On November 17, 1993, Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, the Democratic House Whip, made a plea to his colleagues to listen to the voices of working people everywhere and reject the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). His speech failed to prevent passage of a trade deal that tilted the playing field away from workers, the environment, and democracy in favor of the largest globe-trotting corporations. But his words so captured what was at stake that I carried it around in my wallet for a decade until it literally decomposed.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on another deeply flawed proposal to give up their authority to amend the NAFTA-style trade pacts currently being negotiated with nations in Asia and Europe. My Institute for Policy Studies colleague Sarah Anderson, along with Public Citizen, have recently documented a litany of failed promises by the Clinton administration to members of Congress as they rounded up votes to pass NAFTA in 1993. Senators: if the new round of deal-making hasn’t already repulsed you, please read Rep. Bonior’s words before you cast your vote on Tuesday. Undemocratic trade deals, shrouded in secrecy, were bad deals 22 years ago, and they are bad deals today.
Excerpts from Rep. David Bonior’s remarks to Congress before the NAFTA vote on November 17, 1993:
Mr. Chairman, we are not alone tonight.
The working people who stand against this treaty don’t have degrees from Harvard.
They don’t study economic models.
And most of them have never heard of Adam Smith.
But they know when the deck is stacked against them.
They know it is not fair to ask American workers to compete against Mexican workers who earn $1 an hour.
That is not fair trade. That is not free trade.
We stand here tonight with the people who can’t cut deals when they are a few dollars short.
To them, NAFTA isn’t some economic theory.
It’s real life.
When jobs are lost, these are the people who have to sell their homes, pull their kids out of school, and look for new work.
Those of us who take these concerns seriously have been called fearmongers, afraid to take risks, with no vision of the future.
That is an insult to the working families of this country.
These are the people who show their faith in this country every day.
They take risks every day that people who make their fortunes in the stock market would never understand.
They know we live in a global economy….
But they also know that the work of America is still done by people who pack a lunch, punch a clock, and pour their heart and soul into every paycheck.
And we cannot afford to leave them behind.
Tonight, we are their voices. And we must stand with them.
We stand tonight with autoworkers in the Midwest, who can compete with any worker in the world, but ask: How can we compete if we don’t have jobs?
We stand with the aerospace workers in California, who have seen jobs leave for Tijuana, and demand to know: why will we pay higher taxes to send our jobs to Mexico?
We stand tonight with church leaders, who have documented torture, corruption, and human rights abuses in Mexico, and ask us tonight: why does this treaty do nothing to stop that?
We stand with the workers in the maquiladoras, who hoped that when American companies moved to Mexico, they would have the opportunity to lift their families out of poverty, but instead find themselves mired in a river of toxins and when they try to raise their voices in protest, their own Government silences them.
We are their voices tonight.
We are not alone.
For standing with us in this Chamber tonight are all the Americans who came before us, who had the courage to fight against the odds and against the powers that be for a better future and a better life.
The men and women who struggled in sweatshops for a dime a day, who one day found the strength to stand up and say enough.
The farmers who faced drought and depression and foreclosure, who could have thrown it all away but found the courage to say never.
The farmworkers who saw children struggling 12 hours a day to work our harvests of plenty, who had the courage to stand up and say no more.
The men and women who crossed the bridge at Selma, who stood firm in the face of dogs, and hoses, and nightsticks. And when they were told that this was not the time to fight for justice responded we shall not be moved.
Those are the people who stand with us tonight.
Their voices echo throughout this Chamber.
We must not turn our backs on all they fought for.
We must not turn our backs on all that was earned through the toil and the tears and the courage of our parents and grandparents.
We must move forward.
This vote is about more than money and markets.
It is about more than tariffs and free trade.
It is about basic values.
It is about who we are.
And what we stand for as a people.
It’s about the dignity of work.
It’s about respect for human rights.
It’s about democracy.
Mr. Chairman, if we don’t stand up for working people in this country, who is going to?…
We have come too far and sacrificed too much in this country to turn the clock back now.
This NAFTA is not the best we can do.
We can do better.
I urge my colleagues;
Vote for the Future.
Vote for our jobs.
Vote for human rights and democracy.
Say no to this NAFTA.