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A Town Meeting On NAFTA
"Free trade was what motivated Columbus to embark on his voyages." Speaking for Big Mountain Support Group, Daniel Romano kicked off the October, 1992 Town Meeting linking the quincentennial to current proposals for free trade. Over 100 St. Louisans heard testimony from labor, environmental and human rights activists on the potential effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
During the last two decades, St. Louisans have been particularly hard hit by the flight of industry—from clothing, shoes and electrical manufacturing to auto factories. Jerry Tucker, head of the New Directions Movement, told what NAFTA could mean for Auto Workers: "The reorganization of the North American automobile industry is already well under way...Both parts production and final assembly are being shifted away from traditional auto centers in the US Midwest, central Canada, and central Mexico, to new plants in northern Mexico...While auto parts employment in the US dropped 85,000 jobs during the 1980s, employment in Mexico's export-oriented auto maquiladora plants rose by about 80,000 jobs."
Testimony from Joan Suarez, International Vice President of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, expressed outrage that "...the administration has spent hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to send US jobs offshore!" She added, "American taxpayers are supporting a dozen Central American and Caribbean investment promotion offices in the US. Their mission? To sell US companies on the advantages of moving offshore to exploit the 50 cent hourly wages in the Caribbean Basin."
"In September, a group of us went on a border delegation sponsored by the Interfaith Committee on Latin America..." recounted Maggie Fisher. She pulled together labor, environmental, and human rights issues with slides from the northern Mexico: "Colonias are unincorporated areas here in Matamoros. Squatters have settled, having come from the interior to seek jobs in the maquilas. These streets feed off a larger one—and the women have won the victories of having the main street paved, of having bus transportation along it and having water brought in—one community faucet at the intersection—for the entire neighborhood...People bring containers in which to carry the water, containers which may have held pesticides and herbicides." American Friends Service Committee representative Bill Ramsey voiced concern that NAFTA will perpetuate the serious abuses of human rights which "...occur in the enforcement of immigration along the US-Mexico border."
Laura Barrett, of the Missouri Public Interest Research Group, noted that international trade treaties can actually undo federal and state laws. According to Sierra Club member Rick Lamonica, "The greatest danger with free trade is the empowerment of transnational corporations to transcend political governments and expand exploitation everywhere. It institutes methods for corporations to circumvent environmental, labor, and consumer protection regulations through appointed, unaccountable international trade bureaucrats that can declare laws "hidden trade barriers."
The St. Louis forum exemplifies the many programs being presented by coalitions springing up all over North America. Articles in this section are taken from testimony given in St. Louis. (Leland Eikermann's also includes comments made on KDHX FM 88.1 and other Missouri talks.) They are the thoughts of participants in the struggle against NAFTA. (Readers unfamiliar with GATT and NAFTA might first look at Miriama Williams' article in Section 2.) Some testimony may be inconsistent with Green views—but diversity is important to examine when building coalitions. Can labor, environment and human rights activists join together to defeat NAFTA? How can we ensure that our work does not compromise Green values?