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Are U.S. Trade Policies & NAFTA Causing An Influx of Undocumented Workers in U.S.?

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Longtime labor journalist David Bacon examines the negative impact Washington’s trade policies have had on Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Bacon speaks to us from Los Angeles where he attended Monday’s massive protests for immigration rights. [includes rush transcript]

  • David Bacon, veteran labor journalist who writes for a number of publications, including The Nation, The Progressive and the Pacifica News Service. He is also a programmer on Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley. He is the author of the books “The Children of NAFTA” and the forthcoming “Communities Without Borders.” He speaks to us from Los Angeles.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the telephone by David Bacon, veteran labor journalist who writes for a number of publications, including The Nation and The Progressive. He’s also a programmer on Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley, author of a number of books, including The Children of NAFTA. His new book will be called Communities Without Borders. He was in Los Angeles yesterday. Our guest in studio are Javier Rodriguez in Los Angeles and Justino Rodriguez here in New York. David Bacon, thank you for joining us. Can you link what we’re seeing in this country, millions of people on the streets in this latest May Day protest, to the greater story of the trade agreements in the Americas?

DAVID BACON: Sure, Amy. In fact, I think a lot of the people in the two huge marches here in Los Angeles did that themselves. For the first time, I saw lots of people carrying signs that said “no guest worker programs,” and this is, I think, different and something that went beyond what we’ve seen before, because, really we’ve been told now by Congress for quite a while that the only alternative to the odious Sensenbrenner bill, which would criminalize 12 million people is to allow Congress, the Senate specifically, to pass enormous guest worker programs and, in fact, force people who are here without papers to become guest workers as the price of legalization. And there were many, many people, including speakers up on stage also condemning this idea.

Really, what’s going on here is that the trade agreements, like NAFTA, and this neo-liberal free trade regime is displacing enormous numbers of people around the world so that worldwide there are about 170 million people living outside the countries in which they were born, and overwhelmingly this is due to the kind of enforced poverty that this free trade regime is producing.

But what is really kind of new here is that the corporate elite, large corporations, are now seeing this flow of people as something that can be used as a whole new source of profit, so that we see proposals for programs, like guest worker programs, in a number of different countries. In Britain, for instance, this is called “managed migration,” and we see the same thing in Europe and, in fact, at the W.T.O. negotiations in Hong Kong, there was a formal proposal introduced called Mode 4, which essentially would set up a huge new international guest worker program. So migration has always been part of the free trade regime, because of the fact that the imposition of this regime displaces people, but now it’s becoming even more a part of this regime, because really in a sense the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, financial institutions, large corporations see migration itself as being something that they can turn into a profit.

JUAN GONZALEZ: David, among the national leaders who have participated in some of these demonstrations, Jesse Jackson has been one of the few, as he spoke at yesterday’s rally, who has linked the issue of globalization and the increasing emphasis on mobility of capital, while at the same time these constant restrictions and walls put around labor’s ability to be mobile. Your sense of how the political leadership in the country is trying to, in essence, restrict this debate around sort of catch phrases that create heat, but not much light, on the issue?

DAVID BACON: Well, I think Jackson and the AFL-CIO both, for instance, first of all, they accept the existence of this flow of people. In other words, you know, as opposed to restrictionists in this country who would say, “Well, okay, let’s try and stop it,” which is not only impossible, but leads to, you know, really very repressive measures like the Sensenbrenner bill. What they’re saying is people need to be free and equal. So the proposal, for instance, from the AFL-CIO is saying, essentially, people need green cards.

In fact, I think this is what people out in the streets are saying, as well, too. You know, you see signs that say not only — you know, we want equality, but signs that say we want amnesty, and what people are saying when they use the word “amnesty” is not forgiveness for a particular crime, but simply the idea that, as in 1986, that the only way to resolve the situation of the people who are here without papers is simply to give people papers, in other words, to give people green cards.

So, I think this is the way in which people like Jackson, people like the AFL-CIO are envisioning that we can both recognize the flow of people that’s coming across borders and offer people some opportunity to be parts — you know, be equal here in this country, as opposed to the kind of second-class status that would be imposed on people by this kind of corporate program. But clearly, we also need to take a look at the kind of free trade treaties and the kind of free trade regime that we have set up around the world and begin to dismantle it, because until we kind of undo the unequal arrangements that are imposed by NAFTA and CAFTA and the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the structural adjustment programs that enforce poverty on countries around the world, then this flow of migrants, this forcible flow of migrants, is not going to stop. [inaudible] people in other countries are doing that, too.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bacon, I wanted to ask you, David, in Bolivia, the president, Morales, marked May Day by announcing the nationalization of the country’s natural gas fields and refineries. The Bolivian government has also just agreed to join a new trade pact with Cuba and Venezuela. Morales signed the agreement in Havana, where he meet with Venezuela’s President Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The countries are hoping that Latin American nations will defy the United States and join what they call the Bolivarian alternative for the Americas. How does that compare to NAFTA?

DAVID BACON: Well, I think that is the alternative. In other words, development, economic development in countries from Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, and eventually, I think, Mexico, too, of, you know, economic development to benefit the residents of those countries, rather than for the profit of foreign corporations that invest in those countries in pursuit of, essentially, low wages. So what they’re doing is they’re presenting an economic alternative, and I think that for people who support the rights of immigrants here in the United States, I think this is something that we seriously have to take a look at, because until countries in Latin America, for instance, are free to be able to establish a course of economic development which lifts the living standards of their own people without, you know, the pressure of the I.M.F. and the World Bank and the United States trying to enforce poverty as a means of profit for corporations. Until countries are free to do that, people will continue to be displaced. And, of course, where do we think, you know, the people displaced by structural adjustment programs are going to go?

JUAN GONZALEZ: And finally, Javier Rodriguez, we only have about a minute left but could you give us a sense of where the movement, the immigrant rights movement will go from here?

JAVIER RODRIGUEZ: I believe, Juan, that we’re going to cautiously await the next few days in order to find out what the response is going to be from the establishment, from up in Washington, just as we did after March 25th. Then, they put legalization on the table. We’re going to see if there’s been any improvement on their vision. The other is that we’re going to see what the people want us to do. We’re going to be polling, you could say, talking to the people themselves and see where we go.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, just one point here in New York. We watched and played for our viewers and listeners, politicians addressing these massive crowds. There’s nothing a politician likes more, unless they’re protesting against them. So you had Obama, Senator Obama in Chicago, as well as Congressmember Gutierrez; in Los Angeles, the mayor, Villaraigosa, of course, is very much a part of this; but here in New York, where are the so-called leaders?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yes. But in Los Angeles the mayor was not supporting the boycott, but he did come out for the rally.

AMY GOODMAN: But even people in New York who were not boycotting were there for the rally.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right, but you had a situation in New York, where Hillary Clinton on April 10th spoke at a big rally, and immigrants — then the following day, she comes out in strong support of this new version of the Chinese wall, the Great Wall of China, right here in the United States, so that you have these politicians that are attempting to play both sides of this issue in different constituencies, and most stayed away, except for the members of the black and Latino and Asian caucus of the state legislature of New York, who amazingly walked out of the legislative session and forced it to close down today, and one of them did speak at the rally — Adriano Espaillat — but other than that, there were virtually no politicians at the New York rally.

AMY GOODMAN: Justino, last comment.

JUSTINO RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I think there was also a specific dynamic about it. I think there was a little bit of a slip beginning to form, like some of the central demands of the march yesterday in New York was “amnesty now,” and I think that there’s a little bit of a split in terms like what the politicians are trying to advocate and what the demands of the movement are. We’ve been talking about that. I think the grassroots wants amnesty. This is what they want, and I don’t think the politicians are ready to give them that, and I think that they’re not ready to come out in support of the movement in that respect. They want a guest worker program.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. David Bacon, labor journalist, has written the book, Children of NAFTA. Justino Rodriguez, thank you for being with us here in New York, and Javier Rodriguez, one of the leaders of the protest and boycott in Los Angeles.

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