Speech | Trade · Immigration · Civil Rights

Trumka to LCLAA: Without Changes, New NAFTA Dead on Arrival

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the Labor Council For Latin American Advancement National Conference:

Good morning. Buenos dias. Thank you so much, Sister Yanira for those very kind words. It is an honor to be introduced by the first woman and the first immigrant to head LCLAA. I doubt that I need to tell people in this room what a warrior Yanira is for the cause of working people. Our movement is stronger, and bigger, and more diverse today due to her tireless work and leadership, and I want to thank her sincerely for that. 

And I of course want to recognize the outstanding leadership of LCLAA Executive Director Hector Sanchez. Hector is one of the premier labor and civil rights leaders in the country, always pushing us to be clear and bold in our commitment to Latino workers and all vulnerable communities. Thank you, Brother Hector! 

It is good to be home in Pennsylvania. And it is great to be here with the leaders and activists of LCLAA. 

Earlier this week, President Trump’s top immigration official twisted the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, arguing that working people and people of color aren’t welcome in our country. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet,” he said. What’s more, in his view, that offer only extends to “people coming from Europe.” These words—and this sentiment—are simply un-American. Standing here, in the birthplace of our great nation, let us be absolutely clear: We are a nation of immigrants. We are a labor movement of immigrants. This country wasn’t built by people who came here with everything. It was built by families who started with nothing...who worked and toiled to build the greatest nation on the planet. We’re not just standing on our own two feet. We’re rising. We’re marching. We’re striking. And we won’t stop until every bigot dies off or goes back into hiding! 

Using the Statue of Liberty to batter immigrants is un-American, but it is also unsurprising. Our nation is being poisoned by hateful rhetoric and divisive tactics at the highest levels of government. People of color are being scapegoated, minimized, dehumanized and told to go back where they came from. Racist dog whistles have been replaced with megaphones. Women are openly degraded and discriminated against. And America’s welcome mat, long a beacon of hope for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including my parents, is being bulldozed and paved over, replaced with a clear message: “you’re not welcome here.” The El Paso shooter traveled more than 600 miles to kill Mexican immigrants. Let that sink in for a minute. 

President Trump didn’t start this fire, but he’s pouring gas on it every single day. He uses his Twitter account to demean and divide rather than inform and inspire. He routinely picks on the most vulnerable among us—women of color, people with disabilities, transgender Americans, immigrants—even Gold Star families. And just last week in Mississippi, immigration authorities came into OUR house to deport OUR brothers and sisters. These members of the United Food and Commercial Workers put food on America’s table, laboring in dangerous conditions and sacrificing for their families and our communities. Their only crime is working hard for a better life. And we will not rest until each and every one of them can live here and work here freely as a United States citizen. 

Under the leadership of Jim Kenney, a pro-worker mayor we helped elect, Philadelphia has proudly established itself as a sanctuary city. Let there be no doubt—we are a sanctuary movement. Our unions must provide safety to immigrants, and our contracts must offer protection where our laws do not. Immigrants can find hope and a home in the labor movement—as they have throughout our history. And all of us—together—can beat back bigotry with solidarity. 

Our movement is needed now more than ever. After the El Paso shooting, it was suggested that America is better than this. Sadly, that is not true today. We can be better. We should be better. And if workers have anything to say about it, we will be better. 

But there is no denying that America is falling far short of her promise. Two years ago this week, I resigned from the White House American Manufacturing Council after President Trump couldn’t find the words to condemn white supremacy and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

And what has happened in the two years since? There have been massacres at music festivals and schools and stores and synagogues. Children are being separated from parents at our border...as families are cruelly imprisoned for profit...after fleeing the poverty and violence made worse by the Central America Free Trade Agreement. 

The free press is under vicious attack. Wall Street got another windfall tax cut. Workplace safety regulations have been gutted. And in 2018, the U.S. spent $24 billion on immigration enforcement and only $2 billion enforcing our labor laws.That’s 12 times more to hunt down immigrants than protect workers. Brothers and sisters, America is on fire. And the labor movement is ready to extinguish the flames.  

I believe there is no better place to start than our decades-long economic policies, perpetrated by both political parties, that have deliberately torn America apart, all to line the pockets of big corporations. NAFTA is one of the worst offenders. 

The beneficiaries of the current trade model want to pit us against each other in their never ending quest to leave us poor, divided and weak. But we know better. We know our enemies are the global corporations who twist the rules to benefit themselves. The enemies are not American, Canadian or Mexican workers. Workers are never the enemy! 

Trade itself is also not the enemy. We support trade. For too long, if you opposed a trade agreement for any reason, you were belittled as a protectionist...a dinosaur...as not understanding the complex reality of a global economy. Even some of our friends told us we were fighting yesterday’s war.

But our movement is trying to shape globalization, not stop it. We don’t question whether we should open up new markets for our products and do business with people all over the world. We question the trade rules—written by the largest and most powerful multinational companies—that leave too many of us behind. That’s not trade. It’s greed!

The record is clear. NAFTA has gutted American manufacturing. Earlier this summer, I hosted a series of town halls on this disastrous agreement. We drove from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to Detroit. We had real, honest and powerful conversations about the damage NAFTA has caused over the past 25 years. Nearly a million jobs have been lost across America, and many of our undocumented brothers and sisters came here after their livelihoods were crushed by the same raw deal. Entire communities are being devastated. Some may never fully recover. But we recognize that the human suffering does not stop at the southern border. 

Just look at Mexico under NAFTA. Workers at new, state of the art tire plants report making $1.87 per hour. That’s one American dollar, brothers and sisters. Not pesos. These workers don’t make enough to buy the cars they’re producing...and the companies aren’t even selling the tires at a discount. They are pocketing the entire margin. It’s textbook exploitation.

No wonder more than 40% of Mexicans live in poverty. There are still hundreds of thousands of protection contracts that prevent workers from having a real voice on the job. A more progressive president and recently passed labor law reforms provide reason for hope, but the Mexican government has yet to demonstrate it has the resources or infrastructure to enforce these new mandates. And because of President Trump’s ill-advised threats, Mexico is diverting troops and money to its southern border with Guatemala, routinely violating the human rights of citizens and migrants alike, instead of working to ensure workers can raise wages through free and independent unions. 

Brothers and sisters, any NAFTA agreement that leaves Mexican workers poor and vulnerable is dead on arrival at the AFL-CIO. The U.S. and Mexican labor movements are in lockstep on this. I am in constant communication with Brother Napoleón Gómez and Los Mineros about the importance of winning a new NAFTA that lifts up working people in all three countries. 

Simply put, the current proposal falls short. First and foremost, it is unenforceable. As I stated earlier, Mexico has yet to demonstrate the capacity to enforce labor law reform and eliminate protection contracts. In addition, the current text allows an accused party to unilaterally block the formation of a dispute settlement panel. That’s crazy! And finally, workers have no way to enforce the agreement, such as the right to stop products at the border if they are produced in violation of labor or environmental standards. 

The Trump Administration wants a vote on the new NAFTA ASAP. We are not going to let that happen without the changes working people across North America deserve. It is time for negotiators to go back to the table and hammer out an agreement that is good for working people across the continent.

Bring us a deal like that, and we’ll support it. But if the president insists on a premature vote, we will have no choice but to oppose it.

It boils down to this: some parts of the new NAFTA are better than the original and some are worse. But no matter what, any new NAFTA that doesn’t ensure that all workers in Mexico, Canada and the United States can freely exercise our fundamental labor rights isn’t worth the paper it's written on. It won’t be new, it won’t be different and it sure won’t help rebalance our economy or empower working people.

Workers are fed up with a race to the bottom. We’re fired up. And, we’re not gonna take it anymore! We reject those who tell us the NAFTA model is “inevitable.” We reject a world of obscene inequality and choose a world of broadly shared prosperity. 

We deserve better. We demand better. We’re fighting for better. And, we’re going to win better—for all of us!

Brothers and sisters, even with all the darkness in America today, I have hope. Hope in a labor movement on the rise. Hope in the nearly 1,000 union members elected to public office in 2018 alone. Hope in the 20,000 public sector workers in Nevada and 100,000 farmworkers in New York that now have the right to bargain collectively. Hope in the strength and solidarity of our North American labor movement. No one can shake us and no one can break us. 

We’re going to fight for higher pay. 

We’re going to fight for better health care.

We’re going to fight for a secure retirement. 

We’re going to fight for immigration reform that protects workers, unites families and invests more in citizenship than cages. 

We’re going to fight for trade that lifts up workers in the United States and Mexico and every single country. 

And, we’re going to fight for an economy where every worker...from Philadelphia to Reynosa, Mexico...has the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively.

We’ve earned it, brothers and sisters. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We clean the rooms and pick the crops. We fight the fires and lift the loads. We serve our nation with dignity and pride. We stand tall. We don’t run and hide.

This is our time! This is our moment!

WE are the North American labor movement...and we will not...WE WILL NOT...be denied!

Thank you, brothers and sisters! God bless you!

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