AFL-CIO: Fighting Trade Battles from 25 Years Ago

By August 13, 2007Labor Unions, Trade

Michael Barone on trade, the AFL-CIO, and congressional politics, “FTA, FYI.”

You can sum up the reason why most congressional Democrats are voting against FTAs in six letters: AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO did a splendid job raising money and turning out voters for Democrats in 2006. Their efforts were highly sophisticated and they may very well have made the difference in Democrats gaining their majorities. And the AFL-CIO is dead set against free trade. It was unhappy with the Clinton administration when it pushed through the NAFTA with Mexico in 1993 and predicted big job losses, and is not phased by the fact that the United States has produced nearly 30 million new jobs net since that time.

This is a classic example of interests of the past trumping interests of the future. Nearly half of all union members today are public employees, almost none of whom are likely to be replaced by workers abroad. But the union movement is still in mourning for the hundreds of thousands of jobs in auto factories, steel mills and other industries that disappeared in the recession of 1979-1982. The denunciations of NAFTA and the votes against CAFTA and the pending FTAs are protests against what happened in Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh a quarter century ago.

Barone warns of terrible consequences if nostalgia for organized labor’s more powerful days kills trade agreements with Peru, Panama, South Korea and especially Colombia, fighting for its very democratic survival.

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