WESTERN HEMISPHERE CONFERENCE
AGAINST NAFTA AND PRIVATIZATIONS
NOVEMBER 16, 1997
To workers, organized and unorganized, to the organizations of the working
class, and to the peoples of the Americas and the world, we address this
We are leaders and activists in trade unions and other worker organizations
from throughout the Western hemisphere. Together, our organizations
represent tens of millions of working people. We have gathered in San
Francisco, California (United States), on November 14, 15, and 16, to give
testimony to the deleterious effects the transnational corporate agenda has
had on working people throughout the hemisphere and to improve our capacity
for mutual support and solidarity in our responses to this assault upon
living and working conditions and democratic rights.
To our sisters and brothers in the labor movement of the United States, we
extend our congratulations and heartfelt appreciation for their successful
effort in turning back the Clinton Administration's most recent attempt to
restore "fast-track" trade agreement negotiation authority, and to extend
NAFTA from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle in the form of the Free
Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).
Together, we have heard the reports of delegations from throughout the
hemisphere, telling of the miserable consequences of NAFTA, Mercosur, and
the other free trade agreements which have been forced upon the people of
the Americas by the transnational corporations, aided and abetted by the
governments and international financial institutions in their service. We
have listened to the testimony of
unionists and activists from countries throughout the Americas, who have
told how capital's global agenda has wreaked havoc through deregulation,
privatization, and destruction of public services, degradation of the
environment, attacks on collective bargaining, working conditions, and labor
codes, and a frontal assault on the right of working people to be
represented by trade unions independent of governments and the employers. We
have explored the ramifications of the pending Multilateral Agreement on
In mounting this assault, multinational capital seeks to undermine not only
the capacity of workers to defend themselves, but also the democratic rights
of our peoples and the very sovereignty of the laws and institutions
established over decades of struggle. In the name of "free trade," our
freedoms and rights are being systematically subverted.
What is the balance sheet of these free trade agreements and the concomitant
privatization and deregulation forced upon the countries of the hemisphere
by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund through its structural
adjustment plans, and by the United States itself? The details are many;
together, they paint a picture of growing misery and increasing social and
economic inequality for the mass of working people, peasants, and the poor
of our countries.
From each country represented at our conference, we heard examples.
In Canada, the universal healthcare system is being destroyed in an attempt
to impose privatization. Production is being moved to lower-wage countries,
as in the case of the Bauer Skate Company in Ontario -- bought by the
multinational Nike Corp., operated in Canada for six months, and then moved
to Malaysia, along with 500 factory jobs.
In Chile, a wholesale destruction of the public sector has been underway for
some time. Already, the Chilean people have had their pension system robbed
by capital, and the average workweek in the country has become one of the
longest in the hemisphere, extending to weekends and holidays.
In Brazil, the drive to reduce labor costs -- which, the bosses, insist, is
the only way to make the country competitive in the global market -- pits
worker against worker and union against union. When Mercedes-Benz sought to
enlarge its operations in the city of Campinas, the company demanded a
no-strike pledge from the union. Faced with the union's refusal to accept
this blackmail, Mercedes-Benz relocated its factory to another city.
Meanwhile, both GM and Ford continue to receive millions of dollars in
subsidies from the federal government and the state government of Rio Grande
do Sul, money that was redirected away from public services.
In Mexico, the privatization of pension funds, of the petrochemical industry
and railroads, and public education, call into question national sovereignty
and the historic conquests of the Mexican people. Privatizations are
accompanied by the militarization of the country and bring about
unprecedented levels of unemployment and misery. And along the U.S. border,
the deregulated maquiladora sector continues to expand.
In Ecuador, the government's attempt to privatize the electricity sector has
led to a workers' occupation of the Paute Power Works, which began in early
September. This privatization effort, though, is not limited to electricity.
The oil industry, telecommunications, social security and healthcare, ports
and docks, public education, and even drinking water and irrigation are all
coming under attack.
In Haïti, the policies designed to dismantle the public enterprises and
services, which is carried out by the CMEP (Council for the Modernization of
the Public Enterprises) at the behest of the World Bank, came to the end of
its first phase with the liquidation of Haïti Cement last August. Among the
consequences have been the growing foreign debt, which has increased from 4
to more than 14 billion gourdes; the quickly decling number of jobs in all sectors
of the economy; rice imports which now exceed $1 billion, whereas in 1984
the country was essentially self-sufficent; and, to top it all off, 70% of the new state
budgetÐfor the past three yearsÐis financed by international aid. Haïti has
no real national budget.
Peru has seen the savage application of the policies of the multinational
corporations and the international institutions that serve their interests.
Wholesale privatization of state-owned industries and public services
continues unabated. In the healthcare sector, those who can pay the most
receive the best care, while the poor masses find their access to healthcare
sharply reduced. Education and social security are the latest targets of the
privatization assault. Jobs are disappearing, and recent legislative decrees
have made it possible for corporations to lay off workers for virtually any
reason. Those jobs that remain are more and more precarious.
These are but a few of the examples we heard in testimony from participants
from throughout the Americas.
In the United States, the results of NAFTA are clear despite the vain
attempts of the Clinton Administration to cover up the facts. At least
400,000 -- and perhaps as many as 600,000 jobs -- have been lost as a direct
result of NAFTA. Employers continue to threaten plant closures and
production shifts to Mexico in the drive to lower the wages of all U.S.
workers and hamper union organizing attempts.
In their drive for maximum profits, global corporations pit working people,
our communities, and entire nations against one another in a downward spiral
of take-backs, concessions, and direct assaultsÐwhat has come to be known
appropriately as the "race to the bottom." They continue their disastrous
practices of racial discrimination and segregation against people of color.
In country after country, the workers and people have begun to rise in
struggle against these attacks.
This conference is an important step forward in the fight against the
employers and the international financial institutions and governments in
their service. To this wholesale assault upon the working and poor people of
the hemisphere, there can be but one response -- greater cooperation, unity,
and solidarity amoung us. In the face of global capitalism, we are
determined to build and strengthen global unionism. We have gathered
together despite our different points of views, our different political
origins, and our different traditions. We are united by our common adversary
to make a united stand in defense of the rights, working conditions, and
living standards of our peoples.
We have succeeded in drawing common conclusions. NAFTA and the other free
trade agreements, along with structural adjustment:
É an assault upon our rights and upon our working and living
conditions, and stand as barriers to social progress and democracy.
É elevate the transnational corporations and their interests above
those of the peoples of each country. The MAI seeks to make this
É have, at their core, the aim of destroying public services,
collective bargaining, labor codes, and the capacity of peoples to resist
the drive to make them servants of global capital.
É are in no way intended to broaden the opportunities for
employment. Rather, they destroy jobs for many while creating work for
only a few. A growing number of our peoples are left worse off, while a
small elite is enriched.
Through NAFTA and the other free trade agreements, employers and governments
seek to undermine the independence of trade unions that stand for the
defense of working people and our interests. The strategy of transnational
capital is to cripple or remove all institutions that provide working people
the capacity to resist the insatiable drive for ever greater profits.
In summary, NAFTA, MAI, and the other free trade agreements, along with
structural adjustment, are an affront to democracy, to the rights of
workers, to the rights of people to determine their own destiny. They
overrule ILO Conventions and UN human rights treaties.
What can be done? We represent an immense force, one with the capacity to
wage a vigorous fight against these attacks we have described. We have
discussed and debated, and we now call upon workers, activists, and labor
and other peoples' organizations throughout the hemisphere and the
worldÐparticularly the organizations of women, the doubly and triply
oppressedÐto expand and strengthen our communication, cooperation, and
capacity for common action.
We propose a common day of action against the extension of NAFTA, against
the continued privatization and destruction of our public services, and
against the continued attacks on our rights and gains. We aim to hold this
common day of action in April 1998, on the day when the heads of state from
throughout the Americas will convene in Chile to discuss the creation of the
We constitute this Conference as a Continuations Committee, under the
direction of the convenors, to implement this decision.
Ours is a call for justice and democracy, for workers1 and peoples1 rights,
for the rights of women, youth, children, and all the oppressed, for a
militant campaign to stem the tide of these vicious assaults against our
unions, our jobs, our standards of living, our rights, and all the gains we
have won in struggle. In the face of global capital, we seek to build global
unionism. Join us in building actions in every country of North America,
Central America, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
No to NAFTA!
No to FTAA!
No to MAI!
Stop privatizations and deregulation!
(396 unionists and activists from 20 countries participated in the conference)