The International Labour Organisation’s World Labor Report 2000 showed that increasing trade liberalization and the effects of globalization have resulted in job losses and less secure employment in both industrialized and Third World countries. Attacks on social welfare, healthcare and education, as well as privatizations, labour market deregulation, higher unemployment and strongarm tactics against union organizing are rolling back many of the hardwon fruits of struggle for workers around the world, and are being locked in by international free trade and investment agreements.

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In the name of global competitiveness, labour laws are being dismantled. Deindustrialization, as small- and medium-sized producers are crushed by floods of duty-free imports or by transnational rivals setting up shop nearby, has led to massive job losses.

The policies of liberalization and privatization have marched hand in hand with the restructuring of work and especially casualization and flexibility. As public spending is cut, many in the public service sector are laid off. This has led to the erosion of fulltime jobs, the growth of casual and contract labour positions and the intensification of work. Industry strategies of contracting out and outsourcing work, and the casualization have eroded the unionized workforce, along with the resurgence of temporary foreign worker programs in a number of countries. Bosses are able to threaten relocation of the workplace to a location with a cheaper, non-union workforce to bully workers trying to organize.

Such neoliberal policies force people from their farms, jobs, families and communities and into exploitation and precarity as migrant workers in other countries. Deindustrialization and the downsizing and privatization of essential services — accompanied by increasing user fees — are other “push factors”, forcing growing numbers to seeking work abroad. Health and education professionals in shattered public sectors are forced to migrate in search of work. Free trade, its advocates (like the US Administration) promise, will supposedly lead to a reduction of immigration because countries will become more prosperous. Washington proclaimed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would lead Mexico to export goods, and not people to the US, yet so-called illegal immigration to the US has risen.

Some FTAs include provisions or agreements on labour mobility, such as deals which Japan has signed with Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines which allow for a limited number of nurses and caregivers into Japan on a temporary basis, prompting critics to argue that such deals merely institutionalize the commodification, exploitation and international trade in workers.

In many countries, trade unions and workers are playing important roles in struggles against FTAs. In Korea, for example, many thousands of KCTU members participated in demonstrations against the US-Korea FTA. Workers throughout Central America countries actively opposed CAFTA, such as those from the state power and telecommunications sector in Costa Rica and education workers in Guatemala.

last update: May 2012


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  • 20-May-2007 ZNet Mexican workers call for a continental workers’ campaign for living wages and social justice
    A coalition of Mexican unions has now proposed a strategy of struggle that could open up the door to a more class-wide and continental approach to union and workers’ struggles, starting in the three NAFTA countries.
  • 12-May-2007 International Brotherhood of Teamsters Teamsters oppose trade deal that sells out American workers
    Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa released the following statement today about new trade policy guidelines forged by House Democratic leaders in Congress and the Bush administration:
  • 1-May-2007 Govt accused of selling out workers for free trade deals
    Labor activists on Monday accused the government of selling out Indonesian workers by signing free trade agreements with foreign countries.
  • 20-Apr-2007 CSI Réalisation d’un guide syndical conjoint
    La Confédération européenne des syndicats (CES), avec le soutien de la Confédération syndicale internationale (CSI), a présenté aujourd’hui un guide syndical dans le cadre d’un projet ayant pour but “le renforcement des capacités des organisations syndicales des pays Afrique, Caraïbes et Pacifique (ACP) face aux Accords de partenariat économiques (APE)”.
  • 17-Apr-2007 IPS El Salvador: Spanish firm advocates, then breaks labour laws
    The Spanish tuna-fishing and processing company Grupo Calvo has been accused of serious anti-union practices in El Salvador. The paradox is that Calvo had insisted that this Central American country approve labour laws required by the European Union for the purpose of obtaining tariff exemptions, as a condition for continuing to invest here.
  • 5-Apr-2007 Gulf Times Indo-Qatari labour pact to be amended soon
    Sacking Indian employees at will could be reduced drastically in Qatar, if not eliminated, when a 1985 bilateral labour agreement is amended soon.
  • 7-Mar-2007 Washington Times AFL-CIO aims to recast trade authority
    The AFL-CIO yesterday announced its plans to defeat renewal of "trade promotion authority," which allows President Bush to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment.
  • 6-Mar-2007 Reuters Lawmaker rejects USTR proposal on trade pacts
    A Bush administration proposal aimed at winning Democratic party support for free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama falls short of what is needed to strengthen the labor provisions of those pacts, a Democratic lawmaker said on Monday. It "misses the point" and shifts the focus from improving conditions for workers to a legalistic debate over whether a foreign country’s law are equivalent to those of the United States, he said.
  • 5-Mar-2007 Workday Minnesota Don’t repeat NAFTA disaster, trade experts warn
    The North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, has been a disaster for workers and families, and even social institutions, in the three participating nations — the United States, Canada and Mexico — labor experts from the three countries told Congress. Not only that, they warned that the pending US-Korea Free Trade Agreement would be a repeat of that NAFTA fiasco.
  • 9-Feb-2007 People’s Weekly World Newspaper Another fast track to the unemployment line?
    President Bush has asked Congress for approval of "fast track" authority. For most workers, "fast track" is the code word for giving the capitalists the opportunity to move more jobs out of the country.
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