Isolationism Watch: AFL-CIO Presidential Forum Edition

The speeches of the Democratic aspirants to their party’s nomination for president in 2008 at the Presidential Forum hosted by the AFL-CIO here in Chicago yesterday were, as you might expect, full of pro-union sentiments and pledges to strengthen unions (an exercise I find strangely reminiscent of Civil War reenactments). They were also peppered with enough isolationism to warm the cockles of your hear. All quotes are taken from this transcript.


Dennis Kucinich

And I want to see America take a new direction in trade as part of this, and that means it’s time to get out of NAFTA and the WTO — (cheers) — and have trade — and have trade — and have trade that’s based on workers right: the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, the right to decent wages and benefits and on and on.

Hillary Clinton

Well, I had said that for many years, that, you know, NAFTA and the way it’s been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers. In fact, I did a study in New York looking at the impact of NAFTA on business people, workers and farmers who couldn’t get their products into Canada despite NAFTA.

So, clearly we have to have a broad reform in how we approach trade. NAFTA’s a piece of it, but it’s not the only piece of it.

I believe in smart trade. I’ve said that for years. Pro- American trade. Trade that has labor and environmental standards, that’s not a race to the bottom but tries to lift up not only American workers but also workers around the world.

Bill Richardson:

We should never have another trade agreement unless it enforces labor protection, environmental standards and job safety. What we need to do is say that from now on, America will adhere to all international labor standards in any trade agreement — no child labor, no slave labor, freedom of association, collective bargaining — that is critically important — making sure that no wage disparity exists.

Barack Obama:

I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now. And it should reflect the basic principle that our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street.

Joe Biden:

Hey, look, a president’s job is to create jobs, not to export jobs, and the idea that we are not willing to take the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico to the mat to make this agreement work is just a lack of presidential leadership.

Chris Dodd:

But we also need to do something else here. In addition to having trading agreements that include labor, environmental, health provisions in them, insisting on those provisions in any trading agreement here, we need to stop exporting the jobs in the country that already are here. I offered legislation by banning the outsourcing of jobs in the Senate.

John Edwards:

It needs to be fixed, but the first thing I want to say is NAFTA is a perfect example of the bigger problem. This deal was negotiated by Washington insiders, not by anybody in this stadium tonight. And the question is, when are we going to change it? It’s cost us a million jobs. We need environmental and labor standards. We need actually the Justice Department prosecuting the standards under NAFTA.

Is it worth mentioning that both Joe Biden and Chris Dodd voted to approve NAFTA and the bill was passed under the presidency of the husband of Sen. Clinton, Bill Clinton, who signed it into law? I’m open to the idea that NAFTA can and should be improved but I’m not convinced that the kinds of provisions that are being proposed mean anything other than that the candidates want to shut down trade with Mexico.


Bill Richardson:

China is a strategic competitor. And we’ve got to be tougher on China when it comes to human rights and trade. We’ve got to say to China, you’ve got to (stop ?) fooling around with currency.

Hillary Clinton:

We also have to deal with their currency manipulation. We have to have tougher standards on what they import into this country. I do not want to eat bad food from China or have my children having toys that are going to get them sick. So let’s be tougher on China going forward. (Cheers, applause.)

Chris Dodd:

And I would say they’re a competitor, but be careful. It’s getting close to adversary. Let’s not have any illusions here. China’s investing a great deal of its resources in building up a military capacity. And in the 21st century, we’d better recognize here, while they’re competitors today, if we’re not careful here, then we could face some serious problems with China in the latter part of this century.

Dennis Kucinich:

The time to worry about China trade was really when some of my friends up here on the stage actually voted for most favored nation.

Now, as president, my most favored nation is America. And I want to say, you know, there was a myth when I was growing up in Cleveland that if you dig a hole deep enough, you’ll get to China. We’re there — (cheers) — and we need to have a president that understands that and is ready to take a whole new direction in trade with China. (Continued cheers, applause.)

Both Senators Biden and Dodd voted in favor of extending most favored nation status to China. I never thought I’d type these words but Dennis Kucinich is right: if they wanted to restrict trade with China that was the time to do it. I think we should be much more realistic. Our ability to influence Chinese trade, labor, or social policy is, essentially, nill. Either we buy low cost manufactured goods from China or we don’t. China is a country of more than a billion people and we’re not going to move its leaders in the direction of democracy and civil rights if that’s not the direction in which they wish to go (and, believe me, it isn’t).

We do, however, have the ability to influence our own economy by reforming our trade policy with China and IMO we should do so very, very carefully. We’re not going to revive manufacturing in this country by restricting trade with China. That horse is already out of the barn.

The 21st century equivalent of Smoot-Hawley is well under way.

7 comments… add one
  • The President of Canada ?

    Obviously, Obama meant to say “Prime Minister” but imagine if a Republican had made that minor gaffe.

  • I thought that was more humourous than anything else. Slip of the tongue.

    I think that the “gotcha” game that so many in the blogosphere and the legitimate media engage in is more from desparation for something to comment on in an interminable, scripted, and uneventful campaign than anything else.

    Will Obama lose one voter anywhere because he doesn’t know the title of the head of government of Canada?

  • I’m open to the idea that NAFTA can and should be improved….

    Well, you are a reasonable man, afterall. (Sorry if that sounds snarky. I’m actually mean what I wrote, you ARE a reasonable man.) And reasonably, most things can be improved, especially treaties, since times and circumstances change. I’d be interested in knowing if any of the Republicans think it shouldn’t be changed one bit.

    … but I’m not convinced that the kinds of provisions that are being proposed mean anything other than that the candidates want to shut down trade with Mexico.

    I wonder if any of these candidates want to shut down trade with Mexico in the two ways that matter most, labor and oil. Obama made some noise at some point about illegal aliens needing to move to the back of the line for citizenship, but does he really want to take any action on that front? Do any of them? And it’s a no-brainer that we will buy oil from where ever we can.

    Incidentally, I don’t think most of the Republican candidates really want to tackle illegal immigration in any manner other than rhetorically, either.

  • Oh, oh, oh. Union this, union that … What about merit?

    Y’all reckon them candidates dreamed they saw Joe Hill the night before the forum, alive as you and me?

    Speaking of Joe Hill, the Florida Memory Project has a 1961 photograph of a feller dressed up to look like Joe Hill after his death. This Joe Hill reenactor bears an uncanny resemblance to a famous pop star, or vice versa. Maybe this pop star is getting ready to help with one of these pro-pro-pro-union candidates’ campaigns? Nah.

    It’s all so confounded complicated. I need me a beer.

    Miss T

  • urthshu Link

    Meh. If the Unions crossed national borders, forming – say – a massive Canuck/Yankee/Mexican AFL-CIO, they’d say NAFTA is perfect as it is and needs to be expanded.

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