author: Marcus Courtney
Apr 04, 2005 08:58
Earlier this month, Microsoft launched a lobbying offensive in support of the U.S. free-trade agenda and placed advertisements in the New York Times, Capitol Hill's Roll Call, and other publications. Microsoft is calling for passage of a proposed expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to six additional nations through a Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), among other trade initiatives.
Microsoft has brazenly declared to the press that they will target Washington State Congressman Adam Smith's vote, as if he answers to them and not the constituents who elected him, to help ensure passage of CAFTA.
Microsoft's ads rerun the same arguments made for NAFTA - the deal will generate jobs and promote economic growth and innovation here at home. So many Washingtonians have heard the line about our state being trade reliant that perhaps they no longer think critically about such claims. Yet, the evidence shows that free-trade agreements destroy far more U.S. jobs than they create. For example, a recent report published by the U.S.- China Commission, a national blue-ribbon panel, states that the Washington State economy has lost 7,000 more jobs than it gained since China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.
We need to look no further than Microsoft's Redmond campus to watch this job destruction dynamic at work. Every week, we hear from Microsoft employees who are losing their jobs because the company is shifting production overseas. The global race-to-the-bottom promoted by our current free-trade model is no longer limited to manufacturing workers, and now our region's white-collar workers are at risk.
Job exporting by companies is starting to take its toll on the region's ability to generate new high-tech jobs. The U.S. economic recession ended in November 2001. At that time, our region employed 59,200 in the tech sector. The Seattle Times reported in October 2004 that the number then stood at 53,200. We are more than four years into a recovery, and the region has fewer high-tech jobs today than it did in March 2001. That is a shocking fact. We can no longer blame the "bubble burst" or the dot-com bust for our high-tech slump, which some claim is now a "jobloss" recovery.
The underpinning of the high-tech jobs crisis is the system of corporate globalization promoted by trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO, which reward companies for exporting jobs to boost their bottom lines at the expense of local jobs. Furthermore, these agreements in many cases try and limit governments ability to creating the incentives to keep the jobs here.
So-called free trade is also jeopardizing innovation in the United States. Business Week did a cover story in October of last year about innovators. In technology section, they focused on Microsoft's cutting-edge R&D facility - in China! Yes, that's right: America's leading business magazine, reporting on America's leading technology company, wrote about innovation in China not in the U.S. Obviously free trade is threatening U.S. innovation when the investment, technology, and research is going elsewhere.
The realities underlying CAFTA dispel the myth that it will create new export opportunities and thus new jobs for U.S. workers. First, the total annual economic product of all six CAFTA countries is half the size of San Diego's annual economic activity. Second, among the six CAFTA nations are some of the poorest in the world, where peoples' annual earnings are less than the average weekly earnings in the U.S.
It is laughable, at best, to think that growth and stability will come to all by creating a single market place with nations whose combined economies are so small. However, what is true is that millions of workers in these nations work for a fraction of U.S. wages and benefits. CAFTA creates incentives and special investor protections for U.S. firms to relocate to take advantage of these desperate workers.
A letter written by some of the many Congressional opponents of CAFTA summed up the reality: "At the current minimum wage, a Guatemalan worker could buy Microsoft Office after 8 months of labor." When you consider that a typical Central American consumer earns only a small fraction of a typical American worker's wage and that CAFTA explicitly fails to include the binding labor standards Democrats like Smith demanded, it becomes clear that CAFTA's true objective is not to increase U.S. exports or to assist developing countries but to provide large corporations access to cheap labor.
Our nation needs to replace Microsoft's vision of global trade that benefits the corporate few with a forward-looking model that serves the world's many.
Marcus Courtney is President of WashTech/CWA Local 37083, which is a union organizing technical workers in the U.S. Marcus worked as a permatemp test engineer at Microsoft in 1998, where he help found the union. Courtney@washtech.org