Sunday, April 22, 2007

Eastside speaking event on NAFTA and immigration

Including the speakers and event organizers, a grand total of ten people today (April 22) were present to listen to Mexican anti-NAFTA activist Juan Manuel Sandoval and writer/photojournalist David Bacon, at East LA’s Casa del Mexicano.

Sandoval, who is with the Coordinating Committee of the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade, a group calling for the renegotiation of NAFTA, gave a presentation illustrating the relationship between the trade treaty and the influx of poor Mexican immigrants into the United States.

Bacon then followed the presentation with his own comments and picture slides of seriously exploited immigrants from Mexico and Central America living all over the US, many of them guestworkers hired to labor in the fields (and showing what kind of situation Bush’s proposed guestworker program would further institutionalize).

Okay, so this is basically what was said:

The elimination of tariffs and regulations that used to protect Mexican industries, Sandoval pointed out, has resulted in the collapse of many Mexican firms that used to employ thousands of workers in the pre-NAFTA days.

Similarly, small farms that have for generations fed the Mexican population are now unable to compete with cheap corn and other products from subsidized US agribusiness, sending huge numbers of people running from the countryside to the north. Reminding those of us old enough to remember, these consequences of free trade between Mexico and the US were predicted to be temporary by its supporters. Investment would flood Mexico and create new and better industrial jobs, we were told, while also stimulating the development of a strong US service economy.

Instead, the continued opening of cheap labor markets overseas has diverted investments elsewhere, flooding both the US and Mexico with cheap imports and robbing workers in both countries of decent jobs. Naturally, the problem is much worse in Mexico and perfectly explains why the flow of people fleeing poverty there shows no signs of slowing down.

The speakers also contended that while NAFTA was to blame for the increase in illegal immigration from Mexico, creating a huge reservoir of cheap labor that benefits US employers, our governments' actions to control immigration have had the effect of making immigrants even more vulnerable and exploitable.

While I was glad to see that an event of this sort was being held on the Eastside, I wasn’t surprised that almost nobody showed up.

The outreach was certainly inadequate—it was mostly advertised on various union and non-profit listserves, as if that were the way to reach out to Latino workers out here—but it’s an unfortunate truth that your average working-class Latino (immigrant or not) reads little, isn’t political, and would probably not have been interested in attending an abstract discussion about the political and economic forces that affect us so deeply (aside from the outreach online, the organizers did also do some leafleting).

Their near nonattendance points to the challenge in building a movement among working-class Latinos that would empower them and put their interests on the forefront of any debate among policymakers, be it international trade or such local issues as housing and transportation. As I said to one of the organizers—an activist who doesn’t live here and is used to working with teachers, not dishwashers—we’ll need to try harder next time. Middle-class Latinos are well-represented these days by our local politicians, but it’s imperative that everyone participate in these kind dialogues and political processes.


Nate said...

I see tons of folks reading Hoy everyday, though. I wonder how many local events are advertised in its' pages.

Nate said...

Hoy online.