NAFTA and Labor

NAFTA and Labor: A Global Strategy for the Global Economy

[Published in the Political Economy of Globalization, edited by Satya Dev Gupta (Boston/Dordrecht/London: Kluwer Academic Publisher, 1997): 287-313. A slightly modified version of this paper, titled “NAFTA and Sovereignty,” was subsequently published in Science and Society, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Summer 1997): 243-254.]


ABSTRACT: This study argues that in challenging the corporate free trade agenda the labor must put forth its own agenda, one that will go beyond the type of “buy American” slogans. A positive left-labor agenda must emphasize, among other things, the importance of a long-term international labor strategy based on worker-to-worker or union-to-union links. Such a strategy would replace the current downward competition between workers in the three (and hopefully all) countries with coordinated bargaining and joint policies for mutual interests and problem-solving.


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) generated an almost unprecedented debate over the effects of the treaty on employment, income distribution, and the environment. As its proponents touted NAFTA as the cure-all for the 1990s and beyond, its opponents condemned it as hazardous to U.S. jobs, wages, working conditions and the environment. While some NAFTA opponents sought to defeat the deal, others tried to amend it with “codes of conduct” for transnational corporations.

This study seeks to show that while the free traders’ defense of NAFTA clearly stemmed from a staunch devotion to the free reign of capital, most of the labor arguments against it simply echoed the arguments of protectionist politicians and business leaders, and were therefore both misguided and misleading. While the strategy of imposing “codes of conduct” on transnational corporations was (and remains) wishful thinking so long as such safeguard measures are not enforced, that of “just say no to NAFTA”  was clearly deceptive. It was deceptive on two accounts. First, it implicitly assumed that capital flight and plant relocation would stop if NAFTA was formally defeated. Second, by heightening the international labor competition and magnifying the likely impact of lower Mexican wages on U.S. unemployment, it diverted attention from the major source of unemployment: the systemic tendency for labor to be constantly replaced with machine.

Whether top labor leaders’ NAFTA strategies stemmed from sincere misconceptions or from populist sentiments and short-term “political correctness” is not the issue here. The claim this study will make is that while nationalist and/or protectionist policies such as “buy American” may be pleasing to populist sentiments, such policies are in the long run damning to the interests of labor. I shall therefore argue that, in challenging the multinational corporations’ free trade agenda, labor must put forth its own agenda; a positive agenda whose aim would be to influence, shape and, ultimately, lead the world economy. Such a strategy would aim at (a) eliminating or reducing international labor rivalry by taking the necessary steps toward the establishment of wage parity within the same company and the same trade, subject to the cost of living and productivity in each country; and (b) establishing independent labor, community,  and environmental organizations that would monitor the implementation process of NAFTA’s “safeguard” measures. A strategy of this sort would replace the current downward competition between workers in the three (and ultimately all) countries with coordinated bargaining and joint policies for mutual interests and problem-solving—just as the GATT, WTO (World Trade Organization), the World Bank, and other international organizations are constantly seeking solutions for the problems facing international capital.


  1. What is NAFTA All About?

In the history of capitalism, the state’s  “visible hand” has always played a crucial role in facilitating the operation of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” The state played an important role in the early stages of the development of capitalism in the West. It contributed to the establishment of the general conditions for capitalist accumulation and development by facilitating the separation of the worker from the means of production (through the enclosure of common lands, for example), by encouraging the free movement of labor and capital through the modification of existing settlement and welfare laws, by eliminating internal obstacles to exchange such as tolls and tariffs, by standardizing currency and exchange, developing new modes of credit formation, and so on.

State intervention in other forms such as subsidization, the underwriting of risk, protection from foreign competition, and penetration into foreign markets through wars or coercion has been of vital importance to the accumulation and expansion of Western capitalism. To use James Dickinson’s words, “socialization of losses, privatization of profits, stabilization of the business environment at home and abroad—these functions summarize the role of the state” under capitalism (1981, 25; see also Dobb, 1963; de Brunhoff, 1978; O’Conner, 1973; Szymansky, 1978).

Transnational economic agencies such as IMF, the World Bank, and GATT can be better understood in light of this history and its underlying philosophy. NAFTA too is more easily comprehensible in this context: it represents, in its most recent form, the evolving agenda of capital-state collaboration; a form that is more suitable to the current needs of international capital. Although NAFTA is framed in ideologically laden terms such as “free trade agreement,” free trade is not the main thrust of the treaty. In fact, free trade in the usual or traditional sense, i.e., in the sense of reducing or eliminating tariff barriers, has largely been accomplished as a result of GATT-sponsored trade negotiations. Tariff rates on industrial products have been reduced in the last 25 years from an average of 40-45 percent to an average of 5-8 percent. With few exceptions, Mexico has accordingly reduced or eliminated most of its tariff barriers since joining GATT in 1986.

But representatives of international capital are not satisfied with free trade in the usual sense; they want more: more mobility not just for manufactured products but also for plants, equipment and money. NAFTA is designed to eliminate not only tariff barriers but, more importantly, non-tariff barriers to both trade and investment—especially investment in the service industries. What are these non-tariff barriers to international business? Under NAFTA, as under GATT and its successor institution World Trade Organization, any local, state, or national control of wages, health and safety, or environmental standards is considered a non-tariff barrier to trade. Likewise, any legislation that is directed toward social justice, equality, and values other than profit, is viewed as a non-tariff barrier to international business. NAFTA is therefore a transnational corporate agenda for deregulation and unhindered business operation across national borders, “an agent for corporate sovereignty,” as Elain Bernard put it. (1994, 31).

A major thrust of NAFTA is to establish free investment in the service industries. These include banking, insurance, legal, accounting, engineering and architecture, real estate, commodity and securities exchange, and transportation and communications. They also include some essential public services such as education and health care that have traditionally been provided by the government in Canada and, to a lesser degree, in Mexico and the United States. The services chapter of the treaty opens a variety of public services to private corporations. The treaty also provides these corporations with supranational legal and institutional guarantees which they can use to constrain local, regional, or national governments from providing public services on a non-commercial basis.

An example of how NAFTA does this can be found in Article 1502 which states that “each party shall ensure that any government monopoly (that means crown corporations, etc.) acts solely in accordance with commercial considerations in the purchase or sale of a monopoly good, including with regard to price, and that it provides non-discriminatory treatment to investment or investors or goods and services provided by the other party.” This means that NAFTA not only will restrict the management or establishment of public services such as child care, or a single-payer health care on a non-commercial basis, it will also restrain governments from regulating the market to achieve goals such as conservation of renewable or non-renewable resources as an instrument of long-term industrial policy.

What, we may ask, if member governments failed to comply with NAFTA provisions? They will be liable to corporate contract bidders for “lost market opportunity.” That is, private corporations can claim compensation for perceived potential profits that would be lost if a service is provided on a non-commercial basis.

And where would such disputes be settled? Not in a local, state, or national court, but in a NAFTA-established supranational panel of trade officials and lawyers (whose clients are often transnational corporations) with extralegal powers that could well preempt national laws. Hearings are secret without testimony from interested consumers, health, labor, or environmental groups. No one from the public or press is allowed to attend.

This is no speculation; it has already happened in Canada, which signed a free trade agreement with the United States in 1989. In 1990, the people of Ontario, Canada, elected a New Democratic Party provincial government. One of its promises was to provide Ontario drivers with a no-fault government-run automobile insurance program, similar to what people already enjoy in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. While still in the stage of preliminary study, the Ontario government’s reform was stopped in its tracks. The provincial insurance companies commissioned a study showing that, because of the monopoly provisions of the Free Trade Agreement, the Ontario government would have to compensate auto insurance companies $2 billion, for lost market opportunity, if the provincial government went ahead with its auto insurance plan. Why? Because Article 2010 of the Agreement stipulates that if government action reduces the financial benefits that a company might otherwise expect, the company is entitled to compensation. In addition, Article 1605 requires “fair market compensation” to companies subjected to measures which are considered “tantamount to expropriation.” Invoking these provisions of the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreements, the insurance companies demanded $2 billion in compensation. The provincial government of the largest and most powerful province in Canada backed off and walked away from its promise (for a detailed account of this event see Bernard, 1994, 3 & 31).

This is incredible. Corporations are compensated for what they have not earned but could have, would have, or should have earned. Workers, on the other hand, are not compensated for the most vital thing they have actually lost: their jobs, hence their livelihoods!

NAFTA employs innovative measures and provisions to bring about free mobility of capital. One such provision is called “trade-related investment measures” (TRIMS). According to these measures, local and national governments cannot regulate or influence any investment or financial service that is related to trade. Since any investment that results in production could be considered potentially trade-related, the capability of national governments to influence foreign investment is therefore drastically limited (Bello, et al., 1994, 83-84).

Another similarly innovative provision is called “the right of national treatment.” It stipulates that no preference can be given to local or national companies over foreign-based ones. A variety of similar provisions and articles prohibit both local and national governments from requiring of transnational corporations any performance requirement such as purchasing from local suppliers, reinvesting part of their profits locally, promoting exports, and the like. In other words, NAFTA provisions do away with mechanisms used by less-developed countries to ensure that foreign investment contributes to national development. Virtually any government policy that foreign-based corporations claim restricts their business may be outlawed by NAFTA. In essence, NAFTA’s investment provisions constitute a “corporate bill of rights,” as David Ranney put it (1993, 9).

A major concern of NAFTA architects is protection of “trade-related intellectual property rights” (TRIPS). Included in TRIPS are copyrights, patents, trademarks, sound recording, satellite signals, trade secrets, layout designs of semiconductor integrated circuits, industrial designs, and certain life forms such as plant seeds and the genetic make up of livestock. NAFTA conditions effectively place control of these sources of knowledge and scientific know-how under the guardianship of transnational corporations. This is another example of how inconsistent, unfair, and high-handed NAFTA architects are: on the one hand, they preach freedom of trade and competition, on the other, they firmly establish transnational corporations’ monopoly control over all sources of scientific knowledge and technological progress—hence of economic and social progress. This is a case of blatant double standard; it is tantamount to saying, “I will keep mine, but let’s share yours”!

In its concluding session (Marrakesh, April 1994), the Uruguay Round chose a new name, a successor, for GATT; it is World Trade Organization (WTO). A comparison between NAFTA and WTO reveals that the former institution is designed to be the precursor of the latter. Almost all the NAFTA provisions reviewed here—intellectual property rights, trade-related investment measures, commercialization of public services, and trade-related dispute resolution procedures—are essentially replications and extended versions of the respective GATT provisions as formulated throughout the Uruguay Round of negotiations (1986-1994). Thus, as NAFTA goes further than GATT in establishing freedom for international capital, it also almost insures that the next round of the GATT negotiations will dig deeper in this direction than did the Uruguay Round, perhaps as far as the NAFTA treaty already has. If the present trend of international economic integration continues, such an evolution in GATT’s agenda would not be very surprising, considering the fact that the advancement of the Uruguay Round over the Tokyo Round has been much more drastic than the advancement of NAFTA over the Uruguay Round. In fact, NAFTA contains a clause, “accession clause” (Article 2205), which enables other countries to join the pact, subject to acceptance of its terms and the approval of member countries. It does not even limit the pact to the Americas, as President George Bush had initially hinted it would (for a detailed comparison of the major provisions of NAFTA and those of the Uruguay Round of GATT see Ranney, 1993, 6-10).

This brief survey of the major tenets of NAFTA reveals that difficulties with its provisions reach far beyond jobs and wages—vital as these are to the working class. NAFTA clearly sets forth an agenda that further tightens the grip of capital over every aspect of our lives. It is intended to help the market’s “invisible hand” to further commodify and/or commercialize all our essential needs: science, technology, education, health care, use of natural and/or environmental resources, and so on. In addition, it further undermines the right of people—at the local, regional, and national levels—to democratically determine their own priorities, values, and visions. In short, it is a weapon in the hands of big business when it opposes any humane social program. Attempts to place environmental standards on firms are met with the threat of either moving production elsewhere, or taking the concerned community to the NAFTA court—the supranational dispute-resolution panel of corporate lawyers—and claiming compensation for “lost opportunities.” Higher taxes to improve the schools? Again, the same threat. Better health and safety standards? The same response, or blackmailing strategy.

Is there a defense against these threats? Are there alternatives to the global corporate agenda? What can communities do to undermine the strategies of multinational corporations that block progressive social and economic reforms? Before discussing some of the labor’s and other grassroots’ responses to these pressing question (sections III and IV below), let us first briefly review the flawed arguments that the top U.S. labor leaders shared with protectionist politicians in their opposition to NAFTA.


  1. Flawed Arguments Against NAFTA

A logical, first step deterrent to multinational corporations’ blackmailing strategies, and their actual export of jobs, would be to remove the lures that induce plant relocation. Making labor costs of production comparable within the three countries would be crucial for this purpose. This would entail taking the necessary steps toward the establishment of wage parity within the same company and the same trade, subject to the cost of living and productivity in each country. Envision, for a moment, a scenario in which the top leaders of organized labor in the three countries broke ranks with their respective countries’ ruling classes and came up with the positive response of cross-border unionization and trinational working class collaboration in order to eliminate or reduce labor costs as a factor in international labor competition . This would immediately take political initiative from the likes of Ross Perot and other self-styled capitalist allies of labor, and drastically change the course of debate over NAFTA.

Some may view this suggestion as unrealistic. But the rapid internationalization of production, technology, and information is increasingly creating favorable conditions for such an alternative. The evolving internationalization of capital and integration of world markets is pulling the workers of the world together to an unprecedented extent. “More and more workers around the globe not only work for the same 1,000 or so dominant multinational corporations (MNCs) or their contractors,” as Kim Moody points out, “but are linked in common production or service delivery system” (1994, 5). In fact, the ideological and economic offensive of neo-liberalism since the early 1980s has already prompted the emergence of a number of transnational grassroots coalition networks of unionists, environmentalists, women and other citizen activists (Brecher/Costello, 1994; Moody/McGinn, 1992; Krimerman/Lindenfeld, 1992; Bello, et al., 1994; Danaher, 1994; for example). These include the formation of a new global labor organization, International Center for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR), which has established National Committees in 23 countries covering Europe, Africa, Asia, America and Australia. In the defense and extension of the rights of trade unions around the world, “the work of these Committees is complemented by a network of international correspondents including journalists, lawyers, trade union leaders and academics” (International Union Rights, Vol. 1, Issue 6, p. 24).

While not widespread, these initial transnational coalition networks of grassroots indicate, if only in faint outlines, that the potential for cross-border solidarity networking and organizing from “below”  is real if cultural and political obstacles can be overcome. Experience shows that organizing strategies of this type could be formulated not by lobbying politicians—though this may at times be necessary—but by initiating transnational unionization and working class solidarity; not by heightening inter-labor competition, but by eliminating it. It only makes sense that as trade, investment, and business organizations become global so should labor organizations. There is absolutely nothing radical about workers wanting to eliminate labor costs as a factor in competition. Nor is such an idea very new. Over a century ago, a group of British trade unionists—including a painter, joiner, bookbinder, carpenter, and shoe-maker—sent a letter to their French counterparts in which they suggested establishing an international “fraternity of peoples” in order to reduce international labor rivalry:


A fraternity of peoples is highly necessary for the cause of labor, for we find that whenever we attempt to better our social conditions by reducing the hours of toil, or by raising the price of labor, our employers threaten us with bringing over Frenchmen, Germans, Belgians and others to do our work at a reduced rate of wages…. This has been done not from any desire of our continental brethren to injure us, but through a want of regular and systematic communication between the industrious classes of all countries, which we hope to see speedily effected, as our principle is to bring up the wages of the ill-paid to as near a level as possible with that of those who are better remunerated, and not allow our employers to play us off one against the other, and so drag us down to the lowest possible condition, suitable to their avaricious bargaining (Waterman, 1988, 22-23).


Unfortunately, with few exceptions, the top U.S. labor bureaucracy during the NAFTA debate, while giving lip service to workers’ interests, fell in line with the protectionist/nationalist faction of the capitalist class, and pursued policies of “buy American,” or “just say no to NAFTA”—and if these failed, try to amend NAFTA with “codes of conduct” for transnational corporations. While a code of conduct for big business is desirable, and the fight on the legislative front to establish labor and environmental safeguards is important, such safeguard measures are worthless in the absence of enforcement mechanisms and institutions. Experience shows that corporations routinely disregard environmental and labor rights not only in Mexico but also in the Unites States and Canada. And if these fundamental rights are easily disregarded on a national level, assuring them would be all the more difficult on an international level. Reporting on “NAFTA’s Progress” on the occasion of its ratification anniversary, The Economist  recently wrote that the treaty’s labor and environmental side-agreements constituted a “grand fiasco” (February 18, 1995, p. 24).

An obvious weakness of the “buy American” policy is that, while heightening international labor competition, it accepts the primacy of the needs of (national) capital, thereby making labor hostage to capital’s exigencies. (This point is further elaborated in section III below.) Furthermore, the “buy American” slogan provided the NAFTA proponents with the opportunity to argue that while this may save some jobs in import-related industries it will hurt jobs in export industries. In fact, arguments of this type helped the NAFTA champions to define the entire agenda of national debate over the treaty on the basis of “pains” versus “gains” of the deal in terms of employment, wages, trade, and so on. The debate was therefore reduced to a battle of hypothetical statistics, often highly exaggerated on both sides.

For political expediency, proponents of NAFTA usually prefaced their defense of the treaty by briefly  acknowledging that NAFTA might cause “some initial, temporary pains” such as loss of “some low-skilled” jobs, but they quickly moved on to discussion of its “far reaching gains”: that it would boost U.S. exports, hence export-based and high-skilled jobs; that the loss to some U.S. workers would be balanced by gains to Mexican workers; and that the decline in some U.S. wages would be more than offset by lower prices, hence higher purchasing power of the dollar.

A logical response to this argument would be something along these lines: granted. NAFTA will probably be a shot in the arm for the U.S. economy, and benefits may then spill over into various sectors of society. But there is nothing new or surprising here. Heightening labor rivalry and lowering wages have always been a boon to capital, which might then incidentally help the economic situation for a while. But this would only be a temporary, trickle-down gain, and would come to an end as soon as the expansionary cycle turns into another contractionary cycle. Once again, we will face an economic slow down and a rise in unemployment—ad infinitum along this cyclical path, the familiar path of business cycles.

Arguments such as this would have greatly narrowed the maneuvering space of the treaty’s champions and effectively undermined their game of NAFTA’s “pains vs. gains.” Acknowledgement of undeniable properties of market mechanism could therefore help avoid the fruitless war of hypothetical statistics on the “pains” and “gains” of the deal and focus the debate, instead, on issues of democracy and sovereignty,  of social services and development strategies, and of education, health care, and environmental needs and concerns of communities. By ignoring the ABCs of a market economy and insisting that NAFTA would have no positive impact on the U.S. economy, its opponents inadvertently helped the arguments of its proponents appear reasonable while weakening the arguments of U.S. labor in the national debate over the issue.

Opponents of NAFTA invested a lot of time and resources on trying to formally defeat the deal. Because ratification of the treaty further aggravated the unemployment fears of U.S. unions, their support of this strategy is understandable. No doubt, the fight against the agreement on formal grounds was necessary. But to pin too much hope on the formal decision on the treaty by making it a make-or-break decision is questionable. While NAFTA will serve to accelerate the process of market integration and its disruptive effects, the fact remains that the agreement is primarily a formalization and culmination of this process rather than its initiator. Again, this is no reason for not fighting the deal on the legislative front; the point, rather, is not limiting the fight to this front. The labor bureaucracy could take advantage of the widespread debate that NAFTA generated, and use it as a national forum for articulating an affirmative working class alternative. Commenting on how the national debate over the deal could serve as a “catalyst” for cross-border labor solidarity, David Brooks, Director of the Mexico-U.S. Dialogos Program, wrote, “This is an extraordinary moment in history: as our governments have opened trinational negotiations from ‘above,’ they inadvertently opened a space ‘below’—a space that scarcely existed before” (1992, 96).

The fears and the costs of losing jobs under a market economy, especially in a period of “streamlining” and plant closing, are real and strong. While competition from low wage Mexican workers heightened these worries for the U.S. labor, exaggeration of such legitimate concerns during the national debate over NAFTA ran the risk of diverting attention from the major, systemic source of unemployment under capitalism: the secular and/or systemic tendency to constantly replace labor with machine, or to create a “reserve army of the unemployed,” as Karl Marx put it. The fundamental laws of demand and supply of labor under capitalism are determined by the market’s ability to constantly produce a reserve army of labor,  a “surplus population”:


The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth…the greater is the industrial army…The relative mass of the industrial reserve army increases therefore with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labor-army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population…This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. Like all other laws it is modified in its working by many circumstances (Capital, Vol. 1, Moscow, n.d., 592-93).


This surely sheds light on the relationship between the steady rise of unemployment in major industrial countries and technological development in those countries (the official unemployment figure for the 24 industrialized countries of the OECD now stands at 36 millions). It is the competitive pressure from the reserve army of the unemployed that explains the limited resistance from the unions to employers’ economic rollback and “downsizing” schemes of the recent past. This also explains the steady decline in the size and the bargaining power of the unions since the early 1970s in major industrialized countries. Pressure of losing jobs to the mass of the unemployed has been key to capital’s successful introduction of “management-by-stress” methods throughout North America. This pressure has been greatly intensified by the unfortunate international labor rivalry brought about by global capital mobility and its ability to transfer production or service operations to cheap-labor sites in the less developed area of the world. Under these circumstances trade unionism and politics “as usual” will continue to lose force as means of defending workers’ economic rights.


  1. Checking Capitalism’s Logic

It follows from the preceding that the reserve army of the unemployed and international labor rivalry will continue to grow unless the logic that governs the demand and supply of labor under capitalism is checked. What is needed to reverse the decline of labor and the balance of class forces is a new type of union strategy and a new labor movement.


3.1.  International Unionism

A first logical step in this direction would be the organization of international trade unions. If, at an earlier stage of capitalist development, “workers of the world unite” seemed an impossible dream articulated by labor’s prophets, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, internationalization of capital has now made that dream an urgent necessity. As capital and labor are the cornerstones of capitalist production, their respective organizations and institutions evolve more or less apace, over time and space. Thus, when capitalist production was local, so was labor: carpenters, shoemakers, bricklayers, and other craftsmen organized primarily in their local communities. But as capitalist production became national, so did trade unions. Now that capitalist production has become global, labor organizations too need to become international in order to safeguard their rights.

True, transition of labor organizations from the national to an international level is much more difficult than one that would evolve within national boundaries. While objective conditions—internationalization of production, communication, transportation and the like—are increasingly becoming conducive to cross-border contacts and solidarity, the capitalist nation state has erected all kinds of political and cultural prejudices and barriers in the way of such contacts.

Despite these barriers, official international trade union organizations have already come to existence; they are called international trade secretariats (ITS’s). They include, for example, the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF) and the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), with similar organizations for public employees, chemical workers, communications workers, etc. These are worldwide organizations to which the relevant national unions in each country can affiliate. ITS’s have at times conducted effective international solidarity campaigns, such as the IUF’s support of the Guatemalan Coca Cola workers’ strike in 1984-85. Because the ITS’s are based on national unions, however, they are leadership-to-leadership organizations bound by the politics and bureaucracy of their affiliates. They could play a role in getting affiliates to coordinate their bargaining internationally, but have not yet done so. Furthermore, local unions only have access to the ITS’s through their national leaderships.

While international trade union bureaucracies, like their national affiliates, have so far pursued policies that favor collaboration with the ruling powers in their respective countries, and thus only partially served the long term interests of rank and file workers, the very fact that international labor networks and institutions already exist denotes an important step forward in the history of the working class. For it is much easier to dismantle the structures and practices that insure the power of bureaucratic labor leaders—through a political reform movement initiated from below, for example—and to redirect the services and facilities of the international labor institutions so they serve the interests of labor, than to establish such institutions from scratch. (For a critical evaluation of international trade union bureaucracies see Thompson and Larson, 1978; Sims, 1992; Waterman, 1988; MacShane, 1992; Fraser, 1991).

A retarding factor in the effectiveness of the official international labor organizations to defend the interests of their members has been the business unionist policies of the labor bureaucracy in major industrialized countries, especially in the U.S., that accept the primacy of capital’s needs and, therefore, advocate collaboration with the capitalist class on a national(ist) basis. With some exceptions, the leaders of organized labor in these countries have played a dual role. On the one hand, using labor leverage, they have at times defended trade unions’ economic interests within the nation state; on the other, they have at other times rallied workers to the side of business in its search for market and investment opportunities abroad. Without this support, wars of an imperialist nature fought over global markets and resources—especially the two world wars of this century—would have been impossible.

Organized labor in major industrialized countries, particularly in the Unites States, has been haunted by this experience. As Walden Bello points out, “The extreme international mobility of corporate capital coupled with the largely self-imposed national limits on labor organizing by the Northern labor unions (except when this served Washington’s Cold War political objectives) was a deadly formula that brought organized labor to its knees as corporate capital, virtually unopposed, transferred manufacturing jobs from the North to cheap-labor sites in the Third World” (1994, 114). While many in the “northern” labor leadership continue to pursue the ideas and practices of national business unionism, there are signs of growing internationalist consciousness in the grassroots. Reflecting the changing views of the many rank and file union members in the United States, David Johnson, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers, recently wrote:


The response of the labor movement [to NAFTA] has been terrible. We have the equivalent of a cancer, and there’s an attempt to put a band-aid on it. Some unions are still talking about “buying American.” The problem with buying American, the problem with protectionism, is that it doesn’t address who the enemies are. It is not the workers in Mexico who decide to move these plants down there….Another response of the labor movement is what I call “solidarity by resolution.” Trade unions get together, sometimes in a beautiful resort in a nice hotel, and they pass a lot of nice resolutions that say things like, “Workers have to stick together,” and “By god its long past time we did something about it.” I think we’ve all seen those resolutions and probably written some of them, and I know we’ve voted for some of them. It’s our opinion in the UE that the time is really over for that stuff. A few years ago, maybe, we had the luxury of playing around with that stuff. It’s time now to get beyond that. (1993, 8).


Expressing frustration with the official AFL-CIO policy, Johnson continues:


With very few exceptions, the U.S. labor movement has a well-deserved reputation, not only in Mexico but throughout Latin America and through much of the world, of racism, of paternalism, of interference in their national sovereignty. Workers in Latin America have not forgotten the role of the international arms of the AFL-CIO, with their friends in the CIA. This is a terrible legacy we have to overcome if we’re going to build up real solidarity across the borders, and it needs to be said right out that we’re starting from way back. (Ibid., 9).


While not widespread, the dissenting views among labor ranks are not exceptional either. The fact that during the national debate over NAFTA dozens of independent labor and other grassroots’ organizations sprang up across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada in opposition to the treaty is a clear indication of the changing views. These organizations, with their often meager resources, were able to establish cross-border contacts with their counterparts, exchange ideas on issues of international unionization such as wage and benefits coordination and, in a small number of cases, succeeded in organizing labor unions in U.S.-owned plants operating in Mexico. Examples of these initiatives include the IBT Local 912/Green Giant solidarity caravan, the UE-FAT (Mexican Authentic Workers’ Front) Strategic Alliance, and the AFL-CIO-backed Coalition for Justice in Maquiladoras. Less official transnational solidarity organizations such as Labor Notes and the Transnational Information Exchange succeeded in establishing trinational exchanges and meetings of auto, telecommunications, and garment workers. Similarly, solidarity tours by members of the Ford Workers Democratic Movement of Mexico and by telecommunications workers, teachers, and others have taken place in the last few years. The formation of the North American Worker-to-Worker Network in 1992, which includes both labor and community organizations, has been another important step toward strengthening this new form of internationalist organizing.[1]


3.2.  Beyond Unions: A New Labor Movement

Crucial as they are in the struggle for labor rights (i.e., the right to organize, the right to strike, and the right to bargain collectively), trade unions have their limitations in the fight against the vagaries of a market economy: unemployment, alienation, and poverty. To begin with, they encompass only a small portion of the working class, usually the more skilled and better paid layers. Secondly, trade unionist politics is usually limited to economic demands such as wages and working conditions.  While critical to the economic welfare of union members, broader social issues such as democracy, equality, universal health and education, and environmental concerns remain outside the purview of trade union politics.

Thirdly, to the extent that trade unions defend the economic interests of the working class, their bargaining power is limited by a number of factors. One such factor, as discussed earlier, is the market’s tendency (and capability) to create a “reserve army” of the unemployed which severely limits the unions’ power to bargain with the employers. The second factor is workers’ dependence on the requirements of capital accumulation. Since wages and profits share the economic surplus, increases in the share of wages cut down on profits and investment[2], and result in a slackening of growth and a rise in unemployment.  As the late Stephen Hymer put it, “this makes the working class a hostage to the capitalist class on whom they depend for capital accumulation and to whom they must provide incentives in the form of profits and accumulation of capital” (1979, 269). A third factor that limits the bargaining position of the national union is the fact that investment, production, and competition now take place on an international level. Labor is therefore constrained in its defense of wages and employment by the threat of international capital flight and relocation. Even if we assume that international plant relocation is somehow successfully blocked by a country’s unions and their allies, the dilemma for national labor remains that any national policy to increase (or maintain) employment and wages will undermine a country’s position within the competitive world market, thereby further threatening wages and employment. In fact, even if a socio-political movement representing the poor and the working class came to power, it would face this dilemma. If it tries to break out of the global market, it will face capital flight, economic sabotage, currency depreciation, balance of payment difficulties, and economic collapse. The recent experiences of Nicaragua, Granada, France, and Cuba, among others, testify to this, and clearly show that, as Karl Marx concluded long ago from his study of human history, individual countries cannot break out of the grip of world capitalism.

Therefore, the solution to the vagaries of a market economy lies with the transformation of the transnational, not just the national, economy. Fighting against the ills of the market system—unemployment, poverty, environmental degradation, and the like—is crucial to labor and other social layers suffering from them. But it makes little sense to fight symptoms without challenging the system that produces them.

Many would argue that these are not propitious times to speak of radical alternatives to capitalism. Admittedly, global circumstances appear to support such arguments. The rise in the reserve army of the unemployed and international labor rivalry, combined with the monetarist/austerity offensive of neo-liberalism on a global level, have thrown the working class on the defensive. The steady drift of the European socialist, social-democratic, and communist parties toward the U.S.-type market economies and the erosion of their traditional ideology, power, and prestige have led to workers’ confusion there. The collapse of the Soviet Union, however much some socialists have always distanced themselves from that system, haunts the specter of socialism, and is likely to do so for some time to come. These have led to workers’ and leftists’ disorientation globally.

None of these, however, mean that there is no way out of the status quo. Capitalism is not only “destructive;” it is also “regenerative,” as Karl Marx put it in his discussion of the impact of capitalism on colonies and other less-developed areas. As it captures world markets, universalizes the reign of capital, and disrupts living conditions for many, it simultaneously sows the seeds of its own transformation. On the one hand, it creates common problems and shared concerns for the majority of the world population; on the other, it creates the conditions and the technology that facilitate communication and cooperation among this majority of world citizens for joint actions and alternative solutions. When this majority will come to the realization and determination to actually appropriate and utilize the existing technology for a better organization and management of the world economy, no one can tell. But the potential and the trajectory of global socio-economic developments point in that direction. The distance between now and then, between our immediate frustrations and the superior but elusive civilization of our desire, can be traversed only if we take the necessary steps toward that end.

As noted earlier, hopeful signs have already emerged that the global economic rollback policies of neo-liberalism have begun to awaken the grassroots and working people everywhere. The result has been a widespread but little-recognized resistance to these policies. Zapatistas’ uprisings in the Chiapas, women’s riots in the oil belt Nigeria, and the urban riots in downtown Los Angeles, Caracas, or Sao Paulo all represent one thing: poor people’s response to the neo-librettists’ economic austerity programs. But the grassroots’ response to the economic rollback has been more than just rebelling against it; those resisting are also initiating positive alternatives to it. These include employee-owned and operated enterprises, community-based development projects, workers’ and women’s cooperatives, and demands for a new world bank and a new United Nations. These initiatives have led to a series of international solidarity networks of trade unionists, environmentalists, women, consumer advocates, and other citizen activists (Turner, 1994; Daly/Cobb, 1994; Krimmerman/Lindfeld, 1992; Falk, 1992; Shuman, 1994).

On the intellectual front too the hope and the promise of a superior civilization to capitalism have not died with the demise of the Soviet Union. While it is disappointing—and not only to its most ardent supporters—that the social experiment that began with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution has failed, that failure, combined with the brutal offensive of “triumphant” capitalism in recent years, has spurred creative rethinking and critical debate on the nature and the future of capitalism (Cowling/Sugden, 1994; Silber, 1994; Roosevelt/Belkin, 1994; Wofsy, 1995; Albert/Hahnel, 1991; Kotz, 1992; Bello, 1994; Laibman, 1992a & 1992b; Epstein et al. 1993; for example).

Transforming the world economy in the interests of the majority of the people is, of course, not easy. It certainly cannot be brought about in one jump or an overnight uprising. It can come about only as the cumulative outcome of many steps along the path of a long and difficult journey of continuous social and economic change. If the ideal society in which we would all like to live is called Socialism with a capital S (or communism, as Karl Marx put it), achievement of that Socialism would evolve out of a series of socialism’s, with small initial letters, along the transitional path—a series of ongoing experiments and struggles to constantly rectify the damage wrought by the existing social order. Nobody can tell a priori how long or what form the transitional steps or stages may take; nor would such speculation be very useful. It is clear, however, that to change the world economy in the interests of the majority of its inhabitants, labor needs a new politics and new organizations to articulate the struggle for change.

Many radicals have dropped class politics at exactly the moment it is needed most. Rosa Luxemburg’s conviction that socialism is the only alternative to capitalist barbarism is as relevant today as when she expressed it, during the carnage of Wold War I. Barbarism stares us in the eye in many disguised forms. Yet, much of the left these days shy away from using words such as class struggle, organization, or the crucial role of labor for social and economic change. “It is fashionable these days,” as Walden Bello puts it,


to describe the desired alternatives [to capitalism] as an equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable social and economic organization. But once one begins to attempt to spell out the concrete implications of this abstract ideal, one cannot avoid describing a system of social relations that checks or restrains the devastating logic of capitalism…. Whatever one wishes to call it [the alternative to capitalism], conscious cooperative organization must supplant both blind competition and monopolistic collusion as the strategic principle of production and exchange if the economy is brought back to its appropriate relationship to the community (1994, 112-113).


To help initiate change in this direction, labor needs its own independent political organization(s) and its own class presence to influence the evolving one-world economy. As David Riehle recently put it, in an article on the occasion of a Labor Party Advocates convention in Chicago, a viable independent labor organization will be (or is) one that “advances the idea that workers should represent themselves, that workers would be candidates for public office, that the working class itself can provide the solutions to the permanent crisis of present society—a party that can mobilize the broadest sectors of society in struggle for those objectives” (1993, 13).

It is true that in the older industrialized countries the percentage of the labor force working in large manufacturing and mining enterprises has declined, compared to those working in the so-called service industries. But this is no more than diversification of the work force that follows diversification of technology and economic activity, and the conclusion that it represents a decline in the overall weight or importance of the working class is unwarranted. The type of one’s work uniform, the color of a wage earner’s collar, or whether one’s pay is called wage or salary does not make him/her more or less of a worker than other wage earners. In fact, statistics on wage and benefits of the work force clearly show that, on the average, the so-called white collar workers are paid less and are much less secure economically than the traditional industrial/manufacturing workers. Growth of the service industries also means growth of minimum wage/no benefits workers. Concentration of large numbers of workers in telecommunications, transport, banks, hospitals, energy sector, and the like can today paralyze the capitalist economy even more effectively than their “blue-collar” counterparts in the manufacturing sector. Furthermore, “professionals” and salaried employees such as teachers, engineers, physicians, and even middle and lower level managers are increasingly becoming wage workers, and are thus ruled by the supply and demand forces of the labor market. The tendency for wage work to become the dominant or universal form of work means that, overall, the ranks of the working class are expanding, not contracting, despite the relative decline in manufacturing employment  (Braverman, 1974; Schor, 1992; Yates, 1994; for example).

More numerous and capable than ever before, the working class can influence, shape, and ultimately lead the world economy if it takes on the challenge (a) on an international level, and (b) in the context of broader coalitions and alliances with other social groups also struggling for equity, environmental protection, and human rights. This requires a new labor movement with independent politics and organization(s). Whatever the new labor organization is called (call it a party, a labor coalition, or anything you like), it has to be different not only from the U.S. business union model but also from the social democratic model of Europe, trade unions + party. It can certainly learn from models of labor movement in Latin America and South Africa where unions, grassroots’ parties, and community-based organizations (frequently led by women) increasingly function as arms of a single working class movement (Moody, 1994). This means that the new labor movement/organization has to represent the interests of the entire working class—not just organized industrial labor, nor only its singular economic interests. It must further aim at defending the interests of all those who challenge the logic of the profit-driven market mechanism. As Susan George, of the Transnational Institute, recently pointed out:


If the labour movement stays separate from all the other progressive forces in the world, we will be picked off one by one. There are tremendous opportunities for building alliances with environmentalists, with church groups, with development organizations. There is a whole host of people out there, but one has to go about building those alliances consciously. That does not mean you have to give up your own identity. That does not mean you have to agree on every issue, but it does mean that if we are going to beat this free market, competitive economy we have to re-group our forces. It is curious that the majority in the world is losing by this system and yet we do not seem to be able to unite and make our own political points (1994, 12).


The inadequacies and limitations of the existing major trade unions do not mean that a new independent labor organization should (or can afford to) bypass labor unions. Such a labor organization will have to grow out of, but go beyond, the existing labor institutions; it must expand its horizons from the industrial or trade level to the national level, and from purely economic to political action. In other words, it can no longer confine itself to the fight for wages but must fight for an equitable share of the aggregate economic surplus, a fair distribution and reasonable allocation of national income.  As was pointed out earlier, these objectives cannot be truly achieved within a national framework, since no nation alone—perhaps with the exception of the United States, and even that is doubtful—is able to break the grip of world capitalism. Therefore, new, independent labor organizations of various countries must also shift their horizons from the national to the world level, to international solidarity and international coordination of policy and action.

As noted earlier, the road to a social structure not regulated by capitalist profitability is a long and tortuous one; it cannot be traveled in one jump, but rather through a series of transitional steps and stages. Only through a careful and timely formulation of transitional programs and demands—demands which must in part stem from the needs of the mass of the disaffected, and which therefore will draw the widest possible array of allies into the ranks of labor—can a bridge be built between the present and such a society.  While the exact nature of transitional demands will depend on the concrete conditions of many specific movements along the way of this long struggle, the following seem to be some of the most appropriate demands for the present time.

1. The right to employment for all those able to work. Employers, their ideological allies, and their representatives in government will obviously cry out at this demand that “there are simply not enough jobs.” The labor coalition can then respond by raising the following demand.

2.  A sliding scale of working hours. This means that the new international labor movement/coalition should correlate the length of the work week to labor productivity so that, as productivity rises, the number of working hours will automatically fall, and no jobs will be lost. If it takes less time to produce the same commodities, we should all work less rather than eliminating some people’s jobs. There is absolutely nothing outlandish or radical about this demand; it only makes sense.

But capital has its own logic, and in the last half century or so, just the opposite has taken place in the United States:  people are working longer hours as labor productivity has been steadily going up. A recent study by Professor Juliet Schor of Harvard University (1991) shows that productivity in the United States has risen about 2.7 times since WW II. If the gains in productivity had been directed into decreasing the work week, Professor Schor observes, the amount of labor time required to maintain a constant standard of living would have declined to 20 hours per week. Instead, both men and women now devote more time to combined market and non-market labor than they did nearly 25 years ago.

3. A sliding scale, or indexing, of wages. This means adjusting wages to the rate of inflation so that workers’ purchasing power and their standard of living will not fall as the prices rise. Closely related to this demand is the demand that the share of wages as a percentage of national income should not fall relative to the share of profit, rent, or interest. Studies of income distribution in the U.S. show, for example, that the relative share of interest earners as a percentage of national income has been rising much faster than the share of wage earners in the post-WW II period (Hixson, 1991, 199-210). Interestingly, some labor activists have recently begun to question this lop-sided trend of income distribution. Addressing the Labor Education Conference on the theme “Labor and Politics” in Toledo, Ohio, 10 December 1994, Bob Wages, the president of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers stated:


What’s happened over the course of the past 30 years? In 1954 when the Internal Revenue Code was adopted, the tax code in this country, it was split roughly in the following way: large corporations and the rich assumed about two-thirds of the federal tax burden; one-third fell upon the poor and the working class. Now that burden has shifted. Now the working class and the poor pay two-thirds of the burden, and Corporate America complains about welfare (1995, 26).


4. The right to a decent standard of living for all; that is, nobody should fall below the officially-defined poverty line.

5. The right to a guaranteed universal, single-payer type health care system.

These and other demands such as the right to education, the right to pollution-free air and water, and the right to equal treatment of men and women regardless of gender and sexual preferences are certain to rally diverse segments of society behind the labor coalition, and thus help end the absolute rule of capital.[3]

Many people would view these proposals as unrealistic. What they mean by this is that these demands cannot be realized under the present socio-economic and political structure. And they are right. But, as this structure is reorganized, many of the currently “impossible” alternatives will become possible. There is definitely no dearth of material resources for this purpose, certainly not in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. What is lacking is the political will and/or capacity to reorient the society’s priorities and reallocate its resources. The realizability of these proposals, ultimately, comes down to the relationship of social forces and the balance of class struggle.

Others might reject these demands on philosophical grounds: that in the great contest between capitalism and socialism, capitalism has decisively triumphed, that the rules and the laws of market mechanism are eternal, and that, therefore, any talk of socialism or proletarian internationalism  is anachronistic and/or passé. Let us examine these contentions more closely.


  1. Prospects for International Labor Solidarity

Internationalism is not a dogma invented by Marx and Engels but a recognition of the laws of capitalist development, of the laws of the accumulation of capital as “self-expanding value” that is blind to physical/geographical borders. The need and the call for international labor solidarity stems from a recognition of this process, a recognition that if not labor, then capital is going to rule the world, as is presently the case.

A comparison between the early stages of the development of capitalism on a national level and its subsequent expansion to international level is instructive.  In its early stages of development, capitalism consolidated and centralized all the petty states, principalities, and feudal domains into nation states in order to create a broader arena for the development of productive forces. Today a similar consolidation of markets is taking place on an international level. Just as in the early stages of capitalism, nation states facilitated consolidation of national markets by establishing national currencies, national business laws, national tax laws, and the like, today they perform a similar task through international agencies such as IMF, the World Bank, GATT, NAFTA, and now the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Labor organizations too need to move from national to international arena—just as they moved from the local and/or craft level of early capitalism to the national level of today. The fact that earlier attempts at international labor solidarity failed by no means signals the end of the necessity of that solidarity—the growth of labor organizations has almost always lagged behind that of capitalist ones. Nor does it, therefore, detract in any way from the validity of the Marxian theory of proletarian internationalism.  As a science, Marxism will have to deal with new developments by advances in its theory. But only the doctrinaire can perceive a crisis of Marxism and a doom of international labor solidarity from the unsuccessful international labor experiences of the past, or from the failure of economic planning experiments in the former U.S.S.R. and its allies. From a Marxian perspective of history, the collapse of the Soviet system should have come as no surprise; on the contrary, the demise of that system gives striking confirmation to the scientific validity and continued relevance of Marxist theory. A crucial factor in Marx’s view of the viability of a socialist society is its achievement to a higher productivity of labor than under capitalism. Without this condition, and without democratic decision making, revolutionary expropriation of the means of production and their placement at the disposal of the state would be, according to this view, a dramatic event without a future as these revolutionary gains would sooner or later succumb to the more competitive capitalist market forces (Critique of the Gotha program, The German Ideology, The Civil War in France, for example). In the absence of these two key conditions, the collapse of the Soviet-type economies was inevitable.[4]

Those who refer to a crisis of Marxism and the “end of history” see the conjunctural deviations of actual developments from theory, and an altering of conditions, as a loss of the general explanatory power of the theory.  Some of the general conditions that have contributed to the failure of past efforts at international labor cooperation are: the prematurity of some of those efforts, including perhaps that of the First International; the corruption and/or ideological bankruptcy of the leadership of the working class; the successful promotion of the ideology of nation state and/or nationalism; the divisive atmosphere of the Cold War era; and, perhaps most importantly, the immediate post-WW II economic boom in the United States, which afforded the working class there a decent standard of living, thereby fostering a policy of cooperation with the capitalist class at home and a cavalier attitude toward workers abroad. Whatever the reason(s), the fact is that most of these conditions have changed, or are changing, and new conditions that will prepare and/or favor international labor collaboration are replacing them—euphoric celebrations of the “triumph” of capitalism and the apparent confusion of the working class notwithstanding.

Chief among the emerging new conditions is the change in the U.S. international economic position and, with it , in the traditional labor strategies in the face of globalization of production. Until the early 1970s, the Unites States was the major world supplier of manufactured products. Furthermore, those products were largely produced at home, by U.S. workers. As long as the U.S. produced at home and sold abroad, its workers did not have to compete with those of other countries. It should therefore not be surprising that, during that era, the AFL-CIO pursued a policy of free trade and shunned international labor cooperation as these served its (temporary) economic interests.[5] World economic integration and globalization of production have changed this. Workers in the United States are beginning to realize that they can no longer afford to shun workers in other countries as this would be leaving corporations free to play them off against workers in low-wage parts of the world.

While the new world economic situation has led to a shift in the official labor strategy from the active pursuit of free trade to the current policy of protectionism, many in the labor ranks question the efficacy and the wisdom of this policy; instead, they suggest positive alternatives based on international labor cooperation that would eliminate labor costs as a factor in competition. Shoots of a new labor politics in the labor ranks and in the independent unions are reflected in both domestic and international labor strategies of recent years. New labor strategies in the domestic front include union reform activities, cross-union solidarity actions/organizations, community-based labor organizations, and efforts to build a labor party. At the international level, the new ideas and strategies are reflected in worker-to-worker exchanges, cross-border organizing, support for international labor rights, international strike support, contacts with workers in the NICs and Third World countries,  and enhanced labor communications.[6]

Globalization of production, technology, and information have created not only favorable conditions for labor internationalism but also for other  grassroots movements which are likewise challenging capitalist regulation of our lives, and are therefor potential allies of labor if labor would seriously address their concerns. Though little-recognized by official accounts and rarely mentioned in national headlines, these parallel international coalition networks are quite diverse and very extensive. They represent grassroots’ response to the global corporate agenda: they signify efforts at saving jobs, preserving small farms, stopping toxic dumping, winning labor rights, preventing privatizations, fighting for provision of basic needs, and the like. In short, they represent “an unanticipated and often unrecognized backlash” to the globalization of capital, as Brecher and Costello put it (1994, 83).[7]

Almost all of these organizations have at least an office and a telephone in at least one country. Fax machines and computer networks are also increasingly emerging as instant means of communications between these international groups. The daunting experience and the frightful prospects of international labor rivalry has lately prompted some labor activists and independent unions to establish computer networks with these organization in an effort to broaden their social base. For example, the LaborNet, the computer network of the Institute for Global Communications, “ties into other ‘Nets’ dedicated to social movements like the environmental movement, peace movement,…” (Ibid., 160). Labor communications expert Peter Waterman has called this international computer networking of diverse social groups dedicated to fighting the global economic rollback of neo-liberalism a “communications internationalism,” and suggested that perhaps it can be called a “Fifth International” (1992).

It is true that despite their significant growth in recent years, these grassroots groups are highly fragmented, and their resistance to corporate “lean” production and austerity policies is almost entirely defensive. To the impatient radicals, who are eager to see all their desired social changes take place in their own life time, this is frustrating. This feeling of disappointment is understandable because it is easy to focus on the individual droplets without seeing the wave/cascade that those droplets can generate. The fragmented and the defensive status of labor and other grassroots’ coalition  networks does not detract from the importance of the potential and the opportunities that these movements represent for social and economic change in the interests of the majority of world population. They show how globalization of capital can create globalization of resistance movements, and are therefore reasons for hope and optimism. This is why I think the defeatist conclusion in the face of the current celebrations of the “triumph” of capitalism and the “end of history” is wrong. The task of those who are convinced that capitalism is not the ideal summit of human history is therefore not to wring their hands but to dust off their clothes and go to work.



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[1].   Labor and other grassroots’ international coalition networks/organizations that have developed during the last several years are too numerous and their activities are too extensive to be cited here. A few good sources (among many) on these organizations and their activities are: Moody, 1994; Moody & Mcginn, 1992; Brecher & Costello, 1994; Brecher & Costello, 1991; Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union’s (ACTWU) “annotated Bibliography on NAFTA (Draft Copy),” 1993; the “Resources” section of Labor Notes, various issues of the last three years; Krimerman & Lindenfeld, 1992; Prasnikar, 1991; Shuman, 1994; Bello et al., 1994.

[2].   During periods of expansionary cycles and a labor shortage, a rise in the overall surplus can afford an increase in the shares of both wages and profits–like the immediate post-WW II period in the U.S. But increasing automation and internationalization of capital are making a repeat of that experience highly unlikely.

[3].   Among the many labor advocates who have written on these strategies and demands, the term “transitional demands” is most closely associated with Leon Trotsky’s name who systematically formulated these strategies in his The Trnasitional Program for Socialist Revolution (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977); see also Weitzman (1984); and Gorz (1967).

[4].   Evidence shows that prominent Bolshevik leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky occasionally spoke of the ominous likelihood of the failure of their revolution in the absence of the revolutionary outbursts in advanced capitalist countries. For example, in “A Letter to American Workers,” dated 20 August 1918, Lenin wrote: “We are now as if in a beleaguered fortress until other detachments of the international socialist revolution come to our rescue…. We know that help from you, comrades American workers, will probably not come soon…. We know that the European proletarian revolution also may not blaze forth during the next few weeks…. We stake our chances on the inevitability of the international revolution…. We know that circumstances brought to the fore our Russian detachment of the socialist proletariat, not by virtues of our merits, but due to the particular backwardness of Russia, and that before the outburst of the international revolution there may be several defeats of separate revolutions.” (in Mason, D. & Smith, J. eds., Lenin’s Impact on the United States. New York: NWR Publications, Inc., 1970). Leon Trotsky likewise predicted (in his well-known The Revolution Betrayed) the possibility of restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union if the more advanced economies remained capitalist.

[5].   Interestingly, architects of the U.S. labor’s foreign policy during the Cold War regarded themselves as internationalists–anti-communist internationalists. They cooperated closely with the CIA to break left-led strikes (for example in France in 1949) and overthrow leftist governments (for example in Guatemala in 1954). Business Week described the AFL-CIO’s global operations, such as its International Affairs Department in Washington and its Americn Institute for Free Labor Development in Latin America, as “labor’s own version of the Central Intelligence Agency–a trade union network existing in all parts of the world.” (Business Week, May 15, 1966; as quoted in Brecher/Costello, 1994, 150; and in Sims, 1992).

[6].   Due to space constraint, these new labor ideas, strategies, and movements cannot be discussed here. But I hope readers interested in more information on these fascinating new developments will benefit from consulting the reference sources provided in footnote 1 above and footnote 7 below.

[7].   A full account of international coalitions of grassroots groups is beyond the scope of this study. A brief tour through some computer networks (the worldwide web of the internet, for example) shows hundreds of such groups, despite the fact that only a fraction of them are connected with computer networks. (See also the following: Shuman, 1994; Danaher, 1994; Turner, 1994; Waterman, 1992; Bello, et al. 1994).