Many Americans can’t ignore what the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) did to their communities.
We daily drive past the empty factories, the rusting conveyor belts and storage silos, the rotting and fading signs of businesses which used to employ thousands and now sit derelict and rat-infested, like so many haunted houses. Our towns’ pot-holed streets are lined with sad-eyed abandoned homes, repossessed in the 2008 mortgage crisis fiasco. Simply put, the post-NAFTA world is not pretty, especially in the “Rust Belt.” We may try to forget, but the ugly evidence gives testimony to this “failed-the-people” trade agreement.
Millennials and younger Americans in the Rust Belt have no memory of how beautiful and busy this area used to be. We Baby Boomers tell them “fairy tales” about how our families had only one breadwinner (usually Dad), who made union wages working in the auto-related industries. With this one income, we had our very own home, our very own car (paid for out of savings – we had never heard of “installment buying”), and we even had enough money left over possibly for a boat and/or an RV. We even had family outings called “vacations,” which meant trips to the lake most summer weekends.
Even odder for the younger generations to understand is how we Boomers enjoyed having our parents around the house in the evenings and on weekends. Dad only worked the one job and Mom was free to help out with our local Scout troop, instead of both parents being forced to work a second or third job, so commonplace, nowadays. Food banks? They must have existed, but most families had enough money to feed their growing families.
An idyllic existence? Maybe. At least in our “fairy tale world,” with our parents making union wages, we lived a solidly middle-class life and had hopes the next generation would be better off than the ones before.
Enter the era of NAFTA. Say good-bye to union wages. Say good-bye to your job as it is “outsourced” to Mexico or elsewhere. Say good-bye to being able to afford to see a doctor. Say good-bye to your formerly-prosperous small town and hello to the nightmare world of low-paying service industry jobs, if you were lucky enough to land one in a distant big city.
Say hello to higher taxes on the working poor. Say hello to underfunded social service agencies, deteriorating public schools and empty food banks. Say hello to a stressed populace with a rising opiate/alcohol addiction rate and zero health insurance. Say hello to more crime, as people cope the best they can in a rigged economy.
President Obama and the establishment presidential candidates are now pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. It’s been nicknamed “NAFTA on steroids” by pundits. What really makes the TPP special is how it’s been kept secret from just about everyone – including our elected representatives – so we couldn’t raise objections quickly enough to stop its passage. More ominous still, once it’s passed, the TPP states it can’t be rescinded without the unanimous decision of all twelve partners.
Perhaps the scariest part of the TPP (and other related trade agreements–TTIP, TISA) are the provisions which state private corporations can sue governments (whole countries, states, counties, cities, even small Rust Belt towns) if they want to do something – let’s say dump a load of chemicals into the local water supply – and the government makes a law telling the corporations it’s illegal to do this activity. Under the rules of the TPP, corporations get to choose a private mediator to judge the merits of their claim. The corporation can make a claim that following environmental laws (which protect the people) interferes in their ability to make (get this!) a private profit. Since the corporations pick the mediator panelists, who could very well be their ex-employees, it doesn’t take much imagination to guess who will lose these cases.
TPP, simply put, means “public costs, private profits.”
Under the TPP, we can say good-bye to any improvements to abate pollution in our air, water, and land that have been made since the conception of the Environmental Protection Agency. Outsourcing even more jobs and shuttering even more American factories under the TPP might be the least of our worries, once we’re all dying of cancers caused by environmental toxins.
Former Secretary of State Clinton “sold” the TPP to the world during her tenure. Her running mate, Tim Kaine, is also a big proponent of the TPP. Donald Trump has occasionally said he was against it and yet his private corporations stand to make even more profits under it. Most business analysts state Trump’s actions indicate he’s in the pro-TPP camp, as is Libertarian Gary Johnson.
Only Green Party candidate Jill Stein has expressed opposition to the TPP as an infringement upon our democracy and yet another agency for leveling more disaster upon ordinary Americans. We the people of the Rust Belt can’t afford to be plundered by another NAFTA. We have to put our families’ well-being and our communities’ concerns first. It’s why many voters are voting Green in 2016. We want our healthy small towns back.
Bio: Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of Our Revolution Continues–The Bernie Blog: http://bernie2016.blogspot.com