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Synthesis/Regeneration 6   (Spring 1993)

NAFTA: Constitutional and Legal Issues

by Ron Reed, SouthEast Alaska Greens, Juneau Chapter

Last Spring, European free-marketeers' well-laid plans for a supranational European state suddenly went astray when the Danish people voted to reject the Maastricht Treaty, and the French came close to following suit. The rejection came after months of pro-treaty propaganda from virtually the entire mainstream European media and despite dire warnings by government leaders of the potential consequences should the vote turn out as it did. The result, as with the Canadian constitution Meech Lake accords, showed that the people who are affected by plans drawn up by political and business elites can materially affect those plans in turn—if they are allowed any say in the matters under discussion.

For this reason, the "people who own" the United States have always been adamant that "democracy" should involve a limited franchise at best, and, under no circumstances, should it extend to the economic sphere. Our history, in fact, is the chronicle of the struggle between the citizenry at large, seeking to extend and broaden the polity, and the monied and powerful elites, seeking to narrow and constrain it.

NAFTA and GATT seek to reduce local autonomy and the possibility of significant input into decisions that affect individuals, communities, states, and whole regions. By allowing supranational committees, answerable only to business elites, to override not only local ordinances but even Constitutional law (under the rubric of "unfair trade practices"), they are intended to end the "crisis of democracy" once and for all.

Greens need to organize and build alliances with ...all the millions of people who will be adversely affected by the new world corporate order, and who historically have been the victims of the old one.

The entire logic of free trade rests on the mobility of capital, the globalization of the marketplace, and the lack of mobility of labor and communities. In a free-for-all in which the lowest bidder "wins," workers in all countries end up competing with each other to offer the lowest-cost, least militant, most obsequious labor conditions possible, while countries vie with one another to repeal environmental standards, safety and health measures, and the right to organize.

The Constitution needs to be amended to include economic democracy, including a ban on agreements that undermine national, state, and local sovereignty in decision-making. It is fundamental that we be able to vote on whether our country should be a part (let alone the center) of such agreements. However, in the age of the transnational corporation, these measures alone will do little to reverse the trend toward corporacracy worldwide. Most US-based corporations have little more than their corporate headquarters in this country, and Japanese and European based corporations are immune to US law.

We need a system of strict and enforceable international laws that would protect workers' rights and environmental standards. In order to bring these about, Greens need to organize and build alliances with organized labor, people of color and inner city residents, Third World peasants and self-help organizations, Church-based solidarity movements, nonunionized labor both at home and abroad, community activists—in short, all the millions of people who will be adversely affected by the new world corporate order, and who historically have been the victims of the old one.

We also need to be building bridges to the general, non-active populace: the Archies and Ediths. The US has the most class-conscious business elite, and the least class-conscious population, of any developed country. For that reason, it is always an uphill battle to organize against the stifling control of the corporate class over the institutions that inhibit our understanding of the world, and that hide the commonality of our destinies with those of other peoples.

Fortunately, in NAFTA and GATT, the ruling circles have generated a wonderful opportunity for us to overcome these barriers. For while lacking class consciousness, Americans have always harbored a healthy distrust for global institutions and external control of their lives. When we talk about unaccountable elites overriding our basic Constitutional rights, and about job loss as General Motors looks for greener pastures and lower wages south of the border, we will have an attentive audience.

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