BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Tri-National Integration

The bid of billionaire GOP presidential aspirant Donald Trump to make Mexico pay for an anti-migrant wall on its US border is theatre. For credible social analysis, read Continental Crucible: Big Business, Workers and Unions in the Transformation of North America by Richard Roman and Edur Velasco Arregui (PM Press, Second Edition, 2015).

Their book, in three parts, provides clarity about social forces across Canada, Mexico and the US during an extreme era. Part one unpacks the corporate offensive against the working class in North America.

The end of the postwar economic model was the spark that lit this fire. The authors summarize without belaboring the point.

Roman and Arregui provide two pages of acronyms and abbreviations, to clarify what at first glance reads a little like alphabet soup in their radical narrative. This is a useful roster of corporate players that consciously downplay their activities, e.g., political lobbying, quite an effective strategy.

In Mexico, the corporate offensive against the general population unfolds under a post-WW2 regime of governance, a legacy of a national revolutionary history. The results, which Arregui and Roman unravel, is very bad news for the poor and workers, and quite nice for the state and capital.

Beginning with President Reagan and wrapping up with President Clinton, Uncle Sam played a big role pushing the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Uncle Sam’s hand belies the pro-business rhetoric about a free market in which government steps aside for buyers and sellers to meet on level playing fields.

The Business Roundtable (BRT), a US-based group, plays an outsize role in the restructuring of the North American working class. Falling profits and rising competitive pressures propelled the BRT and its allies to wage such class war.

The Canadian state in part drives capital’s mission to weaken militant labor unions. This change effectively shifts national economic policy to the priorities of big business, seeking better return on investment capital via the growth imperative to increase market share.

In each of the three nations, corporations aim to harmonize working conditions to the lowest common denominator. Neutering labor rights and standards is the corporate agenda, demanding and receiving the freedom to increase the mobility and velocity of capital.

Part two of this book covers immigrants, unions and workers. An intriguing departure on this subject is the authors’ viewpoint of bi-nationalism, covered powerfully in Chapters 6 and 9.

For instance, Mexican migrants flee northward to escape crisis and poverty resulting from corporate economic integration. They establish roots in the US.

Add links between unions in Canada and the US. The underpinning for “continental” unions emerges, the authors suggest.

With much empathy, they describe the causes and consequences of Mexico’s human rights nightmare, e.g., the drug war and its horrific violence. There, political instability is the rule.

A US “safety valve” for Mexican capitalism affects US society. Trump’s racist rhetoric aside, Mexicans with (out) documents work throughout the US economy.

Strategically, their positions at the point of production, from agribusiness to building trades, is potentially empowering. The power is to join forces with US allies to improve labor rights and standards in both countries.

What Mexico’s working class has a rich and recent revolutionary past, but one with weak resources and organizations now. Canadian and US working classes have different experiences, according to the authors.

This conjuncture of similarities and differences drives a future of peril and promise for working populations across North America. The time is now, Roman and Arregui write, for labor unions in all three countries to transform themselves to fight tri-national economic integration, the focus of their book’s third and final part.

“The challenges for the North American Lefts and the labour movement are enormous,” he authors. ‘Old-school’ principles of solidarity and unity from below that crosses national borders are necessary to improve the lives of people in Canada, Mexico and the US.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2016

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