30 August 2006

This is What Happens When Trade Pacts Pit Worker Against Worker

This is What Happens When Trade Pacts Pit Worker Against Worker
By Teamsters President Jim Hoffa

July 14, 2006

Two months ago, the Teamsters sent an independent investigative reporter to Mexico to explore the inhumane conditions that drivers there are forced to endure. The findings, which will be released on www.teamster.org and to our membership next month, were startling: Most of the drivers interviewed said they had used illegal drugs to stay awake on the road. Many drivers interviewed said they had been involved in fatal accidents.

What does this mean for Americans? Right now, not much, since the Teamsters successfully lobbied Congress to require Mexican trucks to meet a series of environmental and safety requirements before they can deliver goods in the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But if the Bush administration has its way, these requirements will mean nothing. Tens of thousands of unregulated, unsafe Mexican trucks will flow unchecked through our border —a very real threat to the safety of our highways, homeland security and good-paying American jobs.

The Bush administration hasn't given up on its ridiculous quest to open our border to unsafe Mexican trucking companies. In fact, Bush is quietly moving forward with plans to build the massive network of highways from the Mexican border north through Detroit into Canada that would make cross-border trucking effortless.

The plans call for what's known as a NAFTA superhighway—a combination of existing and new roads that would create a north-south corridor from Mexico to Canada. The NAFTA superhighway would link Mexican ports with U.S. cities, bypassing U.S. entryways. It would allow global conglomerates to capitalize by exploiting cheap labor and nonexistent work rules and avoiding potential security enhancements at U.S. ports.

And Detroit is directly in the path as the busiest border crossing in the United States. Under Bush's plan, it will be the key entry point for Mexican trucks heading to Canada.

If the Bush administration succeeds, American drivers and their families will be forced to share the roads with unsafe, uninsured trucks, and millions more good-paying American jobs will be lost. And just one weapon of mass destruction in an unchecked container will be too many.

The blame does not lie with the Mexican truck drivers. They labor unconscionable hours for meager pay in a difficult struggle to support their families.

Flawed trade agreements that pit worker against worker are the real enemy. Corporations that believe profits are more important than public safety are what we should be fighting, not our exploited brothers and sisters.

NAFTA has been an unqualified disaster for working families. It hasn't lived up to the promises its advocates made in 1993. Instead of creating new jobs, American workers have lost 3 million jobs in manufacturing alone. Instead of creating trade surpluses, America is suffering through the worst trade deficits in its history.

NAFTA doesn't discriminate when it comes to hurting workers. Mexican workers have also suffered under NAFTA. Since its passage, more than a million Mexican farmers have lost their livelihoods. Real wages are also down significantly for workers south of the border. In fact, unfair trade agreements are devastating workers across all of Latin America.

Is it any wonder that illegal immigration is at an all-time high?

Millions of jobs and a $50 billion trade deficit later, Mexican trucking companies could soon enjoy a seamless point of entry directly into Detroit and other communities. It's exactly what large corporations want: Cheap Mexican-made goods driven by poorly paid drivers. And Bush shares these goals.

It's no surprise that the Bush administration is once again placing the insatiable greed of big business over the safety and economic security of Americans.

Mr. Hoffa's commentary originally appeared in The Detroit News on July 14, 2006.

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