NC Workers: Not Buying CAFTA

As I write, the president is jetting towards North Carolina again, this time to fluff up sagging support for CAFTA. What is it with Bush and adjacent Southern states? First it was the sojourn to a remote (read: no protesters) location in the Smoky Mountains on Earth Day to celebrate the undermining of air pollution laws. Then Fort Bragg last month, to tell 700 silent soldiers how great the Iraq war is going.

Today Bush returns for a photo op in Gaston County, deep in North Carolina manufacturing territory. If, like the Smokies and Fort Bragg, this seems an odd setting to extoll the virtues of footloose factories and "low road" development taken by global corporations, it is. The Carolinas, led by steep losses in textiles and furniture production, have lost over 200,000 jobs in the last five years, decimating dozens of rural towns.

So one can understand the lack of enthusiasm among working folks in the Carolina foothills and piedmont for another trade pact giving the green light to the corporate search for cheaper labor, as reported in today's Raleigh News & Observer:

For ex-mill workers retooling their skills at Richmond Community College, the latest free trade pact up for congressional approval boils down to one thing:

More lost jobs of the very kind they used to have.

"That's right -- more plants will be closing," said Beverly Chenoweth, 49, who lives in nearby Rockingham. She spent most of her working life in textile mills and just lost her last stopgap job when the local Winn-Dixie grocery closed.

Mention the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which President Bush will pitch during a speech today at Gaston College near Charlotte, and Kathy Keys thinks of the promises of an earlier free trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"You get tired of getting lied to," said Keys, 38, who lost her mill job when a Rockingham hosiery factory shut down in 1993, the same year NAFTA was signed into law. "It was supposed to help us, then they shut us down."

Welcome to the wonders of "free trade," so loved by free market conservatives, D.C.'s liberal elite and a disturbingly large share of the "progressive" blogosphere.

The devastation wrought by corporate-written trade deals in countless Southern towns provides one of the biggest openings progressives will ever have to show which side they're on: big business or working families.

At this stage, a sizable share of Democrats are poised to utterly squander this opportunity, and cast their lot with the powerful. And people wonder why they're the minority party.