For most members of the Young Democratic Socialists, 1994 merely marks another year of their childhood. It was in 1994, however, that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico was signed. This trade agreement, under a Democratic president and during the beginning of post-Cold War corporate globalization, was a historic victory for neoliberalism and the “Washington consensus.” This treaty continues to negatively impact people and the environment worldwide, and stand in the way of activists for social and economic justice.
The disastrous consequences of NAFTA and its siblings such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement and numerous bilateral US pacts has created a popular blow back from segments of the international working-class and people of conscience. During the 2008 presidential primary season, the notion of the infallibility of markets was challenged by both parties. While no candidates made any calls for socialism, of course, the rhetoric reflected growing concern over NAFTA and other “free” trade agreements’ impact on good jobs and environmental standards.
While we welcome the growing concern over NAFTA, the ideological framing of the rhetoric is unsurprisingly American-centric. NAFTA’s negative influence is not limited to the United States alone; cheap American imports destroyed numerous small farming jobs in Mexico, and corporate forced environmental deregulation in Canada under NAFTA’s chapter 11 is devastating the environment. Additionally, the destruction of local Mexican agriculture has sent vast numbers of economic refugees to the USA. These immigrants, often undocumented, are greeted by xenophobic vigilante border patrols and attacks from the right-wing politicians and pundits wishing to distract our attention from the war in Iraq, faltering economy, and corruption scandals - just to name a few.
NAFTA and “free” trade agreements like it coupled with the general dominance of neo-liberal economics has spurred unity among its opponents. In the Seattle WTO protest in 1999, we saw the poster “Turtles and Teamsters, Together at Last.” Recently, the trade union movement has come around to stand with immigrants – both documented and undocumented – in the new civil rights movement, as demonstrated by the Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides. It is crucial for American young people to work with progressive social movements towards a just national policy in the pursuit of greater social justice here and abroad.
Young Democratic Socialists have participated in both the anti-apartheid and anti-Vietnam war movements. Young progressives were instrumental in those historic successes. They were guided not only by the tangible goals of reform, but the long-term goals of racial justice and peace. Historically young people, especially students on campuses, have been an important part of presidential elections. Too often, however, these campaigns focus around the individuals and not their policies. Concerning NAFTA, it is clear that John McCain wants to expand so-called “free” trade agreements and Barack Obama has backtracked from his original comments about reconsidering NAFTA. As socialists, we have to be at the forefront of popular education on the importance of trade and building a movement to push politicians in the right direction. We should not let our peers believe that an elected official will be a panacea for Bush’s horrific administration. It’s up to us to prepare fellow liberals, radicals, progressives, etc. to be pushing whoever is in power on January 20th, 2009 on the issue of changing NAFTA.
One good step towards building pressure on the next elected president is for YDS chapters and members to gather signatures for the Renegotiate NAFTA petition. The Renegotiate NAFTA campaign, spearheaded by YDS’s parent organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, has asked people to stand by the statement below:
While campaigning, you heard millions of Americans attest to the disappearance of secure industrial jobs, the devastated communities and shuttered small businesses that accompanied that job loss and the growing inequality in wealth and opportunity. You heard the clamor for fair trade instead of unregulated “free trade.” You may even have promised that, if elected, you would renegotiate a treaty that, 15 years after its adoption, is not meeting the social and economic needs of the American people or the needs of most Canadians or Mexicans, for that matter. Campaign rhetoric is not enough; changes are needed in our trade and investment policies. We therefore call upon you, immediately after you take office, to begin renegotiating NAFTA. An overhauled treaty should follow the Principles of Fair Trade, which should also be integral to future trade agreements and the basis for renegotiating existing trade treaties.
There is power in a written statement signed by thousands asserting their disapproval of NAFTA. There is power in the internationalism of calling for a new agreement to protect the social and economic needs of Mexican, Canadian, and U. S. citizens, instead of those states’ ruling elites. There is power, after fifteen years, in people saying another world is possible. But as we said in the 2007 US Social Forum, another U.S. is necessary for a better global society to exist. The Young Democratic Socialists and Democratic Socialists of America must also take on an intergenerational project so we can strengthen the U.S socialist project together.
I propose that YDS officially endorse DSA’s Renegotiate NAFTA campaign, with a special emphasis on the role of youth and students in putting pressure on the next president. I propose we commit to the following:
- YDS have a national week where we push chapters and members to table about the campaign and collect signatures, and we set a goal of how many signature we want to collect.
- We contact the New Democratic Party (Canada) and Party of the Democratic Revolution (Mexico) youth sections to build international ties about this issue.
- We develop a strategy about bringing in national allies like United Students Against Sweatshops, Student Farmworker Alliance, Student Labor Action Project, and Jobs with Justice to support this campaign.