NAFTA and the New Transnational Corporate Agenda

This paper argues that the present proposal for a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) represents a significant escalation of a process under way since the mid-1970's. That process involves a transnational corporate agenda, borne out of the collapse of Bretton Woods, and designed to resolve the crisis which brought on the collapse. The transnational corporate agenda has important implications for the popular organizing agenda. Organizing work around NAFTA cannot be solely focused on the defeat or even reform of the present NAFTA proposal. Rather, it is critical that activists take a longer term perspective and build an international movement capable of responding to the challenges of an increasingly global capitalism. Such a perspective means that if there are contradictions between the effort to defeat NAFTA and the building of an international alliance to oppose the negative impacts of the transnational corporate agenda, the international alliance must take precedence.
Using Chicago, Illinois, USA as a case study, we begin by contrasting the theory that increased exports and direct foreign investment should increase economic growth and living standards to the reality of that city during the 1980's. While Chicago area firms did indeed increase exports and investment, jobs and incomes in the city declined. Secondly, we explore some of the common explanations of how rising exports and direct foreign investment can be accompanied by job loss and lower living standards. We then go on to develop an alternative explanation which situates NAFTA in a developing transnational corporate policy agenda. We conclude with a discussion of implications for organizing work around NAFTA.