Senate approves ‘New NAFTA’ legislation; Sanders and Machinists union still opposed
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the International Association of Machinists Transportation Department conference in Las Vegas last April. Both Sanders and the IAM remain opposed to the USMCA free trade pact. | David Sirota / Bernie Sanders Campaign via IAM

WASHINGTON (PAI)—By an overwhelming, bipartisan vote, the GOP-run Senate pushed the “New NAFTA” over the line when it passed legislation, HR5430, on Jan. 16 to allow the “free trade” pact to take effect. Trump will sign it.

The vote that morning preceded the official start of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Upper Chamber, as Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn in to take the Senate president’s chair, for the trial only, just after noon, and he swore in the 100 senators.

They all swore to be impartial jurors in the actual showdown, which started on Jan. 21. But few of the ruling Republicans are impartial. They back Trump, even before seeing evidence.

The Senate vote on HR5430, legislation to implement the trade pact, officially called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was another matter, a bipartisan praise-fest. Senators voted 89-10 for it. They do not vote on the USMCA itself.

The amity occurred only because workers and their House Democratic allies forced Trump to re-re-negotiate the trade pact, inserting strong and enforceable worker rights provisions into it, especially targeting labor exploitation in Mexico.

Even Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a conservative who shepherded HR5430 through his panel and the Senate, admitted the USMCA fixed a big flaw in the pact it replaced, NAFTA: Lack of enforcement.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., was one of the ten foes. He says the USMCA still does not prevent multinational corporations from moving thousands of well-paying U.S. industrial jobs—many of them union jobs—to Mexico. And it says nothing about climate change, he declared.

By contrast, even industrial unions, such as the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, backed HR5430 and the USMCA, which replaces the jobs-losing 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“Under the rewritten deal, if Mexico fails in its labor reform program, U.S. enforcement actions will be triggered. A U.S. labor committee will monitor Mexico’s progress, and if the nation fails to achieve certain benchmarks, there will be punitive action,” the union pointed out.

“For the first time, there truly will be enforceable labor standards—including a process that allows for the inspections of factories and facilities that are not living up to their obligations. The agreement specifically cites the industrial baked goods industry in Mexico as one that should be prioritized in the enforcement process. The BCTGM worked closely with the AFL-CIO and congressional leaders to secure this provision.”

BCTGM had good reason to do so: One of its main employers, Mondelez, closed its South Side Chicago Oreo cookie plant and moved the machines and jobs to Monterrey.

“The USMCA also closes loopholes designed to make it harder to prosecute labor violations and eliminates special carve-outs for corporations like the giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry in the administration’s initial proposal” in 2017, BCTGM said.

The union’s president, David B. Durkee, lauded “the tireless efforts of the AFL-CIO,” which succeeded “in securing a trade agreement that protects the rights and interests of American workers, their families, and their communities.” So did Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who opposed NAFTA and all other prior “free trade” pacts which stripped U.S. workers of jobs.

“We fought tooth and nail against the administration” to toughen enforcement, Brown told colleagues. Supported by unions and top Democrats, “we secured stronger enforcement. The anti-offshoring provision is a worker-empowering, corporation-scaring enforcement innovation that amounts to the strongest-ever labor enforcement in a U.S. trade deal, and that’s why this will be the first trade agreement I’ve ever voted for.”

Even the AFL-CIO endorsed HR5430. The only public dissent by a union was from the Machinists. IAM said the USMCA would not stop the exodus of high-paying aerospace jobs to Mexico.



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.