|NAME (Click on the name for contact information.)||DISTRICT|
|Melissa Bean||IL (8th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
|Jim Cooper||TN (5th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
|Henry Cuellar||TX (28th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
|Norm Dicks||WA (6th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
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|Jim Moran||VA (8th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
|Solomon Ortiz||TX (27th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
|Ike Skelton||MO (4th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
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|John Tanner||TN (8th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
|Edolphus Towns||NY (10th District)||Top Industries/Top Contributors|
I hope by now that you have heard of the “CAFTA 15.” The Central America Free Trade Agreement passed the House of Representatives back on July 28th, 217-215. It had already passed the Senate by a healthy margin, so President Bush signed CAFTA into law toot-sweet. Big Business was very happy, as it should be. The “CAFTA 15” is the label slapped onto the 15 House Democrats who made it possible for this thing to pass. If you look at the vote margin, you’ll see that it is fair to say that each and every one of the “CAFTA 15” were the deciding vote! A change of any of the votes cast would have thrown the vote into a tie, and consequently the CAFTA legislation would have failed. (For some blow-by-blow of how the CAFTA battle unfolded, visit the web page of my union — www.ranknfile-ue.org — and look for the UE Political Action Update archive.)
So what does CAFTA mean to us? Bosses now have another trade deal that gives them fresh slave-wage options when it comes time to close down their U.S. plants and head for the global sweatshop. CAFTA also guarantees a renewed flow of even more desperate immigrants into our own domestic sweatshop empire. U.S. agribusiness can now flood the Central American village economies with cheap corn and soybeans at rock-bottom prices. The poor subsistence farmers will be forced to migrate — or face starvation — as their inefficient farms are finally crushed. This is one of the dirty little secrets that nobody — even our side — wants to talk about. Trade deals today have as much to do with causing economic destruction in countries as a means to stimulate immigration as they do with finding new places to relocate factories. Face it — if big business wants to move production, China is the destination. A reminder of the urgent need to close ranks with working people across borders in order to fight back against the bosses who are destroying us on both ends.
CAFTA is now over — sort of. What lingers from the CAFTA battle, however, is the no small matter of how 15 Democrats in the House of Representatives gave Bush and Corporate America the victory they wanted. And let’s not forget the 10 Democrats who helped provide the CAFTA victory in the earlier Senate vote. These Senate Democrats gave much-needed momentum to the Bush Administration as it timed the moment to conduct the CAFTA crime in the House of Representatives. In the end, the CAFTA vote will be remembered as one of the most egregious displays of corruption in modern history, even for a Congress that increasingly has no ethical boundaries left.
It went down like this: on the morning of July 27th, several thousand corporate lobbyists and Republican operatives got the word — the CAFTA vote would be that night. All the stops were pulled, the checkbooks came out, and the stampede to get to the dwindling number of “undecided” House members was unleashed. For the record, “undecided” at this point really meant “still for sale.” After an all-day bribe-a-thon, the midnight hour approached. The House Republican leadership cast the die and started the roll-call vote. After the customary 15 minutes elapsed, CAFTA was failing by a 5 vote margin. At this point the fixers and lobbyists were given entry to the innermost cloakrooms, and such a frenzy of corruption ensued that it practically spilled out onto the House floor. Several House members almost had nervous breakdowns in the midst of this political miasma as they faced the need to actually make up their minds. Another 40 minutes ticked by, whereupon the jubilant Republicans declared CAFTA a winner by a two-vote margin. The whole crime was broadcast live, on C-SPAN.
It only took a couple of days before it became clear that the 15 Democrats who sold themselves on CAFTA were not going to get away completely unscathed or unexposed. The internet is full of revelations about their shenanigans. (My favorite is Jonathan Tasini‘s Working Life.) A few unions grumbled about this “betrayal” of working people by these Democrats, but the entire CAFTA fiasco was unfortunately eclipsed by the AFL-CIO Convention fracas that was unfolding at exactly the same time.
But, there is something here that’s not adding up. Our math is out of whack. Limiting the focus to the “CAFTA 15” misses half the problem. Our labor movement math skills are in need of sharpening-up yet again. I’ve already mentioned the 10 Senate Democrats who screwed us. What about the Republicans who voted for CAFTA, and who receive big contributions from labor unions? Take Representative Phil English (R) from Erie, Pennsylvania, for instance. English said he was against CAFTA at first, because the Republican leadership said it was OK. But then they needed him, and he switched to a “yes” vote at the last minute. Phil English was given more than $79,000 by various unions for his 2004 campaign. And he’s raked in almost $20,000 (and counting) from assorted unions for his 2006 race. Just across the state line in Ohio is another Republican — namely Representative Steve LaTourette (R) — who gets significant labor support, led folks to believe that he was against CAFTA, and then in the end did what big business told him to do.
There’s a couple of lessons here, brothers and sisters. First, let’s not forget the 25 combined Senate and House Democrats who took labor’s money and then gave us the bird on CAFTA. And second, let’s make sure we all have a discussion within our respective unions about the merits of handing union members’ money over to rancid Republicans. Most of all, let’s get our math straight. We have a much bigger problem here than just the “CAFTA 15.”
Chris Townsend is the Political Action Director of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE).