Worshiping the Golden CAFTA

is the only “human” right money?

Originally published in New Ground 98, January — February, 2005.

by Bob Roman

Winning the Battle!
Fair trade issues were in the background during most of 2004, despite some significant developments. Apart from being crowded out by election news, another reason might be that it’s also an issue on which far too many Democrats have failed the labor movement. As usual, there is good news and bad. Generally, fair trade advocates are winning a few battles but, I think, losing the war.

The good news is that negotiations toward a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) are comatose. Not dead because a framework for further negotiations exists and the Bush Administration’s “fast track” negotiating authority extends until June, but the deadline for reaching an agreement was January 1. Brazil and Argentina are generally given credit for the impasse. It would be nice to report that labor rights and environmental concerns were the deal breaking issues. Given the secrecy of the negotiating process and the bias of the press, one can’t exclude them as factors, but published accounts indicate a more traditional concern with sectors of the bourgeois economy.

Of course, it didn’t help that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick suggested that if Brazil did not want to trade with the United States, maybe it should look southward instead. Antarctica, perhaps. This comment went over about as well as you might expect. Zoellick began being talked up as a candidate to head the World Trade Organization or perhaps Fannie Mae. Well, would being Condi Rice’s new deputy do?

Losing the War?
In the meantime, negotiations on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) were essentially finished in December of 2003. The pact was not submitted to Congress, mostly because the Bush Administration did not want this to be an election issue. (Kerry did call for CAFTA to be renegotiated.) Plus, after the fact, the Dominican Republic decided it wanted to be included as well. While the Dominican Republic could probably have been accommodated in a separate bilateral agreement, its inclusion is perceived as making CAFTA more agreeable to some members of the Black Caucus. The agreement now includes Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the U.S.

Beltway fair trade advocates are upbeat about the prospects of defeating CAFTA when it comes to a vote this year. And they have some reason to for this. Some significant business interests are opposed to the agreement. The American Sugar Alliance, representing sugar growers, is opposed because CAFTA phases out import quotas on sugar. Likewise, the textile industry views the agreement as another nail in their coffin, and cotton growers are not enthusiastic either. Given the growing budget deficit, the drop in revenue from import duties, while not huge, will still be of concern.

It also doesn’t help that the agreement does not adequately fulfill the instructions given by Congress to the U.S. Trade Representative that the agreement address labor concerns and make it a priority equal to other economic concerns. Regarding labor, the agreement really only says the countries must enforce their own labor laws, but provides no effective remedies, even suggesting that such concerns are essentially outside the scope of the agreement by referring disputes to “other international agreements”. It doesn’t improve matters that only the United States and Costa Rica have a pretense toward having adequate labor laws. The AFL-CIO maintains the labor provisions in CAFTA are worse than in previous free trade agreements.

CAFTA also continues the infamous Chapter 11 of NAFTA that allows corporations to sue governments for loss of potential profits. This has not come up frequently, yet, under NAFTA, but it has and is being used in a number of cases. In fact, it doesn’t need to happen frequently; the prospect of being sued is enough to keep local governments in line.

Candy Coated
Despite this optimism, it is likely that CAFTA will be approved. The Republican leadership in Congress has been effective at maintaining caucus discipline. While some conservatives have ideological issues with such agreements related to sovereignty, it’s not likely to count for much in the face of Hastert, DeLay and the Chamber of Commerce. Any defections among Republicans will be more than balanced by defections among Democrats. This is particularly true of Democratic members of the Congressional Sugar Caucus.

Prior to the November election, the Senate Sugar Caucus included 11 Senators, mostly from sugar beet and sugar cane states. The Caucus in the House, however, is largely concerned with the confectionery industry, which would benefit from lower sugar prices. Representatives Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Danny Davis (D-IL) co-chair the House caucus, which includes 14 other Representatives, including Judy Biggert (R), Raham Emmanuel (D), and Bobby Rush (D) from Illinois. Representative Davis’ district has been hit hard by plant closings in the candy industry, particularly Brach Candy (see New Ground 36, “Brach Candy: the Battle Continues”) and there is the illusion that a drop in sugar prices might have prevented this.

For the much same reasons, expect some unions to make defeating CAFTA not a priority. Not surprisingly, the Democratic Leadership Council has been supportive of CAFTA.

The Velvet Shillelagh
While the United States International Trade Commission calculates the immediate economic effects of CAFTA in the U.S. as minimal, the U.S. business community has an interest in opening these modest economies to their participation using rules written to their benefit. Not even in effect or ratified except for El Salvador, CAFTA has been used to get the Dominican Republic to repeal a tax on beverages sweetened with corn syrup and Guatemala to repeal laws concerning intellectual property disadvantageous to the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. In the United States, CAFTA is the justification given by the highly profitably Florida Crystal Corporation when it declared its intent to outsource work to “independent contractors” and impose a reduction in overtime pay and other benefits for the remaining employees, thus provoking the Machinists Union to strike. This is in a plant that had not had a strike in decades. One farmer cooperative has already closed a sugar mill in Louisiana citing CAFTA as its reason.

Threats to close or move and the bloody shirt of international competition are not unusual gambits in collective bargaining, especially when it is the first contract. And once again, the deterrence effect has an unmeasured consequence on bargaining and organizing, not to mention tax policies.

Defeating CAFTA is important and it’s pretty to think it might mark a turning point. But one has to wonder. Aside from NAFTA, the U.S. has bilateral free trade agreements with Israel, Jordan, Singapore, Chile, Australia, Morocco. A free trade agreement with Bahrain has been completed and is expected to pass with no difficulty. Indeed, bilateral agreements are being advocated as an alternate strategy toward accomplishing the FTAA.

The other CAFTA members also have their own bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements. There is the Central American Common Market that includes Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. This has individual agreements with Chile, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Costa Rica has agreements with the Caribbean Community and Canada. Mexico has a free trade agreement with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Nicaragua has a free trade agreement with Mexico. The Dominican Republic has a free trade agreement with the Caribbean Community.

Even allowing that some of these agreements are functioning at the level of wishful thinking, it’s easy to see that neo-liberal property rights over human rights model of development is becoming dominant.

These agreements act as tar-babies. The longer they function, the more difficult it is for a country to withdraw. Virtually no one in the United States or Canada, for example, is talking of withdrawing from NAFTA; the prospective economic disruption, real or imagined, would be too threatening to politicians’ careers. In 2000 for example, a move to withdraw from the World Trade Organization was defeated in the U.S. House, 363 to 56.

Renegotiating the agreements might seem a reasonable approach (and Mexico’s President Fox is under pressure to reopen some aspects of NAFTA). But this has some severe practical problems for U.S. fair trade advocates. The obvious one is simply the balance of power within our own country. And our negotiating partners are not always to our left, not always even to the left of Bush. Even allowing for imbalances of power in favor of the U.S. this presents a problem.

The practice of negotiations also would need to change. While CAFTA was being negotiated, the draft was treated as a state secret, not subject the Freedom of Information Act. Some NGO access to the negotiators was allowed, but it was extremely limited.

What Is To Be Done
Finally, advocates of fair trade will need to have something of a consensus as to the changes that are needed or desirable. We need summits not only on how to defeat measures like CAFTA (such as the recent Citizens Trade Campaign summit in Washington) but multinational meetings to discuss what today might seem utopian proposals for fair trade. I don’t mean to suggest that nothing on this has been or is being done, but more is needed particularly here in the States.

The need for this is urgent. NAFTA, CAFTA, et. al. are setting in concrete a system that favors only the wealthy, that regards property as the sole human right and the sole legitimate concern of the state, with inadequate means for remedy atop dynamic economies and societies and diverse cultures. Insurrectionary leftists and establishment conservatives alike take note: this is an excellent prescription for violence.

Workers Held Hostage

Originally published in New Ground 81, March — April, 2002.

by Bob Roman

Senator Baucus may have hoped to create an unstoppable momentum to quickly pass the Fast Track trade negotiating authority when he moved to pass it out of the Senate’s Finance Committee almost immediately after it arrived from the House of Representatives. But the United States is cursed and blessed with a libertarian approach to legislative decisions; passage of almost anything requires some degree of consensus, most particularly in the U.S. Senate where debate can be unlimited. This means speedy legislation is the exception not the rule. Another reason for the delay is some uncertainty that the votes are there to pass the Fast Track. Finally, the legislation has essentially been stuck in traffic behind other controversial legislation, such as Campaign Finance Reform and “Economic Stimulus”. While supporters had hoped to have a vote late February, certainly by early March, now a decision is expected sometime shortly after the Senate returns from its Easter recess on April 8.

It is at this point that things become ugly or interesting, depending upon your point of view. Far be it that a Beltway naif such as I should attempt to explain the intricacies of Senate rules; they are impenetrable to me as to most civilians. But the bill will be open to amendments, and the bill’s managing Senators will bundle the Fast Track with other trade legislation, most particularly with the reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance.

Trade Adjustment Assistance is a program that was originally passed to assist workers made jobless by their employment being exported to Canada or Mexico as a result of NAFTA. The Senate is proposing some fairly significant improvements to this program, including expanded COBRA (health insurance) and wage insurance as well as expanding benefits to “secondary” victims of plant closings.

In one sense, this is an example of “genius” of the U.S. legislative system: the way in which it attempts to make legislation a “win-win” game of compromise. An instructive example was the last time Congress passed an increase in the minimum wage. The original bill, as proposed by the AFL-CIO, was a fairly class conscious bit of legislation with only two provisions: an increase in the minimum wage and the removal of a tax loop-hole that allowed corporations to pay their executives extravagantly and deduct that money from the corporation’s taxable income. By the time Congress was done with the minimum wage legislation, it contained an increase in the minimum wage and a nice menu of tax breaks for business. In essence, Congress passed the minimum wage by assuring the business community that Uncle Sam would pay for it. (That’s mostly you and me, not business, incidentally!)

In part, this is what the Senate managers of the Fast Track are attempting to do with the Fast Track: something for you and something for you. Are we all happy yet? And in part, it’s also an ugly and evil game of chicken. The Trade Adjustment Assistance is not an extravagant program even in its proposed upgrade, but it makes a consequential difference in the lives of working men and women and in our communities. Senators Daschle, Baucus and Grassley are telling us: the Fast Track passes, or else!

If this were only a case of dividing up the pie, as it was with the minimum wage, it would simply be another instance of sausage making. But far more is at stake here. The trade negotiations that the Fast Track legislation concerns determine far more than an immediate division of some economic pie. They are intimately concerned with the basic rules that determine how trade is conducted, the authority of the state to intervene in the conduct of trade (including conditions of employment, consumer and environmental regulation, etc.), and most importantly the ability of labor and other social movements to organize effectively.

Opponents of the Fast Track will attempt to amend the bill to include their own instructions to the U.S. trade negotiators: provisions to protect anti-dumping legislation, restrict intellectual “property” rights especially in connection with pharmaceuticals, protection against restrictions involving labor rights, environmental legislation, consumer legislation, etc. This is partly to salvage something in the event that the Fast Track passes and partly to poison the legislation so the business community will turn against it. It’s not clear that either strategy will work, simply because U.S. trade negotiators have a history of listening to instructions they want to hear and using the others as expendable negotiating points. In that context, it hardly matters what the Fast Track legislation contains.

This issue of New Ground should reach you while the Senate is in recess: a most excellent time to write or call the home offices of Senator Richard Durbin and Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

Contacting the Illinois Delegation

The AFL-CIO maintains a web site from which you can fax your Senator. It includes a suggested text, which you can alter to your taste. Go to http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/fasttrack3.

Senator Durban
Washington Office: 332 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510, Voice- (202)224-2152, TTY- (202)224-8180, Fax- (202)228-0400; Chicago Office: Kluczynski Bldg. 38th Fl., 230 South Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60604, Voice: (312) 353-4952 Fax (312)353-0150

Senator Fitzgerald
Washington Office: 555 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, (202) 224-2854; Chicago Office, 230 S. Dearborn #3900, Chicago, IL 60604, (312) 886-3506

It Ain’t Over ’til the Sopranos Sing

Fast Track Trade Negotiating Authority

Originally published in New Ground 80, January — February, 2002.

by Bob Roman

December 6, 2001, may not be a day that lives in infamy, but it was an evil time in Washington, DC, nonetheless. “Fast Track” trade negotiating authority (H.R. 3005) passed the House of Representatives. It passed, but it just passed, by a vote of 215 to 214. The vote was very nearly a party line vote; only 23 Republicans voted against the Fast Track and only 21 Democrats voted for it. At that, the measure very nearly failed. It only passed because the Republican House leadership promised South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint that negotiators would provide protection to textile dyeing and finishing companies. DeMint changed his vote from no to yes.

This vote was a defeat for the left not because of some anti-trade, protectionist, isolationist obsession. The issue here is not whether there will be international trade but rather something far more fundamental: what are the rules for international trade. As William Greider documented in the October 15 issue of The Nation (“The Right and US Trade Law: Invalidating the 20th Century”), U.S. negotiators at international trade talks are pursuing an ideological agenda that places property rights above all else, an accomplishment insuring that labor rights would be nothing more than a noble fiction and that consumer, health, safety and environmental regulation would be impossibly expensive.

This is not the sole item on the negotiators’ agenda. The U.S. trade representatives are also negotiating the maintenance of the U.S. empire. The foreign policy establishment has always viewed trade as a political instrument, a potential tool of leverage and coercion. The WTO, NAFTA, MAI, et. al., are very much in this tradition.

The negotiators also discuss rules that have specific consequences for specific industries. It is here that Congress understandably feels it has some special understanding and it is here that Congress has been most particularly deluded. After all, such special pleading very closely resembles how much domestic policy, especially tax law, is made. By all accounts, the Bush Administration and the Republican House leadership recruited and enforced votes in much the same way that Clinton achieved passage of NAFTA: by making promises that the U.S. negotiating team would make special provisions for particular industries and by making promises regarding policy unrelated to trade.

But as Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch pointed out in The Record on Deals for Trade Votes (December, 2001), these “deals” have all the currency of “the check is in the mail”. Indeed, there is every indication that one reason for the narrow vote was Congressional skepticism after having been burned. At least among Democrats: aside from issues of loyalty, many Republicans still seem susceptible to deals, perhaps thinking that these betrayals were a Clinton thing. The recent round of negotiations in Qatar illustrated just what a foolish vanity this is. Despite an informal demand by the U.S. Senate (a letter signed by 62 Senators) and a formal demand by the U.S. House of Representatives (H. Con. Res. 262, passed 410 – 4) that U.S. anti-dumping laws be kept off the table, these instructions were completely disregarded and the issue of anti-dumping laws will be very much on the agenda for the next round of negotiations.

All of this leaves the deal makers, especially House members of the Textile Caucus, feeling a bit like maybe they’ve purchased shares of Enron, particularly as some of Textile Caucus concerns essentially demand that U.S. Trade Representatives negotiate a reversal of some of the provisions of the “NAFTA for Africa” act (New Ground 63 “Africa’s HOPE Against Globalization”). President Bush felt compelled to hold a feel good meeting with these members a week after the vote. They all came away proclaiming confidence in the President, but one can’t help but wonder. If the Fast Track passes and the next trade agreement leaves them in the cold, will they have the courage to vote against it?

The fight has now passed to the Senate. If you haven’t heard much about it, there are two main reasons. One is simply that the Senate has been recessed and, until it reconvenes on January 23, no activities have been formally scheduled. The other is Senator Max Baucus from Montana. Senator Baucus’ involvement greatly increases the odds that the “Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority” will pass the Senate in a form easily reconciled with the version passed by the House. No contest, no news.

Indeed, Baucus has wasted no time. The bill passed his committee, 18 to 3, in December less than a week after the House voted. That vote is another bad sign. When H.R. 3005 cleared the House Ways and Means Committee, the vote was 26 to 13, with only 2 Democrats voting in favor.

Max Baucus has been an increasing problem. He’s betrayed his constituency with bad votes on ergonomic standards and on Dubya’s spectacular tax giveaway to the rich. Despite warnings not to, he intervened in favor of H.R. 3005 while the issue was in play in the House. Conventional wisdom is that much of this delinquency comes from facing a stereotypically wealthy Republican opponent in the upcoming 2002 elections. But the labor movement ain’t what it use to be in Montana, and almost half of the $93,000 in labor PAC money Baucus received in the 2001 reporting period came from transportation unions (air, rail, maritime) which do not necessarily make fair trade issues a priority at best. $93,000 represents less than 10% of the PAC money Baucus raised in 2001. About $234,000 came from the finance industry, for whom “free” trade and Social Security “reform” are indeed priorities.

Despite this gloomy outlook and despite the fact that no debate or vote has been scheduled, it is absolutely important that you contact your Senators sooner rather than later. The Senate must understand that this is an important issue and that people are watching their behavior. In Illinois, it should come as no surprise that Senator Fitzgerald used the occasion of Dubya’s recent trip to Illinois to announce his support of the Fast Track trade negotiating authority. But even Fitzgerald is worth contacting.

Whether you call, write or fax (email is better than nothing but usually heavily discounted by the recipients), not only express your opposition to Fast Track negotiating authority, but emphasize that any social protections built into such negotiating authority are bound to be inadequate. Granting such authority to negotiators essentially means that Congress has abdicated all effective oversight over the process.

Contacting the Illinois Delegation

The AFL-CIO maintains a web site from which you can fax your Senator. It includes a suggested text, which you can alter to your taste. Go to http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/fasttrack3.
Senator Durban
Washington Office:

332 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Voice- (202)224-2152

TTY- (202)224-8180

Fax- (202)228-0400


Chicago Office:

Kluczynski Bldg. 38th Fl.
230 South Dearborn
Chicago, IL 60604
Voice: (312) 353-4952

Fax (312)353-0150


Senator Fitzgerald
Washington Office:

555 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-2854


Chicago Office:

230 S. Dearborn #3900
Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 886-3506

Murder on the Fast Track Express

Carlo Giuliani

A version of this article was first published in New Ground 77, July — August, 2001.

Murder on the Fast Track Express

by Bob Roman

The murder of Carlo Giuliani at the G8 demonstrations in Genoa and the subsequent police raid on the dormitory and the Italian Indy Media offices are repulsive, outrageous and to be condemned. Without actually consulting all our members, I think this is something that all Chicago DSA members would agree with. This much we would all agree on but I’m not sure how much more; the murder, the raids, and role of the Black Bloc in general are not without some rather complex ambiguities.

My own opinion, and I do emphasize that it is my own, is that the murder was an event waiting to happen; it is an implicit part of the script that the Establishment and the anti-corporate globalization movement have written for themselves. It was only by chance that death didn’t happen in Quebec or in the Czech Republic. If things continue as they are, we should not be surprised if it happens again. We are all to some degree complicit in Carlo Giuliani’s death.

This is not to say that we are all equally complicit. It is the elite nature of these gatherings that provokes the strangled rage of the street. It is the closed, secretive nature of the negotiations that mobilizes mistrust. It is that these “free” trade agreements are so clearly written to the benefit of the rich that motivates the opposition of so many. It is the wealthy that have set this agenda; it is the political leadership that selected the venue. They run the meeting; they are first in line for responsibility.

It did not take the murder to start a reassessment of strategy and tactics within the anti-corporate globalization movement. Quebec was such a near thing that the process began shortly afterwards. Some of the concerns are political. Ted Glick of the Independent Progressive Politics Network wrote in his column shortly after Quebec:

“Make no mistake about it: the battle we are waging against the global capitalist order is a political battle, first and foremost, far and away. It is not a military battle because if it were we’d be snuffed out in a New York minute. It’s not an economic battle because, even with all of our coops and alternative economic institutions, as important as they are, our “economy” will never just grow and grow to the point at which the corporate economy is supplanted; it’s not in the cards. Our primary work, the touchstone of all of our discussions concerning tactics, must be about winning the hearts and minds of literally tens of millions of North Americans. It is only that broad base of support, out of which can grow a bigger and bigger movement of organizers and activists, which will make the changes we seek possible.

“Based upon my experiences in Quebec City, as well as in D.C., Philadelphia and Los Angeles last year, I don’t think all of those involved in this righteous struggle share the view that it is primarily political, that we need to develop and adjust tactics with the hearts and minds of those tens of millions in the forefront of our thinking. I’m referring specifically to many-not all, but many, it seems-of those who are commonly seen as making up the Black Bloc.”

Make no mistake about it; Ted Glick is not proposing to buy into the corporate media’s characterization of “good” demonstrators vs. “bad” demonstrators. Rather,

“It may be that individual Black Bloc’ers wouldn’t have been bothered if serious injury had been done to one of the cops as a result of their actions. I don’t think that is a good thing, but I can at least understand it. But they should care if the tactics they use are directly responsible for injury to those of us who are also out there putting our bodies on the line, and they should care about the effect of their tactics on those broad masses of working-class people who know little about either the FTAA or us and who, unfortunately, rely on the corporate media for their information. And although we don’t control that media, we can have some influence over how and what they report depending upon what tactics we use.”

Similar concerns have been raised within the pacifist community but as much from an ethical perspective. The War Resisters League, for example, has begun revisiting the issue of what role, if any, does violence against property play in non-violent civil disobedience.

It would be a pleasure to report a similar reassessment among the economic and political elite, but beyond some public hand-wringing and a sly look at smaller, more easily controlled rural venues, there’s not much to report.

An example of the continued arrogance of the corporate elite and their political lackeys is the recent introduction of “Fast Track” negotiating authority in Congress as HR 2149. Introduced by Illinois Congressman Philip Crane (8th), the legislation has collected 100 co-sponsors, including the entire Illinois Republican delegation though none of the Democrats. The bill includes no provisions requesting that the matter of labor or environmental standards even be brought up at the negotiations. As such, it represents a hard line maximalist position. Considering that the Republican House leadership hope to have passed the bill by the time you read this, compromise does not seem high on their agenda.

In a demonstration of opposition, two Democratic Congressmen, Martin Frost and Earl Pomeroy, have circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter demanding labor and environmental protections as objectives in any agreement. The letter gathered 99 signatures.

Activists in Chicago have already responded with some demonstrations. On Friday June 6 over 40 union members, religious leaders, community activists, and students protested at Congressman Crane’s district office in Palatine. As a means of peaceful protest, they took over Crane’s office and began to sing, filling the office with the strains of “We Will Not Be Moved, ” picket signs, and gravestones depicting images of shutdown factories and mills. Protestors demanded to speak with Crane, who was in Illinois while on Congressional recess. Ultimately, two representatives from the protest, Sarita Gupta of Chicago Jobs with Justice, and Bill Carey of USWA District 7, were able to speak via telephone with Crane’s Chief of Staff. Meanwhile protesters chanted and rallied outside the office, garnering support from pedestrians and cars. Although there was no expectation that the protest would shift Crane’s position, no one was prepared for the outright insults directed toward Gupta and Carey. At one point, the Chief of Staff asked Sarita Gupta, “What did you smoke on your way to work this morning?” As the staff at Crane’s district office locked themselves inside, the protesters chanted “We Will Be Back!”

And the movement will be back. Plans are already being made for the IMF / World Bank meeting in DC this fall.

Chicago Anti-FTAA Action

Free Trade Agreement of the Americas

This was originally published in New Ground 76, May — June, 2001.

Chicago Anti-FTAA Action

by Bob Roman

While demonstrators at Quebec City besieged the barbarians within the gates, Chicago’s anti-FTAA demonstration was a peaceful affair on the city’s southwest side. Below gliding sliding aircraft descending toward Midway Airport, at 48th and Western the Henderson Spring plant was the immediate object of protest. A profitable and productive facility, the company is nonetheless closing the plant and moving the production out of the country, some to Canada, most to Mexico. As such, it is a living parable of the consequences of “free” trade. While the theme of the demonstration was a funeral for the death of good jobs in the U.S., it was a largely festive affair albeit with a very real undercurrent of anger.

Nearly 1000 demonstrators gathered upon the wide strip of park separating the lanes of Western Avenue. Some were Steelworkers bussed in from Milwaukee, Decatur, Gary and elsewhere. Most were from Chicago. The demonstration brought together a wide variety of labor and left organizations. Much of the credit for organizing the march belongs to Chicago Jobs with Justice, the Steelworkers (USWA) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Chicago DSA had endorsed the march and sent out a 5,000 piece postcard mailing to publicize it. I counted dozens DSA and YDS members (including two UofC YDS who were performing with the nerd-chic “Radical Cheerleaders”) there, and I’m sure I missed others.

The protest began with a rally in front of the Henderson plant. Among the many speakers, including some who discussed the situation at the Henderson plant, there were several worthy of special note. One was USWA District 7 Director Jack Parton, who is retiring. In the course of his introduction to Leo Girard, he touched on themes of class, privilege and unionism that brought to mind Jack Metzgar’s book Striking Steel.

Leo Girard is the new President of the Steelworkers, George Becker having retired at the end of February. He began his speech by denouncing the police, demanding that they leave, and the speech mostly got hotter from there. The end his speech captures much of its overall tone and message:

“a system that has to spray people with manure [Davos, Switzerland], a system that has to build ten foot high walled fences, a system that allows corporations to pay a million dollars to separate themselves from the rest so they can negotiate a trade deal in secret is a system that will fail and cannot be sustained in the long run. It’s up to us to make sure it fails.

“Let me close by saying the reason that these global trade agreements will protect investment rights but not workers’ rights, the reason that those global trade agreements will protect the rights of corporations against the rights of workers, the reason they’ll protect the rights of corporations against the environment, the reason they’ll protect the rights of corporations against our rights is because of who was in the room bargaining those rights. It’s about who gets in the room, writes the rules. Sisters and brothers, we have to be prepared that when this system destructs. And it will self-destruct, and we will help it to self-destruct. We have to prepare to be in the room. We have to be prepared to have a global trade agreement that raises living standards, that takes care of the environment, that takes care of women, that takes care of minorities, that takes care of workers, takes care of the next future generation. There’s little kids out here. And that’s what this is about. I want my kid and my grandkid to have the same shot in life that I had. No less. Sisters and brothers, in solidarity, arms linked together, taking to the streets and kicking some ass, we’ll win. Thank you.”

The USWA has a long tradition of militant, good mostly leadership. Now they have someone both militant and radical, which is not surprising as Girard is a Canadian export with ties to the Canadian New Democratic Party.

The AFSC’s Kelly Vaughn also deserves mention as a sort of oral side bar. She popped up periodically throughout the program with facts and factoids concerning corporate globalization and its consequences: a nice feature.

After the rally, the demonstration began a long “funeral march” up Western Avenue to McKinley Park. The parkway was something of an obstacle course for the banners and the puppets. Low branches grabbed from above. Standing puddles of water and mud grabbed from below. Large dog turds presented their own unique hazards. But it was largely a pleasant stroll through a quiet neighborhood with only passing traffic as audience.

McKinley Park is a small gem of a park not far from the 35th Street Orange Line station, across the street from the old Spiegel catalog warehouse complex. Here the participants were fed and watered, and it is here the event began to disperse. It had been a long afternoon under the sun; some of the Steelworkers had a long way home.

Which is too bad; there were still some good speakers and some good entertainment to be heard. Among the entertainment was a clever bit of popular theater on the race to the bottom. It was done in the style of a musical comedy. Among the speakers was AFSCME Council 31 Director Henry Bayer. He gave a passionate denunciation of the hypocrisy of our elected officials who chase after Boeing’s 500 executive level jobs while thousands of well paid jobs leave the city and the country. Instead of chasing Boeing, they should have been here with us.

I should add that the sound system at McKinley Park was provided courtesy of Teamsters Joint Council 25.

In many ways the Chicago Anti-FTAA demonstration was a great event with music, Radical Cheerleaders, puppets, flags, banners, even speakers who were informative. Certainly the organizers of the event seemed pleased, especially as turnout was nearly twice what they had been hoping.

But if Henderson Spring is a living parable of the consequences of corporate globalization, Chicago’s Anti-FTAA demonstration was a living parable of the current state of labor and the left. Let no one doubt it: the left is resurgent. But the bitter truth is that the demonstration was a whole order of magnitude smaller than what it should have been at a minimum. Certainly if, in 1981, we could bring out 5,000 to protest a Reagan visit to Chicago, 10,000 should not have been unreasonable for this demonstration.

Washed by morning rains, warm and sunny, it was a beautiful day for a demonstration.

Some people did two.


Opposing the World Trade Organization

the battle in Chicago

Originally published in New Ground 68, January — February, 2000. The “Battle in Seattle” around the meeting of the World Trade Organization is legendary on the left, but it was also echoed around the United States and the world. This is what happened in Chicago.

WTO Action in Chicago

by Bob Roman

The Chicago WTO action took place on November 30 at the Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago at 4:30 in the evening. It was a smashing success and an abject failure.

A Smashing Success

It was beyond a doubt a wildly successful event simply because it received significant news coverage. In the context of Seattle, editors and news directors felt they simply had to have some mention of the event in their coverage. Some of the reports were reasonably fair, given the constraints of reportage limited to 30 to 60 seconds. Though it may seem cynical, such participation by the “media” is crucial if anti-globalization issues are to be regarded by the political professions as something other than nationalist outgassing by fringe groups.

It was a major success because the event was organized almost at the last minute by a small number of activists, with minimal resources. That it happened at all, let alone that it was a distinct and significant political event, deserves our applause and appreciation. Further, it was one of the largest WTO demonstrations outside of Seattle itself.


It was an abject failure. At any one time, the crowd never exceeded much more than about 200, though it was a fast moving event and maybe half again as many people ultimately participated.

The participants were a real mulligan stew of activists from various lefty groups, some of which one only rarely encounters. Adopting the spirit of a bird-watcher, it was fun. My, what exotic and endangered species could be observed!

Leaflets and papers flowed like joints at a Jimi Hendrix concert, but many of them had little to do with the WTO or with the issues around globalization. And, don’t you know, it was strange but not too many of these items were being directed at passers by. Michael Moore is often obnoxious and half-assed in his criticisms of the left but he’s not entirely wrong. Isn’t it wonderful how 200 lefties from diverse ideologies can get together to trade leaflets?

To be fair, this behavior was most evident at the rally. After about twenty minutes of speeches, the rally formed up to march over to State Street and up State to the Old Navy store. I admit to having been skeptical about the political reasoning behind choosing Old Navy, but in fact the location made it ideal. If there had been an isolated, ingrown feel to the rally, the march up State Street brought it squarely in contact with the public and provided some choice photo opportunities.

What time is it, boys and girls? It’s Hubert Humphrey Time!?

Certainly nothing recent has quite so mobilized the left as the victory over the WTO in Seattle. You have to go back to the Nuclear Freeze campaign in the mid 1980s to find something comparably energizing. Yet it should be clear that the left, despite the participation of the labor movement in Seattle, is nowhere near as healthy as it was during the mid 1980s, and I wouldn’t have called the left robust then either. With an issue like the WTO, even a last minute ad hoc demonstration should have brought out ten times the turn out in Chicago, and the fact that Chicago was one of the largest local demonstrations just makes it that much more poignant.

Furthermore, the WTO and international trade is not an exclusively “left” issue. Consider that the only mainstream presidential candidate present in Seattle was Pat Buchanan. If the “Battle of Seattle” ended in a victory for the left, the main beneficiaries could ultimately be the right, just as they ultimately were the main beneficiaries of the Sixties. This is a prospect that ought to be in mind as we contemplate future strategies.

Marx, never a patient man to begin with, was particularly unkind to those who insisted upon drawing historical parallels without regard to political economy. Seattle 1999 is not Chicago 1968 nor is it Rosa Parks freshly at the front of the bus. The situation is complex, and a proper understanding of it will not come from reading ideological speculations but from focusing on hard data. The left is too weak to neglect these tools.

Because regardless of the strength of the left, planning has already begun for a series of actions next spring. The tentative plans include a national march in Washington, DC, in mid-April. This will be followed by a number of regional marches on May 1st, including one in Chicago.

Save that date: May 1st! On that day, Seattle will come to LaSalle Street in downtown Chicago. If you are interested in helping plan this action (by golly if there were a time to be involved, it is now!), call Joan Axthelm at (773) 262-6502 or (773) 871-3942 or call Dennis Dixon at (773) 384-8544.

October 30th Day of Action

North America Is a War Zone!

It may be premature to be speaking of the labor movement in the past tense, but if the 1% succeed in crushing the life out of it, this article, published in New Ground 61, November — December, 1998, is another bit of evidence demonstrating that we haven’t gone down without a fight.

October 30th Day of Action: North America Is a War Zone!

by Amy Traub, Dan Graff and Bob Roman

If the recent media blitz about globalization has taught us anything, it is that the entire world is now tremendously interconnected, that what happens abroad can profoundly affect conditions here and vice-versa. The Youth Section of the Democratic Socialists of America, both nationally and here in Chicago, are currently working on an international campaign in support of the labor rights of factory workers in Tijuana, Mexico.

In this particular case, the hundred some workers at the Han Young factory in Tijuana weld truck chassis exclusively for Hyundai Motors, a Korean corporation. Due primarily to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions – including absence of ventilation, faulty equipment, and lack of protective gear – workers at Han Young decided in June of 1997 to form a union so they could collectively bargain for better conditions.

After the overwhelming majority of workers voted to join an independent union, the government labor board declared that the election was invalid since the workers were already represented by a union. This union, the CROC (Confederacion Revolucionario de Obreros y Campesinos) was one of the corrupt organizations closely tied to the PRI, the political party which has ruled Mexico for the last 70 years. Without the knowledge of the people working there, the Han Young management had negotiated a “protection contract” with the CROC in which the company paid off union leaders in exchange for labor peace.

“The CROC collects money directly from the employers and holds no meetings,” explained one worker, “its representatives only come to the factory when there is trouble, to tell the workers to go back to work.”

It is understandable that workers would want to exercise their rights (guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution and, theoretically, by NAFTA) to organize an independent union that would actually represent their interests. Yet results of three separate labor board supervised elections, all in favor of independent unionization, have not resulted in recognition of the union. Workers have been bribed, threatened, fired, beaten, menaced with arrest, mislead, defamed, and victimized by suspicious “accidents”.

Thousands of other workers in Mexico’s northern maquiladora (export-oriented manufacturing) sector face similar conditions when they try to claim their legal rights. They are exploited as cheap labor by transnational corporations under the rubric of “free trade” even as their own basic freedoms to organize amongst themselves and speak out about their working conditions are violated with impunity.

The international solidarity efforts that Han Young workers have explicitly called for (including marches, boycotts, demonstrations, letters from prominent religious leaders and organizations, speaking tours by Han Young workers, hunger strikes and even solidarity actions by Hyundai workers in the corporation’s home country of Korea) have already had some success. Because of international pressure, workers who had been illegally fired were reinstated with back pay. But the independent union, democratically elected by the plant workers on several occasions, has still not been officially recognized. Without recognition, they cannot legally negotiate a contract or go on strike. That’s why international efforts continue, and youth members of the Democratic Socialists of America in the U.S., the New Democratic Party in Canada, and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Mexico planned simultaneous demonstrations in cities across the continent on October 30th.

Forum on Han Young Workers
On Thursday, Oct. 29, on the University of Chicago DSA sponsored a forum on the striking Han Young workers. Nearly thirty students and community members attended the forum, a very good turnout in the face of horribly stormy weather that evening. Panelists included David Moberg, a senior editor at In These Times and journalist specializing in labor issues, Amy Traub, a student at the University of Chicago and coordinator of the Han Young support work on campus, and Dan Graff, a representative the Labor Rights Task Force of the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee, which has been helping coordinate Han Young solidarity support in the Chicago area.

The panelists provided an update on the situation at Han Young, where workers have been on strike for union recognition since May 1998, and analyzed the crisis in light of the impact of NAFTA, economic globalization, and the potential internationalization of the labor movement.

The forum also served as the lead-in for a protest of a local Hyundai dealership, scheduled for the next day as part of an International Day of Action to support the Han Young strikers. The DSA Youth Section (as part of the International Union of Socialist Youth) held events in New York, Boston, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Chicago.

Hyundai Protest on Chicago’s South Side
On Friday, October 30, thirty folks, mostly from the University of Chicago, picketed Quality Hyundai at 92nd St. and Western Ave. in Chicago. Chanting “Hyundai, Hyundai, respect labor rights!” and “Hyundai Motors, we’ll cut you down to size, unless you respect the right to unionize!”, the protesters received support from honking motorists during rush hour traffic.

The dealerships’ management was clearly irritated, and one staffer informed us he would definitely notify Hyundai headquarters of the action. The highlight of the day: a prospective car buyer talked with protesters and then opted not to shop at Hyundai. “Keep up the good work,” he shouted as he drove away.

September 19th Day of Action
The October 30th National Day of Action in support of Han Young workers was not the first this fall. On Saturday, September 19th, the Campaign for Labor Rights coordinated a similar effort. The DSA Youth Section planned its day of action on October 30th because a number of its chapters, including the University of Chicago, did not begin their academic year until after September 19th.

The Chicago action was coordinated by the Chicago Jobs with Justice Cross Border Organizing Committee and the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee Labor Rights Task Force. Some 40 people, including 9 DSA members mostly from the UofC Youth Section and Greater Oak Park DSA, turned out for a picket line outside of New Rogers Pontiac-Hyundai at 27th and Michigan in Chicago. The management there was more than irritated, but after a Donald Duck tantrum, the afternoon passed peaceably.

North America Is a War Zone
In other cross border action, the Dana Workers Alliance, along with the AFL-CIO, Canadian Labour Congress and the National Union of Workers in Mexico, has filed complaints under the side agreements to NAFTA against the Dana Corporation for firing union supporters and brutalizing employees at its Echlin brake plant in Itapsa, Mexico. In the States, the UAW, Steelworkers and Paperworkers represent some 12,000 Dana workers. Other members of the Dana Workers Alliance include the Teamsters, Canadian Auto Workers, UNITE and UE.

The railroad industry has become increasingly international as well. As a consequence, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Maintenance of Way Employees, and STFRM (the Mexican rail union) have formed an alliance to share information and coordinate action.

U.S. and Canadian railroads have long owned lines across the northern border, but Mexico has recently privatized its railroads. Organized into several regional monopolies, the privatization law requires majority ownership by Mexican investors; however, all but one of the regional lines are dominated by U.S. railroads. U.S. staffing practices are spreading south of the border, resulting in layoffs.

The internationalization of the U.S. rail industry has spread beyond Mexico. The Kansas City Southern, for example, not only has a 49% stake in Mexico’s northeastern railway, TFM, but also runs Panama’s railway. The Wisconsin Central also runs the freight service in New Zealand and Britain.

Globalization from Below

an International Union of Socialist Youth conference

This was originally published in New Ground 59, July — August, 1998.

by Bob Roman, Charity Crouse and Joan Axthelm

From May 28 through May 31, the University of Chicago Youth Section chapter of DSA played host to more than sixty delegates from the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY). The first two days of the event were devoted to a meeting of the American Committee of IUSY. Like most such meetings, its main utility was not so much in formal resolutions and organizational policy as in the exchange of ideas, experience and political information that takes place as a part of both the formal and informal proceedings. Given that the affiliates of the IUSY are the youth groups of the major left parties in their respective countries, there was probably at least one future prime minister at the meeting.

Arguing with the Right

One of the highlights of the week was a left-right debate on Thursday evening. Intended partly as an outreach to the UofC student community and partly as an exercise, nearly a hundred students crowded into the Ida Noyes library to watch Lisa Pelling, IUSY Secretary General from Sweden, and DSA Youth Section International Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall defend the affirmative of “Does Socialism Have a Future?” against a representative from the University of Chicago College Republicans and a representative from The Criterion. A severe ideological arsenal from the left was not called for, as the right thoroughly buried itself without any assistance from the socialists, but the University of Chicago’s Ida Noyes Hall resounded with the applause of many as the left challenged the right’s notions of equality in a capitalist system that thrives on disparity.

Globalization for the Rest of Us

Saturday and Sunday were devoted to an ambitious conference, “Globalization from Below”. The conference was held at the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Learning Center and it was cosponsored by the DSA Youth Section, IUSY, European Community Organization of Socialist Youth (ECOSY), and Progressive Challenge. The stated goals of the conference were to bring together progressives from all over the world and from many generations to talk about globalization; to help draw clear distinctions between their idea of internationalism and ours; to increase the public’s awareness of the connections between their lives and lives of people in other countries. Some 150 people registered for the conference, though many just sampled portions of it.

The conference format was the usual mix of plenaries and workshops, with the usual mix of strengths and weaknesses that such a format is prone to. Among the better plenaries were “Immigration and Organizing” on Saturday and “Global Unionism” on Sunday as both had speakers of particular interest.

Hector Torres, of the Latin Kings and Queens, spoke at the plenary on “Immigration and Organizing”. He spoke mostly about how what had been a street gang turned away from crime and toward political and community organizing with consequent increased problems with the police. Lefty gangs may be unusual today, but politicized gangs are not a new phenomenon, an early example in Chicago being Mayor Daley the Elder’s Hamburger Social and Athletic Club. They were not at all unusual during the 60s, when the ideology du jour was various forms of marxism-leninism. Mr. Torres’ presence brought to the conference several Hispanic students from the Chicago City College system. They reacted with enthusiasm to what he was doing in New York and with skepticism about its possibility in Chicago.

Elaine Bernard, of the Harvard Trade Union Education Project, spoke at the “Global Unionism” plenary. If you’ve never heard Ms. Bernard speak, you should take advantage of your next opportunity. She sounds a bit like Julia Child, but instead of recipes for French cuisine she provides, well, recipes for a union movement. Articulate, full of ideas and very much in touch with what seems to be working and what is not, Elaine Bernard’s presentation was quite the feast.

The workshops and training sessions at the conference might have been average for a conference but for the international participation. In this respect, participants from outside the States may have gained the most; U.S. politics often seems inscrutable to those outside of it. The workshops provided them with an in depth look at various aspects of it.

Organizing as Education

For members of UofC DSA, the conference provided exceptional experience in the behind the scenes aspects of organizing a large-scale event. Along with illustrating the necessity of proper outreach to national and local activists, the conference taught the imperative of respecting the democratic process in organizing and executing any sort of event.

Though most of the members of UofC DSA were preoccupied with the exhausting and mundane duties of administration, the conference was a great opportunity to expand one’s sights beyond one’s own borders and to truly challenge one’s ideas of socialism and solidarity. Few moments can compare with witnessing fifty Latin American socialists singing Spanish labor songs in chorus aboard the CTA train, or seeing people visiting America for the first time communicating whole heartedly with Chicagoans whose language many UofC DSA members cannot speak. If nothing else, the conference both forced us to re-evaluate our perceptions of ourselves as socialists in America and reminded us just how much about the world, our own homes and each other we still have to learn.

Some Next Steps

The range of youth leadership brought together by the Globalization from Below conference made it an ideal opportunity to discuss the creation of an “EU of the Americas”. In a meeting held after the Conference officially ended, representatives of the MERCOSUR countries, ECOSYS, the United States discussed how an open dialog between our countries is important as our economies become global. In order to begin and to further facilitate a dialog between the countries of the Americas, it was decided that a representative from ECOSYS, the Mexican PRD, and DSA (our own Daraka Larimore-Hall) would create a publication that would facilitate the exchange of experiences and ideas concerning the world economy. This publication would then be discussed at the next American Committee meeting of IUSY.


Bye Bye M.A.I.?

Well, Not Quite…

The Trans Pacific Partnership was not the first “free trade” agreement to bite the dust. Back in 1998, Chicago DSA was part of a campaign to defeat a proposed “Multilateral Agreement on Investment”. My commentary on the defeat was published in New Ground 57, March — April, 1998.

…Well, Not Quite

by Bob Roman

While the Clinton Administration has concluded that an agreement on the MAI is unlikely by the OECD’s self-imposed April 28 deadline, and while representatives from the European members of the OECD are resisting U.S. attempts to extend the deadline, the proposed pact won’t be dead until negotiators officially give up.

If the negotiators realize that the political realities are not auspicious, the concepts behind the MAI retain a powerful attraction. If MAI itself is unlikely, the ruling wealthy elite is still actively seeking ways of accomplishing the same, half a loaf or less at a time. Working people may have dodged the MAI asteroid, but the stones keep falling.

The most recent attempt in the U.S. was HR 1432, the “African Growth and Opportunity Act”. The bill was introduced by Illinois’ very own Phil Crane. HR 1432 was touted as a way of increasing trade with and investment in Sub-Saharan Africa; however, the bill had a specific ideological and imperial agenda. Participation was limited to those African countries that could be “certified” as making progress toward having a “free market” economy. The U.S. Information Agency would have been mandated to disseminate propaganda in support of these reforms.

The bill was defeated, 193 to 224. I’m happy to say that DSA member Major Owens voted against the bill (Dellums did not vote), but many otherwise good, liberal Representatives such as Abercrombie, Gutierrez, Waters and Yates voted for the bill. And why not? Absent any ideological alternative that illuminates the class dimension of bill’s costs and benefits, the consequences of such legislation are unclear.

Not all these initiatives are originating in the U.S. On March 11, the European Commission of the E.U. unanimously proposed to open negotiations with the U.S. to form a “New Transatlantic Marketplace”. While the proposal is hardly more than an idea at this point, the intent is to eliminate all industrial tariffs by 2010.

Given the primitive state of our labor legislation, the E.U. would probably suffer from this pact more than we would. The proposal, in resembling the AFL-CIO’s suggested “North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement” alternative to NAFTA, could easily cause another split among U.S. progressives. Absent class analysis, special interest rules.

And if all this were not enough, the North American Free Trade Agreement threatens to metastasise. On April 18, the “Summit of Heads of States of the Americas” will be meeting in Santiago, Chile, with the specific intent of coordinating efforts at expanding NAFTA to all the Americas.

The choice of Santiago is symbolically appropriate. When Allende nationalized Chile’s telecommunication industry in 1973, William F. Buckley ominously rumbled that this was not a “purely internal” matter because it was theft. When the generals destroyed Chile’s legally elected government that fall and began a program of slaughter and terror, many conservatives explained that freedom of speech and assembly were unimportant if you were unable to move your money where ever you please. Property rights uber alles.

So while it is vital that people mobilize against these proposals, mobilization is not enough. People need and politicians need to understand both the material costs and benefits to these proposals and their consequences to future society. Ideas matter.