Renegotiating NAFTA Takes A Turn On Republicans

NAFTA image

                                                 NAFTA flag image from

While it may be too much to hope for this leftover story from Labor Day made us hopeful:   

“Canada demands U.S. end ‘right to work’ laws as part of NAFTA talks”

{ed. note: Iowa is a “right to work” state}

Canadian negotiators are demanding the United States roll back so-called “right to work” laws – accused of gutting unions in some U.S. states by starving them of money – as part of the renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement. The request is part of a push by Ottawa to get the U.S. and Mexico to adopt higher labour standards under the deal.

One group of negotiators spent all day Sunday working on the labour file, according to a schedule of the talks obtained by The Globe and Mail. One source familiar with the discussions said Canada wants the United States to pass a federal law stopping state governments from enacting right-to-work legislation; the source said the United States has not agreed to such a request. Canada believes that lower labour standards in the United States and Mexico, including right to work, give those countries an unfair advantage in attracting jobs.

Jerry Dias, the leader of Canada’s largest private-sector trade union, said Ottawa’s negotiators are: pushing Mexico on its corporate-sanctioned unions, which are accused of negotiating collective agreements unfavourable to workers; agitating for both countries to offer a year of paid family leave, as Canada does; and targeting American right-to-work laws that allow workers in unionized shops to refuse to pay dues, draining money from unions.”

This almost feels like fiction, but it is reality. the US administration thought it would go into renegotiations, throw their weight around and bully Canada and Mexico into bowing to a list of their demands. Looks like that ain’t happening.

Will labor standards or any other issue stop the renegotiations? Doubtful. But at least one country is willing to stand up for workers. Maybe, just maybe, Canada’s stance may have some effect some change. I wouldn’t hold my breath, however many in labor believed that Trump would take up their cause. One of the reasons behind the demand to renegotiate NAFTA by this administration was to stop the race to the bottom on wages. Canada has given the administration a way to show that commitment.

An analysis in this week’s Nation magazine by Michelle Chen notes that    

Canada’s proposal could challenge Trump to demonstrate his populist bona fides, but would Trump’s militantly pro-business economic-nationalist administration have any interest in meeting Canada’s labor standards? Any such proposal would face fierce resistance from the Republican Congress and conservative states, as well as corporate interests in Canada. Moreover, legal questions would surround NAFTA’s role in controlling the authority of individual states to independently legislate unionization rules under federalism.

Nonetheless, putting right-to-work on the table would articulate an official geopolitical pushback against the free-trade model’s weakness on labor protection. Practically speaking, the dynamics of the talks themselves will be dominated by the United States, which initiated the renegotiation process and is the largest economy in the region (though Canada and Mexico might argue that Washington also has more to lose due to its dependency on regional trade). (ed note: one of the big losers if NAFTA falters would be Iowa farmers)


There is, for now, at least one unifying consensus on labor left in the US and Canada: a generation of impoverishment and disillusionment across the continent proves that NAFTA has been a global win-win for multinational importers and exporters but, on balance, a transnational lose-lose for workers. The only way to counter those losses is by forging a united front—not in diplomatic chambers but on shop floors, across borders.

Had Hillary Clinton been elected I think we could safely say that the direction of any renegotiation would have taken an entirely different path.

Yet until the agreement is once more signed, there is hope that labor may finally get a fair shake. Or Trump will once more be exposed as reneging on his campaign promises. At least Labor is getting a mention and does have a champion.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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