Grass-roots Efforts Go a Long Way|
by Kurt Williamsen
The New American, March 21, 2005
In the fight against the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas, grass-roots activists have scored a significant victory.
Cheers! Kudos! Slaps on the back! All are in order for the Utah members of the Stop the FTAA Committees, a campaign sponsored by the local chapters of the John Birch Society, because of their successful efforts to draw attention to all that's bad about the FTAA. (The Free Trade Area of the Americas is a supersized version of NAFTA.)
The accomplishment of the Utah committees is twofold. First, they pushed to get a resolution passed in the Utah Senate to officially discourage U.S. participation in the FTAA. Second, they pushed an anti-FTAA resolution in Utah's House of Representatives. Both passed. The resolutions in the House and the Senate were separate legislative measures, H.R. 9 expressing the views of the House and S.R. 1 expressing the views of the Senate. But the language of the two resolutions is almost identical. Both resolutions provide the following rationale for discouraging participation in the FTAA:
WHEREAS, the United States of America has always been the world leader in pushing for free trade, which is a hallmark of our capitalistic society;
WHEREAS, free trade only thrives where there is a level playing field of government regulations between trading partners;
WHEREAS, the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to bring additional prosperity to the United States and level the playing field with Canada and Mexico, thus perpetuating free trade between our nations;
WHEREAS, notwithstanding the good intentions of NAFTA, our nation has suffered the loss of almost 900,000 jobs due to NAFTA, many of them coming in the manufacturing sector;
WHEREAS, manufacturing jobs in the United States have plunged from 19.3 million in 1980 to only about 14.6 million today, in large part because of these types of trade issues;
WHEREAS, the United States has gone from a trade surplus with Mexico prior to NAFTA to a substantial trade deficit;...
WHEREAS, the United States is considering entering into a new 34-member Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2005; and
WHEREAS, based upon the experience that the United States has had with NAFTA and the WTO, United States membership in the planned FTAA would increase manufacturing flight in the state of Utah and throughout the United States.... The Senate resolution passed on February 7 by a vote of 21 to 7, and the House resolution passed on February 18 by a vote of 61 to 8. The Utah House, in H.R. 9, "respectfully but firmly urges all members of the United States Congress to vote no on any agreement for the United States to enter into a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)." The Senate resolution is identical — except that the words "at this time" were added to the end of the sentence.
The House resolution (and the Senate resolution, in almost identical language) also urges the U.S. Congress "to not enter into the FTAA until the United States has had more experience with and a greater understanding of the impacts of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO)." This somewhat concessionary wording was included by the resolutions' sponsors to garner more support among some legislators who are still under the spurious impression that the "concept" of NAFTA-like free trade agreements is good but that the improper implementation of NAFTA has merely fouled up a good idea.
Keys to Success
Northern Utah Stop the FTAA Committee chairwoman Ann Turner acknowledged to <i>The New American</i> that the Utah House and Senate resolutions are not perfect. But she also emphasized that the resolutions send "the entrenched political establishment a powerful message that the grass roots wants no part of so-called free trade agreements that destroy our jobs and undermine our national independence. FTAA promoters now know that there is tremendous resistance to their plans. And this resistance can do nothing but grow as we continue and expand our educational efforts."
That "powerful message" has certainly gotten some attention. In an article entitled "States' Rights vs. Free Trade," the March 7, 2005 issue of Business Week magazine noted, "The statehouse uprising against trade deals comes at a bad time for President George W. Bush's trade policy. This summer, Congress will debate the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) between the U.S., the Dominican Republic, and five Central American nations. It will also consider whether to end U.S. membership in the WTO and extend Presidential authority to negotiate future deals." The weekly added, "Business groups worry that an outside-the-Beltway rebellion will overwhelm Congress's razor-thin support for trade deals.... CAFTA is the most likely victim of this rising resistance."
Turner also told <i>The New American</i> that "our victory in Utah would not have been possible without the organized effort and hard work of many citizen activists who spent countless hours contacting their legislators and explaining to them the dangers of the FTAA." With greater pressure from committed grass-roots activists across the nation, the FTAA might well be added to the list of possible victims.
The Utah Senate and House will send copies of these resolutions to the "Majority Leader of the United States Senate, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the members of Utah's congressional delegation, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)." Utah Stop the FTAA Committee members succeeded at getting both resolutions passed mainly by successfully educating the state's legislators about the negative consequences of joining the FTAA and eliciting public opposition to inclusion in the FTAA.
The process of making these resolutions a priority with legislators was accomplished through a coordinated effort by committee members. As part of the committee's efforts, they gave all 104 members of Utah's legislature a copy of the "Erasing America" (September 6, 2004) issue of <i>The New American</i>, which highlights the dangers of the FTAA, and the book America's Engineered Decline, which explains the disastrous long-term goals of some of the political activists who wish to pass the FTAA. The two lead senators and all of the House members also received copies of the "Losing Our Independence" (February 7, 2005) issue of <i>The New American</i>, which rebuts the arguments of pro-FTAA activists.
In addition, committee members sent letters and mailers to legislators and solicited sponsors for the two resolutions. They even distributed thousands of pamphlets to delegates at the Utah Republican Convention. They coupled these activities with a steady flow of letters to the editors of their local newspapers — and a TV, radio, and magazine advertising campaign — to raise public awareness of the FTAA threat.
Though Senate resolution sponsor Senator David L. Thomas and House sponsor Representative Glenn Donnelson are Republicans, Democrats played active roles in passing the legislation. In the Senate, the Democrat in the lead was influential Senator Ed Mayne, a co-sponsor of the resolution. As president of the AFL-CIO for Utah and a member of the Federal Reserve Board in San Francisco, Mayne's decision to co-sponsor the resolution was significant and led to many other Democrats supporting it. In a speech he gave in support of the resolution, Senator Mayne used his experience on the Federal Reserve Board to explain how NAFTA had negatively affected jobs and the economy. He also pointed out the cascading effect of losing manufacturing jobs: when manufacturing jobs are lost so are many jobs that are supported by the salaries of the laborers. In the House, the Democrat-lead was co-sponsor Representative Neil Hansen, who garnered many Democrat co-sponsors and votes.
As in any other noteworthy endeavor, however, all was not smooth sailing. Pro-FTAA lobbyists tried to poison the vote. Most notable of these lobbyists was reported to be Thomas Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association (an organization that logically should have been onboard with the resolution). Bingham tried to get resolution sponsor Thomas to believe that NAFTA, the predecessor of FTAA, was not a cause of job loss in Utah and that, in fact, Utah hadn't lost jobs at all but had gained jobs. In response, Ann Turner sent Thomas an article from Utah Business magazine, which quoted Bingham as saying that Utah had lost over 12,000 manufacturing jobs in just the past two-and-a-half years.
In the Senate hearing on the resolution, Utah state Senator Scott Jenkins also attacked the resolution, mocking its very concepts, saying that it was foolish to give up a good thing. He said that NAFTA-type trade is good: "We are getting quality goods at an inexpensive price and improving our quality of life." He also claimed that a loss of manufacturing jobs was just a "necessary shift" in the types of jobs available in the U.S. and not a real loss of jobs because service jobs took the place of manufacturing jobs. Of course, he failed to mention that the long-term outlook for the U.S., if we keep these trade policies, is horrific; and he failed to mention that the service jobs that "replaced" the lost manufacturing jobs were low-paying jobs with little to no benefits.
Other senators who were against the resolution said that they did not know enough about these trade agreements to be able to judge them effectively, in essence saying that these decisions should be left to qualified people in the federal government. Senator Thomas countered this argument by reminding the hearing members that NAFTA has been around for 10 years without good results and by telling them that the very fact that people can't credibly point to the "benefits" of NAFTA ought to cause people to vote for the resolution.
In the end, most of the senators saw the logic of the resolution and voted for it. In the House, there was almost no opposition to passage of the resolution, and it passed handily, again showing what a great job that the Utah Stop the FTAA Committee members are doing.
Other Stop the FTAA Committees across the U.S. have also been having success in their anti-FTAA efforts — as is evidenced by increased state activity in opposition to the FTAA. In Indiana the Senate passed a resolution to have the U.S. stay out of all new trade agreements. Arizona, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Montana are taking actions similar to those in Indiana and Utah; and in Wisconsin and Oregon, the state governors have drafted letters opposing the FTAA. Wisconsin's governor has stated that Wisconsin will not be "bound" by these trade agreements, and Oregon's governor has said that Oregon will not be "a voluntary participant" in the trade agreements.