UAW’s Nassar: ‘NAFTA’s been a real failure’ for U.S. workers

WASHINGTON—Speaking from his union members’ experience – and for them – “NAFTA’s been a real failure,” United Auto Workers Legislative Director Josh Nassar says.

And it’s not just because low Mexican wages cause U.S. auto and auto parts firms to migrate south of the border, he adds. It’s also because Mexican workers lack virtually any rights that could help them improve their own lot.

Nassar was the fourth and final union witness in International Trade Commission hearings on what U.S. bargainers should put into a “new NAFTA.” Republican President Donald Trump formally plans to reopen talks on the 23-year-old pact and the ITC, which handles trade cases, spent three days soliciting suggestions and testimony.

Other detailed comments came from the AFL-CIO, the Machinists, the Teamsters and pro-worker congressional Democrats (see other stories). In a summary, Nassar reiterated those comments, then concentrated on reasons U.S. automakers, plants and jobs went south.

“We’re in solidarity with independent unions in Mexico and Canada so that more of the benefits of trade should go to the workers,” he explained. That’s the case in Canada, where UAW represents auto workers in Windsor, Ont., and elsewhere, as well as around Detroit.

It’s not the case in Mexico and NAFTA is partly to blame, Nassar added.

“A ton of (U.S.) auto production,” including auto parts production, “has moved to Mexico,” not just because of the low wages, but because “the reality is you have few independent unions in Mexico,” he elaborated. Independent unions could raise workers’ pay.

Instead, Mexican unions work hand-in-glove with the government, with the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and corporations to keep workers repressed, studies show. That in turn gives U.S. firms not only the incentive to migrate to Mexico, but also leverage to force U.S. workers’ wages, working conditions and union organizing down, he said.

“If you want to have negotiations here, you have to have collective bargaining there,” Nassar said.

The current NAFTA also has one other big Mexican-oriented loophole that helps drive U.S. jobs there, he noted: Rules of origin. NAFTA now specifies a minimum content of cars – or any other products – must be created in the three NAFTA nations in order to qualify for the “free trade” pact’s treatment of North American products.

What it doesn’t do, Nassar said, is ban “pass-throughs.” Those are cases where cars, parts or raw materials come from a third non-NAFTA nation to Mexico, are re-labeled as being from Mexico, then qualify for shipment to the U.S. under NAFTA. “We worry about countries freeloading, because those other countries benefit from the agreement,” he explained.

Source: PAI