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Trump and the NAFTA Effect

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Donald Trump and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. August 31, 2016.
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During his campaign and his presidency, Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement if Canada and Mexico refused to renegotiate a "much better deal."

"A Trump administration will renegotiate NAFTA," Candidate Trump declared at one campaign stop after another, "and if we don't get the deal we want, we will terminate NAFTA and get a much better deal for our workers and our companies; 100 percent."

But as with many issues, the reality of Trump often doesn't measure up to the rhetoric. I spoke to noted labor journalist and photographer David Bacon about the prospects for NAFTA and free trade under Trump, and the devastating impacts that such policies have had and will continue to have on workers and undocumented workers in particular.

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Bacon's books include The Right to Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration. I spoke to him on Nov. 1, 2017 for Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio.

Dennis Bernstein: During the campaign, Trump talked about getting rid of NAFTA. Where are we now in "free trade land"?

David Bacon: Trump promised that he would renegotiate NAFTA, but, after all, Obama made the same promise when he was running for office. They were appealing for the votes of people who were hurt by the agreement here. NAFTA did have an enormous impact on working people in this country.

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The Economic Policy Institute says that NAFTA cost the jobs of about 680,000 people in the US. The Department of Labor used to keep track of job losses because people who could show that they lost their job because it was moved to Mexico were entitled to get extended unemployment benefits. By the time Bush became president, that number had already reached about half a million people and Bush told the Department of Labor to stop counting because it was becoming politically embarrassing for all the politicians who had voted for the treaty.

There is no question that NAFTA did have an impact on people here and in many ways it led to a kind of displacement here that was similar to what we saw during the Depression, with people coming from the Dustbowl, but also what we are seeing with people coming here from Mexico.

Although the rhetoric of Trump and the Republican Party pits workers in this country against workers in Mexico -- because we lost jobs, Mexicans must have gained those jobs -- the reality is that Mexico lost many more jobs than they gained. But one of the things that did happen to people in this country is the migration of people internally in the United States.

When the Green Giant plant shut down here in Watsonville and moved operations to Mexico, a thousand immigrant Mexican women lost those jobs so that Green Giant could then pay women in Mexico one-tenth the wage to do the same work. Many of the women who lost their jobs had to go somewhere else to find work, the same way that people had to who lost their jobs in auto plants.

We also saw the same thing happen with people coming here from Mexico. About 3 million farmers in southern Mexico lost their jobs because of corn dumping by big US agricultural corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, and many of those people ended up coming here to the United States. One thing that progressive unions are trying to do is point out to people the similarity of experiences on either side of the border and that the only way to deal with the impact of treaties like NAFTA is by reaching across the border in solidarity. The idea that the Trump administration is going to force General Motors to bring jobs back to the United States is just ridiculous.

Dennis Bernstein: So Trump hasn't brought back thousands of jobs yet?

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David Bacon: No, and he's not going to.

Dennis Bernstein: What has been the trend with NAFTA , where do you see this going?

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)
 

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