By Mark Gruenberg
In news U.S. workers won’t like to hear, particularly those in Midwestern industrial states that saw their jobs and plants decamp south of the border, some two-thirds of Mexicans support a new North American Free Trade Agreement. Some of that support seems to be coming from people in that country who are so angry at President Trump that they are inclined to back whatever it is that he opposes. Also in support of a new NAFTA is Mexico’s leading presidential contender, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known by his initials, AMLO.
Mexican hatred of Trump spans the political spectrum there, ever since he started his U.S. presidential bid in 2015 by fanning the flames of hatred of immigrants from that country. Trump denounced Mexican migrants to the U.S. as rapists and murderers and promised to build “a big beautiful wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border – and get Mexico to pay for it. Mexican politicians of all stripes resolutely refused and denounced him. AMLO is no fan of Trump’s wall, either. Nor are organized labor or U.S. congressional Democrats.
Mexican opinion polls give the progressive Lopez Obrador, the candidate of his self-founded Morena Party, a 20-percentage point lead over each of the next two contenders, from two traditional parties, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the currently ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). AMLO currently gets 47 percent of those polled.
And political coattails still matter more in Mexico. The analysts at the discussion, sponsored by the Wilson Center in D.C., agreed AMLO could sweep Morena majorities into office with him in both houses of Mexico’s Congress and in governorships of its most-populous states.
The current PRI government of Enrique Pena Nieto is renegotiating NAFTA, facing off against the Trump administration and the Canadian government of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump repeatedly threatens to pull out of the talks and dump NAFTA, unless the two other countries agree to his demands.
The labor movement in the U.S. wants to see changes in NAFTA but focuses on the push for higher wages for Mexican workers. Better conditions for Mexico’s workers would reduce the incentive U.S. industries now have to pick up and move to Mexico where they exploit much cheaper labor. Pena Nieto has resisted demands for higher wages and increased labor rights in Mexico.
Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau initially supported requiring stronger U.S. labor laws, including repeal of all so-called right-to-work laws, but has since soft-pedaled that stand. Trudeau also wants to keep the business-slanted secret trade court, the Investor State Dispute System, in NAFTA. Organized labor in both the U.S. and Canada has opposed the secret trade court.
The U.S. labor movement, in a long analysis of what the U.S. should seek in the “new NAFTA” talks, says Trump’s trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, should push for higher wages in Mexico, and a lot more.
U.S. unions also urge Lighthizer to stand strongly for – among other goals — enforceable worker rights and independent trade unions in Mexico and curbs on how far unsafe Mexican trucks, driven by tired truckers, can roam over U.S. roads. The current NAFTA now lets them roll everywhere in the U.S., after a long, and sometimes-successful campaign by the Teamsters to limit the trucks to within 20 miles north of the border.
The Economic Policy Institute calculated that since it took effect a quarter of a century ago, NAFTA cost the U.S. between 770,000 and 1 million industrial jobs as corporations ranging from GM to Mondelez – Oreo cookies – headed south of the border to pay lower wages, escape unions and avoid environmental rules. The Communications Workers add NAFTA also prompted U.S. firms to shift call-center jobs away from union workers in the U.S., exporting them to Mexico, the Philippines and India.
And independent analysts point out NAFTA is responsible for a share of the undocumented people crossing the U.S. border since it passed. That’s because NAFTA opened the Mexican market to cheap mass-produced U.S. farm goods, principally corn, decimating the Mexican agricultural economy.
Despite all that, especially the loss of farm jobs, many Mexicans view NAFTA as good for them because they have switched views over the last quarter of a century from being producers to being consumers.
Poor and working people in Mexico, like their counterparts in the U.S., have small incomes with which to meet a large number of needs. The lower prices available in outlets like Walmart, regardless of the role they play in the world economy, are something people need.
Younger and more educated people, including those who are a bit better off economically, are also shifting to Lopez Obrador, the panel said. And, unlike in past years, when AMLO ran from the left, even the upper, educated classes don’t see him as a threat. One point which changed their views, according to panelists: Lopez Obrador’s successful pragmatic mayoralty of Mexico City.
During his time in the mayor’s chair, AMLO continued his nationwide reputation for grassroots organizing while using the slogan “For the good of all, the poor first” to promote old-age pensions, financial support for single mothers and the jobless, investments in urban redevelopment, infrastructure and education.
Mexican voters of all classes are more fed up with the performance – or lack of it – in this century. They fault Pena Nieto and PRI the last six years in combating crime, corruption and rampant drug trafficking, and prior failures in those fields by PAN’s two presidents in the 12 years before that. Left unsaid: Until 2000, PRI ruled Mexico, for decades as a virtual one-party state, since the end of the second Mexican Revolution in 1929.
AMLO is an outsider” compared to his PRI and PAN presidential foes “and Morena is a new party. They (Mexicans) like that. (IPA Service)