splash, they merely asked for the answer to a simple question: "Can you give us the name and address of at least one new factory that has opened in your state or district directly as a result of NAFTA?"


As we expected, our legislators were flummoxed. They looked at us like we were crazy for asking and sputtered for a while. We gave them time. Eventually, of the 66 lawmakers from 15 states we quizzed, exactly one came up with a single example. It turns out NAFTA is verifiably responsible for the hiring of eighteen workers at a new soybean processing facility in rural Iowa.

UE members went back and asked their senators and representatives the same question this year. Senator Leahy (D-VT) claimed that a plastics factory had opened in Vermont because of NAFTA. We checked it out. It appears that the plant might have moved here from Canada, but the company spokesperson had never heard of NAFTA or Senator Leahy. So maybe we did get 400 new jobs due to NAFTA, even if the company doesn’t admit it. And if we did, how many Canadians lost their jobs?

Some of the other answers we got during our two congressional quizzes were at least good for a laugh. Pro-NAFTA representative Tom Sawyer, a Democrat from Akron, Ohio, told us that his district had "dozens of new factories" because of NAFTA, but never, ever produced a hard answer.


Numerous congressional staff refused to answer our query because they said it was a "trick question."

The most popular answer of all was, "Gee, there’s lots of new factories. We have a list. We’ll get back to you." Followed by an unringing telephone. Fortunately, we didn’t hold our breath. Not one list has shown up yet.

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin distinguished himself by telling us he’d been "misled" about the trade deal when he voted for it in 1993.

This year, a staffer for Rep. Phil English (Republican from Erie, PA) gave it to us straight by saying, "There aren’t any new factories — not in the United States."

He’s just about right. There are no vast "lists" of new U.S. plants. What does exist are tens of thousands of canceled checks these legislators got from the corporate elite to make sure they voted for disastrous deals like NAFTA.


Why don’t you try this one out yourself? 

Call the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 and ask for your representative or senator. Or write: U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510 or U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515.

Ask them this question:

"Can you give me the name and address of at least one new factory that has opened in your state or district directly as a result of the 1993 passage of NAFTA?"

Let me know what you find out, care of the Labor Party (Capitol Hill Shop Steward, c/o The Labor Party, PO Box 53177, Washington, DC 20009).

And don’t forget to ask someone that other question: Why don’t you join the Labor Party?

Chris Townsend is political action director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).

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