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Workers Tell Congress: ‘Yes to Good Jobs, No to CAFTA’

Source: AFL-CIO

More than 1,000 workers from the United States and the Dominican Republic joined union leaders and members of Congress to tell Capitol Hill lawmakers: “Yes to good jobs, No to CAFTA (
Central American Free Trade Agreement).”

Congress is holding hearings on the agreement, which is President George W. Bush’s top trade priority. If approved, CAFTA would extend the negative economic impacts and environmental damage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the Dominican Republic and five Central American countries.

“I’ve seen what NAFTA did. That’s why we have to fight so hard against CAFTA,” says Shon Jones, former president of USW Local 4-0836 (formerly a PACE International Union local) in Orange, Texas. At a May 10 Capitol Hill press conference held in conjunction with the rally, Jones described how the 2003 relocation to Mexico of one of the town’s major manufacturing employers, A. Schulman, a supplier of plastic resins, devastated the town and destroyed hundreds of lives. His best friend, who lost his job at the plant and was unable to find full-time work, made ends meet by building houses. Last month, his friend died of a heart attack at age 41.

“NAFTA took his job. If he hadn’t lost his job, his wife and two children wouldn’t be left with no money and no health insurance,” Jones says.

“The Bush administration and their corporate buddies want to take their version of the race to the bottom to the Dominican Republic and Central America with a new corporate bill of rights,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka told the crowd. “Under CAFTA, mega-corporations get all the breaks by breaking the backs of workers.” UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor and USW President Leo Gerard also spoke at the rally. USW is the merged union of the Steelworkers and PACE.

The rally and press conference culminated the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council (IUC) Conference May 9–10 in Washington, D.C., where nearly 1,300 workers from 12 unions met to address health care costs, the Bush administration’s scheme to privatize Social Security and the nation’s decline in manufacturing jobs—a decline that in no small part has resulted from bad trade deals such as CAFTA. After the rally, the IUC members met with their senators and representatives to push for bold new initiatives to create good jobs.

The rally also kicked off a weeklong “CAFTA––We Don’t Hafta” tour by workers from the United States, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala. The May 10–18 tour, which coincides with visits of Central American presidents to the White House, will travel from Washington, D.C., to New York City and San Antonio. In each city, working families will take part in forums to discuss how free trade deals, such as CAFTA, bring down workplace standards and destroy economic development while lining the pockets of multinational corporations.

Before heading to Capitol Hill, the IUC conference delegates heard two Dominican union leaders, Rafael Abreu of the General Workers’ Central and Ignacio Hernandez, secretary general of the Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers in the Dominican Republic, describe how workers are denied their rights, including the freedom to form a union, and how CAFTA would make the situation worse. Participants also heard from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson and Trumka, who chairs the IUC.

“The multinational corporations want to manufacture goods in Central American sweatshops, exploit the workers down there and pay them a pittance, then ship the goods back up here and sell them to us at a huge profit,” Chavez-Thompson told conference delegates. “CAFTA is not a battle between U.S. workers and Central American workers. Our sisters and brothers down there would get trampled by CAFTA just as much as we would.”

Meanwhile, the nation continues to lose manufacturing jobs. Last week the U.S. Department of Labor’s
Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the loss of another 6,000 manufacturing jobs in April. Manufacturing employment fell to 14.3 million in March 2005 due to a combination of soaring health care costs and misguided trade policies that encourage employers to export jobs.

Manufacturing job losses account for virtually all private-sector net jobs lost in the United States since President George W. Bush took office. Unionized manufacturing jobs have been hit especially hard, falling from 28 percent of all manufacturing jobs in 1983 to only 13 percent in 2004.


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