by David Sirota of Sirotablog

The media loves to talk about the divisions between the "red" and "blue" states, always trying to create some form of cultural and economic divide between the South and the rest of America. Not only is it insulting, but on many issues, it's just not accurate. The real divide in America is between the elite corporate establishment and the rest of us - and the best issue to see that on is trade, an issue I've written about a lot lately.


For instance, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that last week U.S. trade officials boarded a bus in North Carolina, drank Bud Light and munched peanuts while zipping by textile towns ravaged by NAFTA. Seemingly oblivious to the damage unregulated free trade has done to so many lives in the South, the official s "felt satisfied that support for the controversial[the Central American Free Trade Agreement] was growing." They were headed to Georgia, and were going to make sure to "avoid the blue-collar Joes and Janes who typically pay the job-loss price whenever the U.S. market is further opened to imports. " They made sure not to meet with Debbie Horn, a 26-year mill veteran, who said, noted, "Working class people always have a hard time finding another job. The government needs to step in and not let so much imports come in."

The officials were undaunted, shamelessly throwing out rosy estimates by the Chamber of Commerce claiming CAFTA and free trade will create 20,000 U.S. jobs in its first year, and 100,000 over the decade. The Chamber, of course, is biased - they represent multinational corporations that stand to make big bucks off of free trade, because they will be able to find cheap labor abroad. And as Public Citizen notes, the Chamber's estimates are deliberately dishonest. During the NAFTA debate, for instance, the Chamber of Commerce promised that the U.S. would gain 170,000 new jobs per year. In fact, from 1989-2002, the U.S. lost over 2.3 million jobs as a result of NAFTA and increased trade with China, according to the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute.

Luckily, some Republicans and Democrats in Congress are finally starting to understand that unregulated free trade might not be the right way to go. As author William Greider notes in his new column, a bipartisan group of senators (including some from the South) has introduced Senate Bill 295, which targets China with a 27.5 percent tariff, after China has been dumping textiles and other imports into the U.S. market.

Interestingly, the bill doesn't seem motivated by any concern for working-class people (that would be too revolutionary in a place like the corporate-owned U.S. Senate). Instead, it is a way for Corporate America to try "to bluff China and other Asian nations into letting their currencies appreciate and allowing the dollar to fall much further so the U.S. trade deficits will shrink, at least enough to avert a financial crisis." And that is fine for now - at least there is some acknowledgement that free trade has become a serious problem. But in order to capitalize on this, Greider correctly says progressives must use this bill to start asking the real questions: "If free-trade agreements are the road to greater US prosperity, how did the United States wind up in this deep hole? If the government is willing to invoke the tariff weapon to protect U.S. financial interests, why can't it use it to protect US workers and jobs?"

Sounds like a question Debbie Horn and her fellow mill workers might like to know the answer to.