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With NAFTA, U.S. and Mexican Workers Get Empty Promises
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I witnessed some changes in the greater Boston area, where I have worked and lived for over two decades. Several companies suddenly closed their doors and let their assembly workers go, in some cases dismissing over 400 people at the same time. A very simple reason was given to these workers: their company had decided to move to Mexico, with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Business owners had beautiful visions and grand expectations, in particular of the enormous benefits that NAFTA would bring to people in North America.
Laid-off employees, however, were confused and reluctant to accept these explanations. Who benefits when workers no longer have a job or a salary to take care of themselves or their families? How beautiful is it after spending ten or twenty years working for the same company to suddenly not have anything to secure the financial future of one's family? People had many questions about the benefits of NAFTA, but they only found empty promises!
Around this same time, I also saw that the Spanish-speaking population around me was growing rapidly. Through some community leaders, I discovered that these were new immigrants who had come with the hope of finding employment to support their families. These migrant workers moved to the United States from Mexico and other countries in Central or South America because they couldn’t find a job with a decent salary in their country of origin.
Something isn’t right with this picture! If the implementation of NAFTA had worked well in Mexico, as stated in official reports, these migrant workers could have found employment quite easily in Mexico. Why do they have to sacrifice, living a life far away from their families, in order to find a job? On the other hand, with the loss of jobs in the United States, how will we help laid-off employees find a new source of employment?
The benefits of NAFTA for people in Canada, Mexico, and the United States are questionable. The agreement and its consequences for workers deserve further study and research in order to find the truth. We have to analyze the impact of NAFTA on people’s lives by discussing it directly with workers. We won’t be able to get the truth by reading official reports from the governments or transnational business owners.
UUSC, in partnership with Witness for Peace and UUs for a Just Economic Community, gave the 14 members of our JustJourney delegation a wonderful opportunity to find out the truth about the impact of NAFTA during our visit to Mexico from May 24 to June 1, 2008.
I strongly encourage everyone to review the facts our delegation uncovered through this trip and provide feedback or further information to us so that we can raise awareness among the general public about the effects of NAFTA. Your input will help other concerned citizens to learn more about current NAFTA regulations and to advocate for fairer labor laws, human rights, and social justice in Mexico and the larger region.
Nobody can enjoy global security and prosperity unless we have an effective system in place that supports the needs and wellbeing of all working families.