“Every age and generation is and must be (as a matter of right) as free to act for itself in all cases, as the age and generation that preceded it.”
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(October 15, 2011) The business interests that purse neoliberal labor strategy (NLS) are relentless — the offshoring of US transportation jobs to Mexico has commenced. The cross-border provisions of NAFTA have been enacted and both US and “Mexican” trucks were given the green light to cross the border and make deliveries inside the other country. As we predicted in “The Looming Deadline” several small companies are going first while the transnational corporations (TNCs) are waiting in the wings and monitoring public reaction. Lack of significant resistance will result in a flood of Mexican drivers working at Mexican wages driving TNC trucks to make deliveries across the continent. If successful, this NLS initiative will be another blow to the working middle classes of the US.
The decline of the American working class under the neoliberal labor strategy that has evolved over the last 45 years has been ruinous for millions of working people, their families, and their communities. Yet few people are willing to face the full implications of labor’s decline — increasing economic austerity for a majority of Americans and the prospect of a bleak future for the greater part of America’s youth and coming generations. Knowledge of how it happened and what is at stake offers concrete guidelines for political action.
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The North American Free Trade Agreement is the gift that keeps on giving to transnational corporations (TNCs) and taking from US workers. Now, following the migration of countless manufacturing jobs in the 1990s and early 2000s, tens of thousands of US transportation jobs are about to move south of the border.
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Synopsis: The ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 was a stab-in-the-back to the working people of North America. In his remarks on signing NAFTA, President Bill Clinton cited his primary reason for supporting the treaty: “First of all, because NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support this agreement.” Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford were all present at the signing ceremony to support NAFTA as Ronald Reagan had done in an op-ed published a few days earlier.
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“Boycotting is an act of Civic Revolution. To engage in a concerted refusal to have any dealings with a person, company, or organization in order to effect change is a form of direct political action available to every citizen regardless of her/his social status.”
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The USA, along with the rest of world, is facing a series of daunting economic, social, and environmental crises. Only a civic revolution based on the recognition of human rights and responsibilities offers the possibility of a sustainable and democratic future for the nation and the world.
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Royal Dutch Shell’s program to slash 5,000 jobs by the end of 2009, many of them at its US headquarters in Houston, Texas, is the latest example of the impact of neoliberal globalization on working people. Dubbed a “job migration” by Shell, the program will transfer many good-paying corporate white-collar jobs to “shared service centers” in India and the Philippines.
The history of Shell in the USA follows the corporate strategy of what we have called a war of attrition against US labor. Shell moved its US headquarters from New York City to Houston in 1970 at the height of the runaway shop movement in order to exploit cheaper white-collar labor in the US South and is now jumping on the bandwagon of offshoring to the Far East for the same purpose — to increase profitability.
The rationale that Shell offers is that they must “get leaner to compete”, but their latest labor program, dubbed, Transition 2009, though good for the company’s bottom line, exacerbates the economic crisis in the US — every job lost reduces the demand for goods and services and undermines the position of working people even more. This pervasive practice of offshoring is another neoliberal initiative that is as short-sighted as the runaway shop program was.
Until sustainable economic policies replace the opportunistic schemes of neoliberal globalization — the position of working people across the nation will continue to deteriorate. We have listed specific policy changes for meeting the present crisis in the Fighting Back section of “The Fight of Our Lives”.
AMITY ISLAND–June, 1975. Police Chief Martin Brody, who had just recovered the mangled body of the victim of a horrific shark attack, was called to an emergency meeting of the town council. There is was shark problem, Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn informed Brody, no need to be alarmist. The tourist season was about to open and business needed to proceed as usual. Brody reluctantly deferred to the businessmen who ran the town. The disastrous results are cinema history (JAWS).
GRANITE CITY, Ill. — March, 2009. Jeff Rains, a retired steelworker from the Granite City steel mill made a disturbing discovery. While waiting for a slow freight train to pass by, he noticed that the flatcars were loaded with stacks of steel pipe — all clearly stenciled, “MADE IN INDIA” (For photos and story see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/business/economy/16pipe.html?scp=1&sq=pipe%20from%20India&st=cse). This pipe was passing through his city where the local steel mill has been shut down since December — the first time in its 130 year history — and 2,000 workers (10 percent of the city’s work force) have been laid-off.
The final destination of the Indian tubing was the 1,600 mile Keystone Pipeline now being constructed to transport oil from the tar sand fields in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Oklahoma. A section of this pipeline will pass close to Granite City. Forty percent of the 560,000 tons of pipe purchased for the project was produced in India.
“I was very mad when I saw that they were imported; I wondered why this pipe had not been made in the United States,” the New York Times quoted Rains as saying.
After the train had passed, Rains headed to the local union hall to sound the alarm.
Rains’ alarm got lost in transmission. In defiance of logic and common sense, the United Steelworkers’ leaders continue to endorse the free trade policies that have stimulated the mass offshoring of US manufacturing jobs to the cheapest labor markets on earth. With convoluted reasoning union officials argue that the Indian and Chinese steel flooding the US market is not a result of free trade but “a violation of fair trade“! It is the generous subsidies of the Indian government, they contend, that allows for the dumping of steel in the US at below market value. Not a word was said about the US government underwriting the brutal exploitation of foreign labor abroad or ignoring the needs of displaced workers at home.
There are no sharks in the water, Mr. Rains, and free trade is good for you and your community!
US capitalism is utilizing all of the resources that it commands–the mass media, well-funded think tanks and lobbyists, extensive university connections, and class collaborators within the ranks of organized labor–to obscure the critical issue that is at the heart of the current national and global crisis–the fact that free trade labor is a zero-sum game for working people that they will continue to lose until they confront it openly (http://combatingglobalization.com/articles/free_trade_labor.html).
The sharks in the water in the present scenario are the free trade advocates who are working feverishly behind the scene for more free trade to solve the current crisis of capitalism. The last thing working people of the world need now is to continue swimming with the neoliberal sharks.
In Combating Globalization we define slash-and-burn capitalism as the practice of transnational corporations whereby they set up a factory in a cheap labor market, extract as much surplus value as possible from that operation, and then abandon the plant when it is no longer profitable.
We also point out that slash-and-burn capitalism leaves disrupted communities and environmental ruin in its wake.
This is happening all over Mexico today as a result of the global meltdown of transnational capitalism.
The small town of Los Rodriguez in central Mexico offers a prime example of slash-and-burn.
After the adoption of NAFTA, GM built a plant in Los Rodriguez to produce Chevy Suburbans, GMC Yukons, and Cadillac Escalades primarily for the US market. More than 15,000 workers Mexican workers found employment in the assembly plant and the 70 satellite plants that supplied it.
Now the jobs are gone and the workers are out on the dusty streets of Los Rodriquez with no prospects of local employment and opportunities for jobs in other parts of Mexico or across the international border in the US rapidly fading.
This small Mexican town is actually in a worse situation that it was before it became a boom town–the idle GM complex occupies the fields where Los Rodriguez’s farmers had traditionally grazed their livestock and planted their corn and bean crops. Not even subsistence agriculture is possible now.
While GM might reopen the Los Rodriguez plant, there are indications that it is planning to invest the bail-out money that it hopes to receive in its Eastern European and Far East Asian operations where labor is even cheaper than it is in Mexico.
NAFTA was a classic neoliberal free trade policy that promised prosperity for workers on both side on the international border.
As the full impact of NAFTA becomes clear so does the imperative to renegotiate the treaty with labor rights and environmental protection as central concerns.
The fight over NAFTA is a major skirmish in the battle against transnational capitalism that pits the workers of different countries against each other.