This election season has brought to the surface an issue that, until recently, seemed to have become a neoliberal sacred cow, the holy writ of the lords of capital: free trade. And while this cornerstone of US economic hegemony has come under fire from a deeply reactionary, and to varying degrees racist and xenophobic, perspective, as expressed by Donald Trump, it has nevertheless sparked a much needed conversation about free trade and its destructive impact on both the American working class, and the Global South as well.
But free trade having become a campaign issue has also spotlighted for the umpteenth time the breathtaking hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton who I have previously referred to as the high priestess of the Church of Free Trade and Neoliberalism. For it is, in fact, Hillary Clinton who has for more than two decades been one of the loudest and most resolute voices championing neoliberalism and free trade. And still, despite her record, Clinton today presents herself as a friend of the working class. The same working class that has been all but eviscerated by the policies she herself has supported.
Without question, NAFTA was a direct assault on the US working class. Its repercussions are still being felt today. As the Economic Policy Institute further explained, NAFTA had four major negative impacts:
- The loss of at least 700,000 jobs due to production moving to Mexico. Some of the heaviest losses were felt in California, Texas, Michigan and other manufacturing-dependent states, particularly those in the Rust Belt.
- Allowed employers to drive down wages, slash benefits, and undermine and destroy unions. Because capital could always threaten to simply close up shop and move to Mexico, workers had little recourse but to accept the assault on their standards of living.
- It devastated the Mexican agricultural and small business sectors which led to the dislocation of millions of Mexican workers and small farmers, many of whom were forced to migrate to the US in search of work, thereby creating the immigration “problem” that Trump and his reactionary base have seized upon.
- It was the model free trade agreement, the blueprint upon which others were based. It laid the foundation for the neoliberal trade model wherein capital reaps the benefits while labor shoulders the costs
Obviously, one could point out myriad other negative effects of NAFTA. But perhaps even better than that, one could simply take a drive down Interstates 80 and 90 – crossing through New Jersey, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. – and get off almost anywhere and see the impacts for one’s self. Countless shuttered factories, depressed and often nearly abandoned towns and cities, and populations blighted by unemployment and the social breakdown that goes with it. The bleakness of the post-NAFTA industrial landscape is difficult to articulate, and is often completely hidden from view, especially for many working people in the population centers on the East and West coasts.
Hillary the Hypocrite
Today Hillary Clinton shamelessly presents herself as a friend of working people. She trots out the elites of organized labor, concerned primarily with their own positions atop demoralized and fragmented unions, and trumpets their endorsements of her. And even these working class backstabbers have to grit their teeth and smile as they kneel before the high priestess herself in hopes of eight more years of privileged relations and fine dining.
But behind closed doors, everyone in America who even casually follows politics knows the truth: Hillary Clinton is a crusader for free trade and neoliberalism.