America doesn't need another so-called 'free trade agreement'

George Washington, protectionist, made it a point to wear an American-made suit to his first inauguration.

The father of our country understood that America has to protect its ability to make things important to Americans. Today, that means things like steel. Brake drums. Airplane parts. Computer chips. Locomotive engines. Safe toys. Food that doesn't kill us.

What America doesn't need right now is another so-called "free-trade agreement" that kills that ability.

Sadly, President Bush recently signed the latest NAFTA-style trade deal with Peru. More deals - with Colombia, Panama and South Korea - are in the pipeline.

American workers don't want these deals. They've seen through the false promises that "free trade" will create more exports, better jobs and better wages. Instead, NAFTA, CAFTA and PNTR brought trade deficits, shuttered factories, poisoned toothpaste and lead toys.

Free traders like to say labor unions are backward-looking protectionists. They love to dust off the old myth that Sen. Reed Smoot and Rep. Willis Hawley caused the Great Depression by passing the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Act.

What free-traders never tell you is that Smoot-Hawley became law in 1930, eight months after the Great Depression started. They don't tell you that Franklin Roosevelt's "free trade agreements" with 14 countries didn't do anything to help the American economy.

There's a reason free-traders always end up shouting "protectionist." They don't want you to hear that giant sucking sound from south of the border.

We heard that sucking sound in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Mr. Coffee plant shut down and moved to Mexico, throwing 400 Teamsters out of work.

We heard it in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the Circle D plant packed up and left, and in Long Island City, N.Y., where the Swingline Stapler plant no longer employs hundreds of our members.

Where did those factories go? To Mexico, where they now sit in the slums of their own making.

Those slums are filled with poor Mexican farmers, wiped out when U.S. agribusiness flooded Mexico with cheap, subsidized grain. Many Mexican farmers immigrated to the U.S. In the first year after NAFTA took effect, 80,000 people were arrested in Arizona alone for trying to enter the country illegally, a 53 percent increase over the previous year.

American workers were promised something different. They were promised that illegal immigration would subside. They were promised that America would get richer by helping Mexico grow into a strong trading partner.

Those promises never made any sense. This is a world where capital circles the globe in seconds and assembly lines are shipped across borders in days. Eliminating trade barriers between a developed country and an undeveloped country can't possibly result in the free-traders' fantasy, where each country concentrates on what it makes best in the most efficient way.

Of course, these deals aren't just about tearing down trade barriers.

NAFTA was more about protecting foreign investment and giving U.S. corporations access to cheap Mexican labor. NAFTA was negotiated by a self-serving political elite in Mexico that feared the country was drowning in debt and needed to keep attracting foreign investment.

Ordinary Mexicans didn't agree to the deal - just as ordinary Peruvians didn't agree to the latest version of NAFTA.

Ordinary Americans aren't too happy about it either. Anyone who aspires to the office that George Washington once held had best understand that.

James P. Hoffa
General President



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen