NAFTA blasted by Strickland

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2003

Imagine having a birthday party where the cake is thrown in your face.

That's what happened to NAFTA Wednesday night at Ohio University Southern.

On the 10th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-6th District), and State Rep. Todd Book (D-89th District), Ohio University Southern Center for Development Director Dr. Jim Crawford and local labor leaders gathered to share their information and opinions on the agreement that they said has sent American jobs south of the border.

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This town hall meeting in Ironton was the second of three meetings Strickland has hosted. The first was in Youngstown, and Thursday night Strickland will be in Steubenville.

"This is not a partisan issue - a Republican or Democrat issue - but an American issue," Strickland said.

NAFTA passed under Democratic President Bill Clinton and has been subsequently supported by President Bush, Strickland said.

"It's sad that both Clinton and Bush have both supported policies overseas that have sent jobs out of our country," he said. "That's a shame because they should stand up for the American people."

During a Powerpoint presentation, Crawford said American workers are currently working more hours, are producing at the highest level of productivity and have less vacation time than any other industrialized nation in the world. However, they still earn about one-tenth more than workers in Mexico, who also do not receive benefits such as health insurance. He said companies have taken advantage of NAFTA to increase their profits. Also, companies do not have to bother with environmental regulations in other countries.

In Youngstown, Strickland said he met with David Johnson, Republican Party chairman for Columbiana County and a tile producer. Johnson, Strickland said, invested $24 million in a tile plant and has now filed for bankruptcy because Chinese tile is considerably cheaper. Johnson also has a reputation of treating his employees well, with benefits such as paid funeral leave. American companies that want to stay in the country and be good corporate citizens are finding it impossible to survive, Strickland said.

Another idea behind NAFTA is that it would bring other countries to American standards. This is not the case, Strickland said. He discussed a recent three-week trip to Mexico in which he saw people living in detestable living conditions - in cardboard houses and no sewage. He also said children were not going to school. This will only hurt U.S. relations with foreign countries because people in those countries will see what the American corporations in Mexico are doing and form opinions about all Americans as a result, he said.

"I saw people living like we would not want our dogs to live," he said.

NAFTA is only the beginning, Strickland said. The United States has granted Most Favored Nation Status to China and has signed trade agreements with Vietnam, Chile and Singapore. Part of the agreements with Chile and Singapore are that workers from those countries may be sent to the U.S. to work.

"At the beginning, NAFTA seemed to be a well-thought idea," Book said. "We believed the world would rise to our standards, but the reality is that it is a race to the bottom. We've now been pushed to their standards."