NAFTA, Minsk and the two-party system

I remember, back in the 1990s, talking to someone active in the Rochester labor movement about Bill Clinton. The person to whom I was talking was highly disillusioned with Clinton for his support of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which allowed increased imports of manufactured products from Mexico.

True, Clinton supported NAFTA when he ran in 1992. But he also said it would be subject to getting suitable labor agreements and suitable environmental agreements, which my friend took as code words meaning he would use these technicalities to obstruct NAFTA. This is what is now called dog whistle language – messages audible to some but not heard by others.

My friend was disappointed. Clinton supported NAFTA after all. This reminded me of the Jewish joke about the man who said he was going to Minsk. His friend said, “You say you’re going to Minsk because you want me to think you’re going to Pinsk. But you can’t fool me. I know you’re going to Minsk.”

I asked if my labor union friend was disappointed in having supported Clinton. Not at all, she said. What matters to labor, more than legislation, is who gets appointed to governmental boards and commissions. If the Democrats are in power, the appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, Occupational Health and Safety Administration and so on will enforce the laws strictly and in a way that favors workers and consumers; if the Republicans are in power, they will enforce the laws leniently and in a way that favors business.

So there is a good reason to vote for the Democrats (or against, depending on your sympathies) provided they exercise their power of appointment.

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