Editor’s Note: Bill de Blasio is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and the 109th mayor of New York City. The views expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton inadvertently laid the groundwork for the rise of Donald Trump.
He may have believed it when he pledged to working people that the gains from the North American Free Trade Agreement “will be your gains, too.” But that’s not what happened. He would have been better off paraphrasing another president, Lyndon Johnson, who said, “We are giving away the working class for a generation.”
The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that defends and protects working people. But as our country’s manufacturing jobs disappeared, unemployed auto workers in Michigan didn’t feel protected. Working families in Ohio didn’t see any progress. Small family farmers in Iowa didn’t achieve prosperity or stability.
In 2016 Democrats lost the election in the very places and with the very people who suffered from NAFTA. We lost the hearts and minds of those who saw their jobs leave and their communities hollowed out.
When we talk about trade in this country, we too often debate only the pros and cons of specific trade deals. And the only trade deals we have ever seen were written by and for multinational corporations.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The current debate is about NAFTA and “NAFTA 2.0” – or the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USMCA – the deal President Trump has proposed to replace NAFTA. Instead of debating whether Trump’s trade deal is better or worse than the original, we should ask why NAFTA should be the starting point for anything. Why are we making minor tweaks to a policy that was never designed to help working people in the first place? The Trump administration wants to build a better mouse trap. Working families are the mice.
Here’s a radical idea: Start over. From scratch. Rewrite the rules of international trade, and give workers the pen.
If trade deals were written by and for working people, they would include enforceable wage standards, a guaranteed right to organize, and the ability to form multinational bargaining units to negotiate with multinational corporations. When a company wants to move a plant or a call center from the US to Mexico to reduce labor costs, it should be required to bargain with workers from both countries.
If trade deals were written by and for working people, they would raise standards on pollution, require trade partners to honor the terms of the Paris Accord, and increase our shared commitment to fight climate change.
If trade deals were written by and for working people, they would encourage competition in pharmaceuticals and speed up the process of getting new and cheaper medications to the global market.
If trade deals were written by and for working people, they would raise the bar on corporate taxes and prohibit participating countries from setting up off-shore tax havens that help billionaires and multinational corporations avoid paying their fair share.
The United States is the largest consumer market on the planet and the “consumer of last resort” for every other country. The terms we set to allow access to that market should advance the interests of workers and consumers – not the bottom lines of multinational corporations.
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Those who still think “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” should spend some time in Lordstown, Ohio. Trust me: those days are over.
When it comes to trade, it’s time we put working families first.