By Gerard Di Trolio
The first round of NAFTA negotiations are now over. The talks will be moving next to Mexico and then to Canada during September. We don’t know where there is broad agreement or major contention over the issues. We do know however, that given the length of time that it took for NAFTA to be originally negotiated, these talks are moving very quickly.
The Liberal government has promised that environmental, indigenous, and labour protections in any renegotiated NAFTA. But we’ve heard this before. The original NAFTA deal included the side treaties of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation.
Those side treaties have done little to stem environmental degradation and falling living standards for workers. The situation in Canada and the U.S. is well known. What is less well known is the effect on Mexican workers.
South of the US border, two million agricultural jobs were lost due to competition with U.S. agribusiness. Maquiladora factories proliferated across the Mexico-U.S. border and brought with them sweatshop conditions. These factories employ mostly by women. There was some initial pressure on the Mexican government to respect labour laws and allow the independence of the main trade union federation, the Confederation of Mexican Workers, which had been nothing more than an appendage and patronage machine of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional during Mexico’s era of one-party rule. However, nothing has really progressed on these fronts.
The maquiladoras got around the increased initial scrutiny of labour standards by locating along Mexico’s northern border. Not only did this make transporting goods from the U.S. to be assembled easier, the high number of migrant workers in this area made it easier to exploit workers and use high turnover as a way to undermine union organizing.
You can’t trust Justin Trudeau
Trudeau, who never misses an opportunity to try to show how socially progressive he is, has had his government tout new NAFTA provisions to recognize and respect Indigenous rights and promote gender equality.
It’s astonishing that his government is even trying to use this as some sort of legitimating device during the talks.
By now, Trudeau’s broken promises to Indigenous peoples is well known. There is his government’s inaction on a court ruling requiring equal child services for children on reserves, and the refusal to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He has presided over the recent Enbridge-Chippewa of the Thames Supreme Court ruling that flagrantly violates Indigenous rights and establishes the corrupt National Energy Board as a legitimate representative of the Crown.
To expect a better NAFTA from a government that has not even tepidly rejected neoliberalism is a fantasy.
Ultimately, some sort of deal is going to be signed, and given the players involved, any sort of progressive sounding items will most likely be cosmetic. It will be up the the labour movement in NAFTA’s three members to build cross border solidarity that will either radically reform the treaty or see it off into the history books.