“The USMCA won’t fix the long-term problems with NAFTA that have caused so much grief. We’ll still lose factories to right-to-work states, and we’ll still face wage stagnation caused by direct competition with countries that have lower wages, both the US and Mexico.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (15 Nov. 2018) — Now that the US Democrats will control the House of Representatives, the new USMCA trade agreement may not be ratified, and one of the reasons has to do with a labour chapter of dubious content and enforceability — something the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) identified some time ago.
USMCA is worse than NAFTA: progressive labour unions
On September 30, a new trilateral trade and investment agreement was finalized between the United States, Mexico and Canada. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is supposed to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The response from progressive labour unions and civil society groups across Canada was clear: the USMCA is worse than NAFTA.
Dairy farmers and food workers call USMCA a betrayal, for adding even more concessions that further imperil our food production system; Steelworkers call it a “sellout” for validating and accommodating tariffs on steel and aluminum. Civil society groups have railed against the new and expanded provisions on exclusivity for intellectual property that extend corporate monopoly protection and control over brand-name biologic drugs, which will undermine the movement for a national pharmacare program.
Postal workers are outraged that the proposal to let online consumers avoid more taxes and duties will apply only to parcels delivered by private couriers, not those delivered by Canada Post. And public sector workers call USMCA an empty-handed disappointment for not even coming close to the progressive benchmarks the government set for itself for strong and enforceable chapters on gender, labour, Indigenous rights and the environment.
Proposed labour chapter still flawed: NUPGE
For our part, in addition to all these problems, the National Union has also expressed concern about the new quota system for auto exports, and the proposed labour chapter whose enforcement is highly questionable.
The Canadian government has been patting itself on the back because the proposed labour chapter outlines and seeks to protect workers’ rights and freedoms, and this chapter is supposedly enforceable through state-to-state dispute resolution. But the National Union has been sceptical about how this will all play out, and doubt it will stop the biggest irritants workers face.
“The USMCA won’t fix the long-term problems with NAFTA that have caused so much grief,” says Larry Brown. “We’ll still lose factories to right-to-work states, and we’ll still face wage stagnation caused by direct competition with countries that have lower wages, both the US and Mexico.”
NUPGE position appears justified by U.S. House Democrats
Now, according to a story published in the New York Times, at least some of the concerns of the National Union and other progressive Canadian labour unions appear to have been justified. The newspaper reports that US Democrats, who will control the House of Representatives as a result of their successful midterm elections, have vowed to withhold their support of the USMCA to extract greater protections for American workers.
'Without enforcement...you are... just rebranding NAFTA'
According to the story, Democrats are unlikely to ratify any deal that does not include “significant changes” that labour leaders and newly elected progressives are demanding. “House Democrats are particularly concerned about enforcement,” suggests Glenn Thrush in the New York Times story. He writes, "Democrats and their allies in manufacturing unions …maintain that the new requirements, while an improvement on the original NAFTA, do not go far enough. They are demanding more specifics about how the deal will be enforced.” Last week, days before voters swept her party back into power, Nancy Pelosi, Front-runner for Speaker of the House and California Democrat Representative, was quoted as saying that “without enforcement you don’t have anything. Without it, you are, shall we say, just rebranding NAFTA.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE