Let’s recall that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), pushed by President Clinton and implemented with bipartisan support in 1994, was a bill of rights for big business, but it was a hemispheric hurricane for the working class. Workers in the United States lost high-paying jobs in skilled manufacturing; Mexican workers swiftly lost wages before losing jobs entirely; and the culture of social democracy in Canada was deeply eroded. As Robert E. Scott wrote in his 2003 article “The high price of ‘free’ trade” on the Economic Policy Institute website:
“Further study of NAFTA by researchers in Canada and Mexico has shown that workers in all three countries have been hurt, but for different reasons (Faux et al. 2001). In Mexico, real wages have fallen sharply and there has been a steep decline in the number of people holding regular jobs in paid positions. Many workers have been shifted into subsistence-level work in the ‘informal sector,’ frequently unpaid work in family retail trade or restaurant businesses. Additionally, a flood of subsidized, low-priced corn from the United States has decimated farmers and rural economics. In Canada, a decade of heightened competition with the United States is eroding social investment in public spending on education, health care, unemployment compensation, and a wide range of other public services.”
NAFTA was followed by the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005, which extended “the logic of the market” to five Central American nations and to the Dominican Republic. Jimmy Carter was an enthusiastic promoter of CAFTA, and if a more extensive South American Free Trade Agreement had been possible he would have supported that as well. But Carter did have the decency to state that the Venezuelan people had voted fair and square for an economic populist, Hugo Chavez. The working classes in Mexico, Central America and South America have often defied capitalist and outright fascist rulers in mass protests, but they have also suffered heavy losses through the jailing and killing of their bravest militants and labor leaders. To this day, workers from Juarez to Tierra del Fuego have long memories of political betrayals and outright repression. Generally, they do their best to settle accounts with ballots and not bullets. Anyone who argues that workers have no right to wage the class struggle beyond election days, however, is simply wishing that the working class would reduce itself to a passive production line on every other day of the year.
This is the ground of struggle, and this is the ground of solidarity. If socialists are not internationalists, we might as well join phony populists in the existing big corporate parties. The only internationalism recognized by demagogues such as Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly is the unrestricted mobility of capital over the whole planet. The price of this “free market” is the near feudal servitude of many millions of workers, and the imperial wars in which they die so young.
Patriotism of that kind is the false gospel of the ruling class. The sooner we break those mental chains, the better we are able to love our homeland. And what is any homeland but a wide sense of our neighborhood? If we do not want our streets filled with the tanks of a foreign power or our skies filled with deadly drones, then by what divine right do we inflict them on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan? These wars have long been an exercise of ruling-class power, waged in the domestic political realm by two political parties that serve the same corporate interests even as they play musical chairs in Congress.
“Our two-party system” is an ideological fiction, but this fiction has real political power. On the eve of the midterm elections, the Democratic Party is struggling to hold together the usual unstable coalition of Blue Dog Democrats, labor unions and corporate managers.
Whether the tea party movement is an appendage of the Republican Party or a mutant force that may break party ranks, we cannot yet predict. Tea party activists cover a spectrum of far-right causes, but at present the central and controlling idea seems to be free-market fundamentalism. In its purest form, this ideology is pure nonsense, since the irreducible price of every “free” market is the actual labor of human beings.
Granting “personhood” to corporations was a piece of godlike presumption on the part of Supreme Court justices in 1886, when they ruled in Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad that the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment made any corporation a natural person under the U.S. Constitution. As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote 60 years later, “There was no history, logic, or reason to support that view.”
That legal precedent of corporate personhood undermined our public life, yet it is consistent with the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case early this year (though it remains indefensible). The latter decision gives corporations a right to make unlimited campaign donations, and Congress has failed to impose disclosure requirements. Obama’s noblest public moment came in his last State of the Union speech when he made a direct criticism of this Supreme Court ruling. But this president does not simply serve at the will of the people; he also serves at the will of the ruling class, and remains a member of that class in good standing so long as he presides loyally over a corporate state and imperial wars.
If every government depends on the consent of the governed, then every neighborhood and workplace is potentially a small republic of persons who are willing to say, “We do not consent.” Do the capitalist parties depend upon your votes and donations? Deprive those parties of your moral and material support. Vote against the parties of war and empire every chance you get, and cast your vote for the parties of peace, economic democracy and ecological sanity. In this election, the Green Party of the United States represents not only our best hope of social democracy, but also our best chance to bring ecological common sense to our global economy.