The Canadian government is meeting with some of the country’s biggest labor groups to discuss Nafta as talks on the deal are set to resume.
Labor Minister Patricia Hajdu will meet union leaders Friday in a round-table discussion near Toronto to get input on the North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s the latest sign that labor has the Trudeau government’s ear in talks that could hinge, in part, on Canada’s push to raise working standards in both the U.S. and Mexico.
“That’s an indication of how much we value our labor movement, and we want to make sure as we go into negotiations that the rights of Canadian workers are protected,” Hajdu said in an interview with Bloomberg. “We’ll do everything in our power to make sure of that.”
Nafta talks resume Monday with a partial round in Washington, without political leaders at the table. Canada wants the U.S. to undo so-called “right to work” provisions in some states, while also calling on Mexico to raise labor standards. One of Canada’s top union leaders, Jerry Dias, has met often with the Canadian negotiating team and regularly predicts Nafta talks will fail.
Trudeau has been pushing to add “progressive” elements like labor, gender and the environment into all trade negotiations — a move derided by political opponents as “virtue signaling” that could make it tougher to get a deal. That strategy was a driving factor in the surprise false start this week of trade talks with China, a country that typically shuns the bells and whistles Canada wants in any trade deal.
Those added elements are among Nafta’s sticking points. Canada wants its two North American partners to ratify eight core conventions, including the right to organize, laid out by the International Labour Organization to make Nafta work. “We did put forward a very ambitious proposal on labor,” chief negotiator Steve Verheul told lawmakers this week. While Canada has adopted all eight and Mexico has nearly done so, the U.S. has adopted only two, Verheul said. “The U.S. is resisting that proposal.”
Canada’s call to claw back U.S. “right-to-work” laws, which ban unions from requiring workers to pay dues, is another obstacle. “The U.S. is also resisting that,” Verheul said.
As Yves Smith pithily observes, “Sounds like the Canadians are doing better by labor than our own Democrats.”
The history of the modern Democratic Party does not show meaningful support for organized labor.
When Republicans pass so-called “right-to-work ” laws, Democrats never repeal them, and the Obama administration dropped its support for the Employee Free Choice Act (Card Check) before the last states were called in 2008.
The positions pushed by Trudeau benefit workers in all three of the signatories of NAFTA, so I expect Democrats, or at least the current Democratic Party establishment to vociferously oppose labor justice, because they have sold their souls to big donors.