In 1993, Rep. Bernie Sanders opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and rallied with workers against free trade, which he believed would accelerate negative economic trends to benefit the ruling elites in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
“If NAFTA passes, corporate profits will soar because it will be even easier than now for American companies to flee to Mexico and hire workers there for starvation wages.”
He observed that some 2,000 companies, including AT&T, Ford, General Motors, and Zenith, had already left over half a million U.S. workers without jobs as they headed south for low-wage labor. Under NAFTA, all trade barriers would be removed, and the exodus of jobs would accelerate even further. According to a Wall Street Journal poll, 40 percent of the companies contacted indicated they were likely to shift some production to Mexico.
U.S. manufacturers were also building world-class, state-of-the-art, technologically sophisticated facilities in Mexico and hiring hundreds of thousands of workers. Furthermore, while Mexican manufacturing workers were already reaching 80 percent of the productivity level of U.S. workers, they were earning just 15 percent of the income. Wages had declined in Mexico, despite the growth of high-tech jobs, because of the low wage policy established and enforced by the undemocratic government of President Carlos Salinas, the leader of the authoritarian PRI party.
Rep. Sanders was joined by Rep. David Bonoir (D-Mich.) in an anti-NAFTA rally in Montpelier, VT. He urged the crowd to get involved in the debate, noting that the House was set to act on the proposed trade agreement, which had the full support of the Clinton administration, in November.
“This agreement is going to rip the heart out of communities across America,” said Bonoir. I think about dairy farmers in Vermont, and I think about auto workers in Michigan. These are people who made this country great, and we ought not be selling them down the river.”
Rep. Sanders also introduced legislation that would reduce the salaries of the president and Congress to the level of their Mexican counterparts if NAFTA were approved.
Despite their efforts, NAFTA was enacted in 1994 and created a free trade zone between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. “NAFTA remained in force until USMCA was implemented. In April 2020, Canada and Mexico notified the U.S. that they were ready to implement the agreement. The USMCA took effect on July 1, 2020, replacing NAFTA. The new law involved only small changes.”