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Workers solidarity against NAFTA

Carolyn Egan

November 28, 2017

The NAFTA negotiations have been going on for months but without a strong movement on the ground in Canada. Decades ago when it was first on the table the labour movement and community organizations were in the streets raising the issues of the working class and the poor. In those days opposition to NAFTA dominated political discussions, even the Liberal Party initially opposed the free trade deal. Chretien campaigned against it during the federal election, but had his mind changed, and once in government pushed it through Parliament in support of the corporate sector. Make no mistake, the Liberals have always been a party of business, and it is they who are negotiating on our behalf.

Today there’s little discussion taking place among ordinary people across Canada. It seems to be reserved for “Power and Politics” and other media that share the ups and downs of the talks with little input from those who would be most affected. It has not been a question that has engaged people around kitchen tables or work place lunch rooms. When the negotiations were taking place in Ottawa the trade unions should have mobilized members through a process of political education and national protests. In Mexico that is exactly what happened and civil society joined with labour in demanding the country pull out of the talks.

There’s no “team Canada”

There is a myth that Mexican workers have taken the jobs of US and Canadian workers and have greatly benefited from the deal. It’s not the case and this was made very clear in the streets of Mexico City. Workers in all three countries have to work together in solidarity. They have no common interest with their employers who are only concerned with maximizing profits at the expense of the working class everywhere. There should be no “Team Canada” approach to this deal. We’re not all in it together. Chapter 11 of the existing deal allows corporations to contravene labour and environmental protection. Foreign investors have the right to sue governments if they feel legislation would interfere with their business goals. Canada has been subjected to many suits and it looks to be only getting worse.

Trade has increased among all three countries but the profits have gone to the corporate elite. Workers have not benefited anywhere, as the Mexican unions have made very clear. Environmental and labour protections are presently very weak and the needs of business are primary. NAFTA has never been a deal that has been in the interest of workers or the climate and it’s not getting any better. The Good Jobs for All Coalition in Toronto has organized a teach-in and public forum hoping to kick start a broader discussion of NAFTA and its implications for working people. There will be another set of talks coming up in Montreal in the new year and hopefully there can be mobilizations putting the needs of the people of all three countries first.

Solidarity in struggle

We have recently seen victories and strikes that hopefully may signal an upswing in struggle. The significant win of the Fight for $15 in Ontario along with other improvements to employment standards and labour law was the result of broad and consistent organizing across the province. It was a huge victory that shows that significant change can take place through collective struggle. The recent community college faculty strike involving over 12,000 workers in 24 colleges across Ontario showed the awakening of a significant section of the labour movement with an overwhelming rejection of the employer’s final offer. Over the weeks of the strike strong workplace resistance was forged which resulted in an active and engaged membership. Student support was also very important. Even though the Liberal government, in a terrible betrayal, legislated the workers back, they went in with their heads held high because of the strong fight they put up.

This momentum can give confidence to other areas of struggle. The much smaller Ippolito strike at the Ontario Food Terminal, where immigrant workers along with community supporters shut down the entire terminal, shows how gains can be made through solidarity. The working class and its most vulnerable elements, women, racialized communities and Indigenous peoples, have so much to lose and our voices must be heard in the ongoing NAFTA debate. International solidarity is the only way that the working class will win against the capitalists who have only their own interests at heart.  

Join the Good Jobs for All Coalition teach-in and public forum “What’s up with NAFTA: the impacts on jobs and equity”, Monday December 4 at Steelworkers Hall (25 Cecil St), Toronto: teach-in 5-6:30pm, public forum 7pm

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