>NATIONAL SECURITY OR INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY?
>By David Bacon
>September 28. 2000
> Despite the end of the cold war, U.S. military, economic and
>political intervention around the world continues to grow, while at home,
>the military budget consumes the hopes for a radical reordering of economic
>priorities. The idea of a peace dividend has been all but forgotten, as
>peace itself recedes further away than ever on the global horizon.
> Whose interests are being protected?
> U.S. unions and workers increasingly challenge globalized
>production and free trade. At the same time, however, most continue to
>accept the idea that a common national interest abroad should unite all
>segments of society, including labor and capital. National security, we
>are told, is an overarching common bond.
> But in a world divided between rich and poor, in which the security
>of the few is obtained and assured at the expense of the many, the real
>question is - security for who?
> Do countries have a right to control their own economic development
>in the interests of their own security? Or should guaranteeing a free
>market, and unlimited opportunities for corporations to boost productivity
>and make profit, override national interests in making economic decisions?
> The transformation of national economies around the world is
>forcing unions and workers everywhere to debate the meaning of
>international working-class solidarity - to ask who has the right to
> In U.S. labor, although this debate simmered through the Reagan
>administration's interventions in Central America, it broke out into the
>open in the wake of the passage of NAFTA. Since the treaty went into
>effect in January of 1995, the Department of Labor has certified over
>200,000 U.S. workers for extended unemployment and training benefits
>because it cost them their jobs. Most sources believe this is a small
>fraction of the true count.
> According to Cornell professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, the number of
>times has more than doubled, in which U.S. employers have told unions
>across the bargaining table that if they didn't agree to concessions the
>companies would move production out of the country.
> Insecurity for U.S. workers hasn't led to more jobs, and greater
>security for Mexicans, however, although both their government and ours
>told them it would. Over 1,000,000 Mexican jobs were eliminated in 1995
>alone, by the government's own count. State-owned enterprises were
>privatized and bought by wealthy investors, who laid off workers to
>increase productivity and profits. Many others lost their jobs when small
>Mexican producers couldn't compete with the flood of cheap imports coming
>from the U.S., and went bankrupt.
> In Tijuana, the maquiladora daily wage averages 50 pesos (a little
>over $5). A gallon of milk in the supermarket, which sold for 7.5 pesos
>when NAFTA passed, today costs about 20. It takes half a day's work to
>earn enough money to buy it.
> Well before NAFTA's passage, the disparity between U.S. and Mexican
>wages was growing. Mexican salaries were a third of those in the U.S. up
>to the 1970s. They are now less than an eighth. Since the 1981 debt
>crisis they've dropped to even a 12th or 15th, depending on the industry -
>even during a period in which U.S. wages have declined in buying power.
> During the last two decades, the income of Mexican workers has lost
>76% of its purchasing power. Under pressure from foreign lenders, the
>Mexican government has ended subsidies on the prices of basic necessities,
>including gasoline, electricity, bus fares, tortillas and milk, which have
>risen drastically. It estimates that 40 million people live in poverty,
>and 25 million in extreme poverty. And while it says unemployment is less
>than 6%, the country's new independent union federation, the National Union
>of Workers, puts the number at over 9 million people, or a quarter of the
> These results are largely the product of the imposition of economic
>reforms on Mexico by the International Monetary Fund, backed up by
>conditions on U.S. bank loans and bailouts. The most fundamental of those
>conditions, beyond even ending subsidies and opening the Mexican economy to
>imports, has been privatization and policies designed to encourage foreign
> Last year, one of the most important Mexican labor struggles was
>fought to prevent the sale of the electrical grid in central Mexico. In
>three weeks in February, 1999, the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME)
>collected 2,700,000 signatures in opposition. "It is indisputable that the
>move to privatize our electrical system is a condition dictated by the
>International Monetary Fund, intended to create opportunities for private
>investment, particularly foreign investment," says Ramon Pacheco, the
>union's secretary for international relations.
> By organizing a Front of National Resistance, the union was able
>top stop the privatization effort, but Pacheco believes that the proposal
>will resurface, since the new Mexican government of Vicente Fox remains
>committed to neoliberal reforms, and has announced that electrical
>privatization is high on its agenda. "We will only be able to stop these
>proposals when people in Mexico establish a new government, committed to a
>different course of economic development," he says.
> If the SME campaign had failed, thousands would have lost their
>jobs, their union contract would have been torn apart, and their union
>itself would have nearly disappeared. This is what has already happened to
>workers at Mexico's airlines, railroads, telephone system, and in many
>other industries. In February of last year, this disaster befell the
>copper miners in Cananea, one of Mexico's oldest mines and site of the
>historic battle which initiated the Mexican Revolution in 1906. Hundreds
>of miners lost their jobs after the mine was privatized. Their union was
>virtually destroyed when the threat of military occupation was used to end
> In countries like Mexico, with mixed economies in which socialism
>was put forward as an eventual goal of economic development, a large
>percentage of workers have been employed by state enterprises. A majority
>of Mexican industrial workers worked for the state until economic reforms
>began transforming its economy in the 1970s. Its organized labor movement
>had its greatest strength in the state sector.
> While three-quarters of the workforce in Mexico belonged to unions
>three decades ago, less than 30% do so today. In the state-owned oil
>company, PEMEX, union membership still hovers at 72%. But when the
>collateral petrochemical industry was privatized over the last
>decade-and-a-half, the unionization rate fell to 7%. New private owners
>reduced the membership of the railway workers union from 90,000 workers to
>36,000 in the same period.
> Mexico is just one country where the same economic war is being=20
> In Honduras, the U.S. government used its political and military
>influence to gain permits for the construction of Export Processing Zones,
>providing garment companies with a new area for factory construction. That
>influence didn't just support the physical infrastructure. The U.S. Agency
>for International Development hired Price-Waterhouse to study labor supply
>problems in the San Pedro Sula Valley, to avoid a labor shortage which
>might drive wages up.
> Price Waterhouse documented labor participation by girls as young
>as 14. This was normal, the firm's report said. "The legal minimum
>working age in Honduras is 15, but in the rural economy it is normal to
>work from ten onwards," it stated. And to keep it normal, USAID funded
>programs by the Honduran Family Planning Assn. to distribute birth control
>pills inside the plants on a mandatory basis.
> One of the plants was OshKosh, a company which makes children's
>clothing for U.S. families, but which forbade its own workers from having
>families of their own. OshKosh, like the other manufacturers, wanted to
>avoid having to pay legally-mandated maternity benefits. But more
>important, USAID and the companies it supported wanted to keep these young
>women, at an age when they were beginning to think of having families, from
>getting pregnant and dropping out of the workforce.
> The end goal was an ample and dependable supply of workers at low
>wages. Price Waterhouse noted with disapproval that "the pregnancy rate
>among women of childbearing age was 4% in June 1992, up from 2.5% six
>months earlier. This is regarded as too high (3% would be the maximum
> Loan conditions enforced by the IMF and World Bank reflect U.S.
>economic policies, which encourage high unemployment to keep pressure on
>wages. The loans themselves are not available for social benefits - in
>fact, their conditions require ending subsidies on things like transport
>and food. Instead, loans are made for infrastructure improvements to make
>countries more attractive for foreign investment.
> They require governments to cut off rural credit - driving people
>into the cities, while opening up the market for imports of food. At the
>1996 World Food Summit in Rome, US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
>boasted that the U.S. "is the leading supplier of food to the world," where
>farmers "plant for world demand instead of for government programs." For
>the U.S., "the private sector is the great untapped frontier in the world
>war on hunger."
> Just to drive the point home, the U.S. position at the summit
>declared that "the United States believes that the attainment of any 'right
>to adequate food' or 'fundamental right to be free from hunger' is a goal
>or aspiration to be realized progressively that does not give rise to any
>international obligations nor diminish the responsibilities of national
>governments toward their citizens." Translation: if you don't have money
>to buy our food, we're not obligated to give you a thing.
> As a result of U.S. insistence, point four of the summit's plan of
>action was dedicated to the pursuit of "a fair and market-oriented world
>trade system," which, it admitted, may cause "short term negative effects"
>on the world's poorest countries. The free market is the goal, not feeding
> Privatization opens up important sections of the economies of
>developing countries to transnational corporate investment. Even more
>important, it reduces the ability of states to control their national
>economies, and use that control to promote social goals other than
>profit-making, whether promoting strategic industries, subsidizing prices
>for farmers and workers, or maintaining social benefits, high wages and
> And while economic reform has its price, not everyone pays. Almost
>invariably, workers at privatized enterprises face huge layoffs and wage
>cuts, as new private owners seek to cut labor costs.
> But as in Mexico, free market policies are often bitterly resisted.
> Around the world, workers have been fighting for over two decades
>to keep the social gains they won in the years following World War Two.
>They ask over and over again, in a globalized world, who has the right to
> Within weeks of the Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade
>Organization, thousands of workers at India's state power company struck to
>prevent the privatization of electricity generation and distribution in
>Uttar Pradesh. Despite the jailing of hundreds of their leaders, they
>succeeded in halting it, at least for a time. Meanwhile, in ports along
>the subcontinent's coast, thousands more longshore workers also stopped
>work over the same issue.
> In countries like Russia and China, where the state controlled the
>economy completely, and employed virtually everyone, the impact of
>privatization has been even more devastating. The governments of both
>countries, which formerly guaranteed jobs for life and retirement security,
>now disclaim responsibility for both as enterprises are closed and sold.
>Workers face a bleak future of unemployment, while retirees go hungry and
>sell their possessions when their pensions evaporate.
> In the Russian and Chinese industrial heartlands (and in the
>formerly socialist countries of eastern Europe), whole cities were built
>around huge mills, mines, and factories. Every social benefit, from
>subsidized housing and childcare, to schools and hospitals, was financed by
>those enterprises whose doors are now being closed, or which are being sold
>off to private owners. In Russia, where economic reforms are further
>advanced, millions of workers have even gone months at a time without
> These free market reforms are imposed everywhere U.S. influence is
>extended. One of the conditions of the Rambouillet Accords, whose
>rejection by the Yugoslav government led to the bombing last year, was that
>"the economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market
>principles." This was also a condition of the Dayton Accords, applied to
>the economy of Bosnia. By agreement, the head of the Bosnian Central Bank
>is not even a Bosnian, but an appointee of the IMF.
> Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in fact, described NATO's
>mandate to the Boston Chamber of Commerce in 1998 in terms of the creation
>of investment opportunities for multinational corporations. Expanding into
>Eastern Europe spreads political stability, "and with that spread of
>stability," he noted, "there is a prospect to attract investment."
>Instability, on the other hand, he cautioned, "destroys lives and markets."
>Creation of a free-market economy is a key element in the program of the
>Serbian opposition in the Yugoslav elections, to which the State Department
>admits it gave $77 million.
> This is the iron fist, the ultimate threat for countries which
>reject the loan conditions and their attendant economic reforms. U.S.
>foreign policy is based on supporting governments that implement these
>policies, like those of El Salvador, Honduras, and increasingly Mexico,
>which rely on encouraging economic development by making themselves
>attractive to foreign investment.
> Countries which don't go along risk being declared rogue states,
>subject to economic sanctions and military intervention.
> Workers in developing countries, however, have the right to pursue
>economic development in their own interest. And for economic development
>which benefits all people, there must be an alternative to becoming
>low-wage export platforms, with increasing social and economic inequality
>enforced at the point of a gun.
> "Governments are told that workers' rights and economic development
>are a zero sum game, that improving workers' lives slows development," says
>Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade
>Unions. "In the pursuit of profit, they are told to remove worker
>protections, and then use that as an inducement for investment. But
>development is a wider concept =8A Development can't exist with mass
>unemployment and poverty."
> Unless the international trade structure is changed drastically,
>national development alternatives, based on rising wages and production for
>a domestic market, will not be possible. Proposing a social clause within
>that trade structure, even one which limits the prerogatives of foreign
>investors, does little to support national development less dependent on
>transnational capital. At the same time, it provides political support to
>the very institutions which seek to stop it.
> "The struggle by unions, social justice groups and
>environmentalists is about more than just winning a seat at the table, or a
>'social clause' or environmental rules," a Canadian Labour Congress
>statement declares. "We're determined to change the entire trade regime."
> For copper miners in Cananea, security disappeared after their
>mine's privatization. And since there's almost no other work in Cananea, a
>small mountain town, the jobless miners had to leave. Many of them crossed
>the border, just fifty miles north, to find work and a new economic future
>in the United States.
> They're not alone. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates
>that over 80 million people today live outside of the countries in which
>they were born. They're not just moving from Mexico to the U.S., but from
>developing countries to developed ones all over the world.
> What do they find when they arrive with their dreams of a better
> They become part of an migrant workforce with conditions and wages
>at the bottom. They're denied the most basic rights - no unemployment
>insurance, no medical care, no social benefits of any kind. Undocumented
>immigrants have no right to a job. Not only can they be fired at a
>moment's notice, like most workers, but the very act of working for them is
>a crime, a violation of the law. They are denied the right to be a
>resident of a stable community - to live here at all.
> And the irony is that they often wind up working for the same
>corporations whose operations in their countries of origin are part of the
>reason why they're here to begin with. Those corporations have used U.S.
>immigration law to increase insecurity even further, by recruiting contract
>workers from developing countries. Visas for these workers are dependent
>on their job status - not only can they be fired if they protest bad
>conditions or low wages, but they then get deported when they lose their
>jobs. Two bills in Congress vastly expand these programs, for high tech
>workers and for farm workers. Other industries, meanwhile, are waiting in
> "These programs are selling our human potential," says Anuradha
>Mittal, Indian-born co-director of Oakland's Food First. "Our educational
>system produces highly-skilled workers, who then leave to become the
>working poor in America, while breaking down our ability to industrialize
>our own country. We wind up subsidizing U.S. industry."
> But global inequality produces insecurity and economic desperation.
> No matter how many walls are built on the border, no matter how
>many troops or National Guardsmen or helicopters patrol it, workers will
>still cross it looking for a future. There's no more eloquent testimony to
>this than the fact that 400 women and men - workers and farmers -- died in
>the last 3 years in the desert, trying to make the journey from northern
>Mexico into the U.S. Or that 57 Chinese immigrants starved to death in a
>truck trailer bringing them across the English Channel into Great Britain.
> Workers in this country become victims of the same free-trade
>economy, losing their jobs when their plants close, or when the shrinking
>tax base which pays for social services leads to job cuts. And when this
>happens, they are told to find someone to blame.
> Blame workers in Mexico or China for taking your job. Blame
>immigrant workers in the United States for the same thing.
> As a result, anti-immigrant hysteria has now become an extremely
>serious problem in all developed countries, as immigrants have become an
>integral part of the workforce.
> This system creates severe economic insecurity on all sides of all
>borders. The Federal Reserve Bank reports that the median income for
>California families went from $26,700 a year in 1997 to $26,800 in 1998.
>When the median drops, it means that the number of poor families, earning
>less, is growing.
> And to earn this income requires more hours of work. The average
>work week is now 43 hours, and rising. Latino workers work an additional 5
>hours a week, and African-American workers an additional 9 hours.
> According to a study by two researchers at the University of
>California in San Francisco released in August, 2000, employed Latinos were
>11 times more likely than whites to live in poverty, and African-Americans
>5 times more likely. One reason for both growing poverty and the
>increasing racial gap is the abandonment by large corporations of permanent
>jobs. Only a third of white workers now work in traditional jobs - with
>permanent, fulltime status, working directly for the company rather than a
>contractor. And only 25% of Latino and African-American workers hold
> Globalization doesn't affect all people in the same way. In the
>U.S., workers experience speedup, runaway shops and declining income. In
>less developed countries, they endure superexploitation, environmental
>degradation and the destruction of their traditional way of life. But the
>gap in living standards, enforced by U.S. political and military power,
>affects all workers, across all borders. As long as that gap exists, jobs
>will leave developed countries, and superexploitation in the developing
>world will increase.
> U.S. labor has an objective interst, therefore, in opposing U.S.
>foreign policy in areas where it has led to a drastic decline in living
>standards, whether through loan bailouts in Mexico, austerity programs in
>East Asia, or economic reforms in Eastern Europe.
> When the new administration of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was
>elected in 1995, leaders like Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka said the
>time had come to find a new policy for building international
>relationships. "The cold war has gone," he declared at the New York
>convention. "It's over. We want to be able to confront multinationals as
>multinationals ourselves now. If a corporation does business in 15
>countries, we'd like to be able to confront them as labor in 15 countries.
>It's not that we need less international involvement, but it should be
>focussed towards building solidarity, helping workers achieve their needs
>and their goals here at home."
> Jack Henning, past executive secretary of the California Labor
>Federation, one of the most vocal critics of the old AFL-CIO Department of
>International Affairs, noted that "we were associated with some of the very
>worst elements...all in the name of anti-communism. But I think there's an
>opportunity now to review our foreign activities, to stop the global
>competition for jobs among the trade unions of the world."
> These statements, however, move towards a position that would put
>the labor federation at loggerheads with the economic, political and
>military policy of every U.S. administration, Democratic or Republican. In
>the end, it is impossible to pursue this position while avoiding potential
>conflicts with both parties. The problem is compounded by the subsidy many
>AFL-CIO international programs continue to receive from USAID and the
>National Endowment for Democracy. There is a basic conflict of interest.
> Recognizing this, the South Bay Labor Council in Silicon Valley
>passed a resolution in September, calling on the AFL-CIO to "describe,
>country by country, exactly what activities it may still be engaged in
>abroad with funds paid by government agencies and renounce any such ties
>that could compromise our authentic credibility and trust of workers here
>and abroad, and that would make us paid agents of government or of the
>forces of corporate economic globalization."
> The resolution also called on the federation to account for its
>past cold war activities in Chile and elsewhere, to renounce the policies
>that led to them, and invite discussion of both past and present
>international activities. Such discussion of the real history of
>intervention is a necessary condition for pursuing a new policy of
>solidarity, based on openness and transparency.
> Real solidarity requires political independence - that unions
>pursue a political agenda that focuses on guaranteeing rights and security,
>not on maintaining loyalty to a particular party machine. Mexican workers
>and voters made that historic decision just this year, casting aside the
>party that had governed them for 71 years, for its failure to follow an
>agenda which protected their interests. The new government of the
>conservative National Action Party may also betray those hopes, but no
>party in Mexico can count any longer on the automatic support of workers
> U.S. labor needs a similar independence.
> Labor needs to fight for equal rights for all people, especially
>the migrants who are the refugees of globalization, and have the least
>security of anyone. The right of all workers to organize, and fight for
>greater security and a higher standard of living, must be protected.
> But those who the system currently protects are not going to
>concede greater security to those who lack it, in the interests of an
>overarching classless national security. Security may be a right, but it
>is one that has to be fought for.
> To win it, workers need class solidarity, not the national security
>promoted by their employers. No one can win by themselves.
> Security is not national, but international. It must be extended
>beyond borders to include all the world's working people.
>david bacon - labornet email david bacon
>internet: dbacon at igc.apc.org 1631 channing way
>phone: 510.549.0291 berkeley, ca 94703