Talking points on FTAA

John Lacny jplst15+ at
Tue Apr 17 08:05:11 PDT 2001

Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at> writes:

>Has any of you written an article, given a talk, organized a
>teach-in, etc. on the FTAA (Free Trade Area of Americas)? If you
>have an article, could you post it here or send it to me offlist?

I'll send this to the list directly, since people might like to see the following article. (Sorry if someone's already sent it; I get LBO in digest form and I haven't seen it posted yet.)

Anyway, we held a teach-in on the FTAA on the Student/Labor Day of Action, April 4, and we featured Robin Alexander (of the UE's international program) on labor; as well as a fellow Pitt student of mine (and United States Student Association board member) talking about education and a local environmental and human rights activist talking about global eco-justice movements. All in all some very good information. Since it was the Student/Labor Day of Action, we decided to have a student speaker talk specifically about the threats to education, and that part of it went well. It may seem like kind of a stretch to see the FTAA as a threat to education, but the plan IS to include education under the service provisions of the agreement, and we were helped especially by a brief that the Canadian Federation of Students ( filed with the Canadian government against the General Agreement on Trade in Services, arguing that education ought to be excluded from the GATS because (complicated point here!) education ought to be a right and not just one more commodity to be traded on the market. As you may know, the GATS is supposed to be the basis for the FTAA's service provisions.

If you ask me, the service provisions really are the most disturbing parts of the FTAA, and as Steve Early and Jeff Crosby argue in the Boston Globe article below, they should galvanize the service-sector unions which for some time have thought themselves exempt from this.

As far as general information, both the Council of Canadians ( and United for a Fair Economy (, among others, have material on the FTAA.

If you want to contact Robin over at the UE, I also know that she has some experience as a lawyer trying to utilize the labor "side agreement" of NAFTA to protect Mexican workers trying to organize. As you've probably guessed, it was a failure. I don't think she'd have a problem with your contacting her (ueintl at and asking her to share what information she has.

With that, here's the article from the Boston Globe by Steve Early and Jeff Crosby. As some of you will probably remember, Crosby was the author of "The Kids Are Alright," one of the better articles that made the rounds of the Internet in the wake of the Seattle demonstrations. For those who are interested, Crosby also has an article in the premiere issue of Freedom Road, the new magazine of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization which looks to be quite good; the article addresses anti-"globalization" activists and talks about the necessity for alliance-building, anti-racism, etc. (

John Lacny

---------- Forwarded Message ---------- Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2001 07:24:07 -0400 From: portsideMod at Subject: What's at stake in Quebec City - a labor view

What's At Stake In Quebec City--A Labor View  

Quebec & Beyond: Where's The Anti-Globalization Fight Headed?

By Steve Early and Jeff Crosby

Apr 14, 2001 Sunday Boston Globe (4/15/2001)

It has become increasingly difficult for trade negotiators--or officials of global financial institutions--to hold a high-profile meeting anywhere in the world without drawing a crowd of vocal, "anti-globalization" protesters.

From the "battle in Seattle" over the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999 to confrontations last Spring at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., and Switzerland's Davos Forum this winter, friends and foes of trade deregulation are trading blows on a regular basis.    

The conference of Western Hemisphere political leaders, scheduled to begin April 20 in Quebec City, will be no exception. When President George Bush arrives at this "Summit of the Americas" to push for creation of a free-trade zone extending from Canada to Chile, he and government ministers from 33 other nations will need more than the security of North America's only walled city to fend off protests by students, workers, environmentalists, and community groups. Negotiations on the proposed "Free Trade Area of the Americas" (FTAA) will take place behind a protective cordon of 5,000 Canadian police and a prison-style metal fence running around the entire 2.3 mile perimeter of the city center. Already, jail space is being cleared to accommodate hundreds of demonstrators who could be arrested. Others may be stopped at the Canadian border. Not since the Vietnam War has U.S. government policy-making -- albeit about economic issues rather than military intervention -- aroused such continuing controversy, at home and abroad. On the eve of the latest cross-border showdown between big corporations, their government allies, and grassroots supporters of an emerging "global justice movement," it is worth examining what's at stake in this fight and where it's headed.    

President Bush has made the FTAA one of the highest priorities of his new administration. He and Republican leaders in Congress hope to accelerate the secretive process of reaching multi-national consensus on this vast expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). To insure that any deal worked out by U.S. trade negotiator Robert Zoellick won't later be amended when put to a vote on Capitol Hill, the White House is also seeking "fast track" negotiating authority -- something that President Clinton was never able to regain after getting Congress to ratify NAFTA and the WTO in 1993-94. Bush wants "fast track" approved now so congressional critics of the impact of Clinton's trade deals can't change the FTAA in ways that might better protect the interests of labor, consumers, and the environment.

Defenders of all three are mobilizing against FTAA -- in Washington and, soon, in Quebec City -- because they believe, correctly, that it will be like "NAFTA on steroids." Under the FTAA, as with NAFTA, private corporations would have the ability to sue any signatory government over any domestic law or regulation that interfered with their business activity in that particular country. While NAFTA lifted tariff barriers between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, the FTAA aims to introduce "market competition" into the public sector of local economies throughout the Western Hemisphere. It means, therefore, that all 34 nations involved would have to open up -- to private investment -- their health care and pension systems, schools, public utilities, and other governmental services (such as prisons, mail delivery, water supply, sewage treatment, etc.). As The New York Times reported last month -- in a story entitled "NAFTA's Powerful Little Secret" -- North American firms are already filing legal claims under NAFTA which have "led to national laws being revoked, justice systems questioned, and environmental regulations challenged...all in the name of protecting the rights of foreign investors." In one recent case, heard behind the closed-doors of NAFTA's trade dispute tribunals, Mexico was ordered to pay $16.7 million to Metalclad, a California-based waste disposal company, whose toxic dump in the state of San Luis Potosi was closed by local authorities. In another proceeding, the Ethyl Corporation from Ohio used a similar $250 million "expropriation" claim to head off a Canadian ban on one of its products, a hazardous gasoline additive known as MMT. Meanwhile, United Parcel Service (UPS) has filed a complaint challenging the very existence of a publicly-financed postal service in Canada -- one of a number of cases aimed not at "trade" as traditionally defined, but rather that pesky impediment to corporate profits known as democracy.

The privatizing thrust of NAFTA -- and the broader threat to the public sector posed by the FTAA -- has had one salutary effect, however. It's helping opponents of corporate-dominated trade deals mobilize a much broader spectrum of public opinion, here and abroad, against the Bush Administration's plans. Previously, even much of organized labor viewed "free trade" as a concern only of union members in manufacturing jobs (which have indeed been decimated, in both the U.S. and Canada, by NAFTA).

Now the handwriting is on the wall for millions of other wage earners, in North and South America. Both those directly employed in the public sector and the far larger population dependent on social insurance systems for their medical care, pensions, or unemployment benefits face an uncertain future if FTAA is adopted. "The FTAA will affect the overall social and political context in which public policy decisions are made," predicts free-trade critic Elaine Bernard, a Canadian who directs the Harvard Trade Union Program. "It demands that policies set according to democratic and community values be eliminated and replaced with market principles. The result will be downward pressure on wages, working conditions, labor and environmental standards." FTAA opponents are rallying around a slogan that's definitely out of step with the current trend toward liberalization of trade and investment. "The world," they say, "is not for sale!" At a "People's Summit" that will be held in Quebec City just before the official one begins, hundreds of representatives of non-governmental groups will present a grassroots alternative to "corporate globalization." Their plan calls for sustainable economic development throughout the Western Hemisphere, protection of social programs, workers' rights, and the environment, respect for local sovereignty and democratic decision-making, and greater "transparency" in the process of negotiating trade agreements and resolving subsequent disputes. Boston-area and New England-wide coalitions involved in the "People's Summit" reflect the growing strength and diversity of anti-FTAA forces. While the split last Fall between campus-based groups, who backed Ralph Nader for president, and the AFL-CIO unions that went all out for Al Gore created some temporary rifts, the "Blue-Green" alliance that emerged from Seattle in 1999 is back on track in the northeast. Years of watching Massachusetts manufacturing jobs -- at General Electric, General Motors, and other firms -- migrate to Mexico has made union members like Paul Babin, an electronic technician from Melrose, more open to working with activists from non-labor backgrounds.

Babin's employer of 22 years is Ametek Aerospace in Wilmington, which has been shifting production to Reynosa, Mexico at the expense of local jobs for the last two years. "They tell us that labor costs in the Northeast are too high," Babin says. "By moving to Reynosa, they can hire people to do the same work for $6 a day. That's why we need all the allies we can get in the fight to keep these multinational companies from running away."    

In addition to bringing 20 busloads of New Englanders to Quebec City on April 21, the labor, environmental and consumer groups opposed to FTAA are also targeting members of Congress, who are being asked by President Bush to support "fast track" negotiating authority. Some local  Democrats -- in both the House and Senate -- have a very poor record on trade issues. Despite mounting public opposition, they've backed NAFTA, the WTO, last year's normalization of trade relations with China, plus previous "fast track" bids by the Clinton Administration. This year's vote on "fast track" will provide the Democrats with yet another chance to demonstrate which side they're on. Hopefully, having a  Republican in the White House will make it easier for them to choose between the interests of their constituents and corporate America's latest power-grab. If, however, the Democratic Party fails to resist expansion of NAFTA, the alienation of progressive voters that cost it the White House last Fall will continue -- and may affect the political fortunes of candidates other than Al Gore.

(Steve Early is an International Representative for the Communications Workers of America. Jeff Crosby is president of the Lynn, Mass. IUE-CWA local which represents workers at General Electric and Ametek Aerospace.)

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