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Podcast: Rethinking Trade – How US Trade Policies Disproportionately Impact Black and Latino Workers

Rethinking Trade - Season 1, Episode 24

In this episode, Lori is joined by Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chaves of the United farm Workers and renowned civil rights activist, to discuss our Trade Discrimination report. This new research reveals how decades of corporate-rigged trade policies have disproportionately impacted Black and Latino workers.

In her decades of labor and civil rights activism, Huerta has witnessed how corporate-rigged globalization has gutted Latino and Black livelihoods and communities nationwide.

Trade Discrimination: The Disproportionate, Underreported Damage to U.S. Black and Latino Workers From U.S. Trade Policies, published this week at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, details how U.S. structural, race-based social and economic inequities that undermine the economic and social welfare of people of color have been further exacerbated by U.S. trade policies. You can find the report here.


Transcribed by Sally King

Ryan: Hey, everybody, and welcome back to rethinking trade. We have a special episode this week because Global Trade Watch has just released a report called Trade Discrimination the Disproportionate Underreported Damage to U.S. Black and Latino Workers from U.S. Trade Policies. You can find the report linked in the description of this episode or at tradewatch.org joining Lori and I to discuss the very real stories behind all the data in the report is legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta. Dolores co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. And she’s been a tireless voice for social and economic justice for half a century. Dolores, thank you so much for being here.

Dolores: Well, thank you very much for having me.

Ryan: Lori, why don’t you get us started by telling us a little bit about this report. What does the report cover? And what are some of the big takeaways in it?

Lori: Well, the best part of this podcast is Dolores. So let me quickly lay out what the report is about. So a lot of people generally know about the damage that’s been caused by corporate-led hyperglobalisation the kind of model that’s been implemented over the last several decades by so-called trade agreements like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the World Trade Organization. But that mass outsourcing. And now as we learn with the COVID-19 crisis, the unreliable supply chains. That damage really has been mischaracterized as something that particularly impacted white working-class Americans. And in fact, in his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump, basically, you know, hasted progressive critique of corporate globalization and job outsourcing and bad trade agreements. But he reframed it into a narrative of resentment with racialized appeals to target white working-class voters as the victims.

 And the reality is this new report called Trade Discrimination finds in looking at the government data on impacts of these trade agreements is that the trade-related decline of us manufacturing and the outsourcing of union call center jobs has had a dire impact on racial minorities. And in fact, in many ways, the damage has fallen disproportionately on people of color in the United States, from these race to the bottom trade agreements. And to some degree, we saw at the 2020 election, working-class voters, namely people who make $50,000 or less coming back to the Democrats in a big swing. That was that and union voters are two of the big reasons why Biden beat Trump. And so now it’s kind of on the Democrats to prove to those working-class voters who are giving the democrats another chance that they got it, that the damage is real, and that the Democrats are going to do a new trade policy that actually delivers for working-class people. But part of the deal is the Democrats have to understand who the damaged parties are, and that they have a working-class problem, not just a white working-class problem. So here are the highlights of what our report of both surveying the other studies that have been done, but we did a lot of original data crunching shows with respect to how and why Black and Latino workers have suffered disproportionate injury. First of all, Black and Latino workers were disproportionately employed in the manufacturing industries that were the hardest hit by offshoring and import competition. So for instance, Black workers are about 10 and a half percent of the entire labor force when NAFTA starts, but they represented 14%, paper manufacturing 12% and chemicals 12% in transportation equipment, the auto sector trucks. So those are sectors that got flattened by NAFTA and China entering the WTO. Latinos were just under 9% of the labor force, but they were 12 and a half percent of the workers in manufactured fabricated metals, they were 12% of furniture 10 and a half percent of plastics and rubber. And the beverages industry are lots of imports are not coming from Mexico, had both over-represented African American Latino workers. Now, if you look at the sectors that got hit, and the sectors we have the biggest new trade deficits, you have just massive job losses, where the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, shows that black workers have lost nearly a half a million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA and the WTO. And so it was in part because the workers were in the sectors that there were explosions of deficits in manufacturing industries are offshoring. But that also then caused a huge stagnation in wages, because wages were basically flat in those industries, as there were lots of workers who no longer have those jobs now fighting for the same jobs, fewer numbers of them, compared to, you know, hospitality, and leisure, which pays a lot less to start with, didn’t have great growth in wages, but they grew.

So as those jobs were disappearing, the other thing that really clobbered Black and Latino workers were where the jobs were leaving from. So the 20 US states that are the least racially diverse, had only 20% of all government certified trade job losses during NAFTA and WTO. But, for instance, the 15 states that are home to 85% of the total Latino population in the US represent over half of the certified trade job losses. The 15 states that are home to 85% of the Black population accounted for basically 3 million of the 4 million total manufacturing job losses. So not only was it that African Americans and Latinos were in the sectors of the economy clobbered, but they were in the parts of the country that got clobbered. And so cities like Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Cleveland, that were incredibly hard to hit. We’re also locations where Latinos had come particularly from Mexico several decades ago, more recently from Central America, to seek better lives in the manufacturing sector. 6 million black workers fleeing from racial terror and poverty in the Jim Crow South had fled to the manufacturing sector in the north and create vibrant communities in the first half of the 1900s. So this devastation in the sectors and in the parts of the country in the numbers of jobs also resulted in basically reinforcing existing structural racism because black and Latino workers who lost their jobs ended up having a much harder time than their white counterparts finding a replacement job According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Certainly part of that is just racial discrimination, hiring, and promotion, etc. But then, the phenomenon basically of increased competition for a reduced number of well-paying jobs available to people without college degrees, then exacerbates these underlying racial discriminatory practices. So basically, after 25 years of NAFTA and WTO, the racial gaps in wage levels are in some areas wider have basically not closed with, for instance, black men earning 75 cents and Latino men earning 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, black women earning 88 cents and Latinas 78 cents for every dollar earned by a white woman. And instead of getting better, those gaps have either stayed or gotten worse, which, you know, partially is our structural racism, but a big piece of it is the disappearance of the good union, middle-class jobs, that the trade agreements basically incentivize to be offshored and fostered a huge wave of job-killing imports. So that is the sum of this study, it challenges the conventional wisdom. And then the real question is what happened on the ground, and Dolores has been traveling around the country speaking in communities for decades. And so it’s our honor to have her here to basically describe some of what this is actually meant practically that’s the data, but what it meant to people. And you were one of the people who predicted this in the early 1990s. So, Dolores, I wanted you to tell a little bit of the stories that you were telling me back then, of what you thought was going to happen both to the apparel workers Latinas, in LA, two people working in making blue jeans on the border to people in the Central Valley, in the various Green Giant and other plants. And then what also happened to people in Mexico under this corporate trade regime?

Dolores: Well, we saw, what happened is that workers were devastated that the loss of workers is terrible. And we’re talking about thousands and thousands of workers that have been left without jobs throughout the United States. And not only in Los Angeles, with places like Texas, places in the south, places in New York, the whole garment industry with his were totally destroyed. And every time that they talk about the trade wars, the one thing they forget to mention is that the corporations are really behind all of this, you know, like you have a right now in the United States, we have all of these 99 cent stores and dollar stores or whatever, that, you know, sell the cheap goods that come from China and other places. But none of the manufacturing has been done in the United States by us workers.

And it’s had a devastating effect on our economy and on the workforce, but also on the political scene. So when you have so many people that are clamoring for jobs in the United States, and when you go to some of these cities in the Midwest, particularly where you had all of these factories, and you see these abandoned buildings, and then, of course, it’s affected the tax base, because you don’t have money coming into these cities, for schools, for libraries for job training programs, for infrastructure. So the economic impact of all of this has been, it just affected the United States terribly. And we see it played out when you have all of these people that put us in this last election, that vote for Donald Trump because people are angry because they don’t have jobs. And then we see all of the homeless people on our streets. And, again, you think, “How can this happen?’ When we are the richest country in the world, in the United States of America, and we have so many people in poverty, so many people that are homeless, people that have to work two jobs just to be able to pay the rent and pay food. And of course, now with a pandemic, that has also affected us workers. I mean, the devastation continues. And this in this whole notion that somehow people have to work for free, that workers shouldn’t be given a living wage, they shouldn’t be given a pension plan, they shouldn’t be given a medical plan. And, and we don’t have, it’s the working people that really hold up a society, not only by creating the economic base in the income base, the revenue base of our society. So when you have the basis of your society, that is deteriorated to such a point, that it affects everything. And so, and I think it’s also a moral ground when you think about it, that workers should be expected to work for minimum or less than minimum wages, literally for free, when even when they work, they cannot earn enough money, to be able to afford a home or to have a living wage. And so it’s almost like making slavery, normal and legal.

Lori: And that is a phenomenon that you’ve just beautifully described that under the government data explaining what happened after NAFTA in WTO, has hit African American and Latino workers, disproportionately hard. So that 20 US states that are the least racially diverse, had only one-fifth of the government certified trade-related job loss, but the 15 states that are 85% of the total Latino population, they account for over half of the trade job loss of 1.6 million jobs. So I’m thinking about some of the places where Latino workers had built vibrant, middle-class communities, like the industrial workers in Chicago, like many people whose families had migrated to these factory union jobs to create a wonderful middle-class existence in the industrial sector. And I know you travel all over the country, what what are what’s happening in those in those communities, Milwaukee has a very strong Latino community relating to the auto sector. And as well, obviously, the textile and apparel sectors all across the country, what’s happened with these communities? Where El Paso where lembu hair obrera has organized valiantly, but they still lost 25,000 sewing jobs. What is your experience of what’s going on in these communities now?

Dolores: Well, people live in poverty, they live in extreme poverty. And a lot of people they have to go to the service jobs, which of course, don’t pay very well. And so again, it just means an increase in poverty, but it only affects people in terms of their income levels, but their educational levels so that people can’t afford to go to college, that people can afford to have businesses. And then of course, it also displays itself in terms of delinquency, the maybe addiction to us in substance abuse, and of course, the it affects the health. And we’ve seen the pandemic, how the over the COVID-19 has affected Hispanics, and people are getting infected at a higher rate, people are dying at a higher rate. So it has all of these manifestations that come with poverty. And so it is, you might it reaches deep into the community. And it affects all of the social strata, the educational policies that I just mentioned. And it puts people at risk, basically, for everything that possibly could happen to people that are in poverty is happening to them. And then of course, and I do believe that part of the mass incarceration policies also have to do with the lack of job opportunities, because we have seen the mass incarceration that kind of came at the same time, as you have mentioned before, in your reports, that the mass incarceration systems coincide with these global trade policies and the export of jobs to other countries here in the United States. I think whoever does these social designs, I don’t know whether they plan it this way, or it just happens that way. But it seems like they do coincide so that people’s lives are not only do they have to live in poverty, but their whole careers and features are taken from them when they are when they are jailed. And you have these harsh criminal sentences that keep people in prison for years and years and years.

Lori: I’m wondering, as you’ve traveled around the country, and you are a heroine in so many Latino communities where you’re celebrating you speak across the country, what you actually observed in Latino communities. And how have they been how what is your experience of how they’ve been directly impacted by the job loss from NAFTA from China trade? Do you have some memories personally, because you’ve been traveling the country for so many years that you actually have lived the timeline, from the highest rate of unionization and the strongest manufacturing base? You’ve lived through the whole period of deindustrialization. And what are your personal memories of some of these communities and what you’ve seen this shift do?

Dolores: Well, I think one of the hardest areas that have been hit I mentioned before, was the on the educational level. And even here in California, for instance, or we are like the fifth largest economy in the world, and that we could actually be a country and, again, have one of the richest states that we have in the United States of America. And yet we have such high poverty rates. For instance, in terms of the amount of money that is going to for education for our children in California, where California where that was going to school many decades ago, we were number one in the country, in terms of the amount of money that we gave per student, per education. Now we are number 39 in the country. And this is ability adversely affected people, young people of color. And, and it’s not just in California, it’s the same thing that happens when you go to Arizona, when you go to Texas, when you go to the Midwest, in Chicago, when you go to New York State, you have the same thing that is happening now that our children of color, are not getting an equitable education. And, and so this is true all over the United States of America. And it seems that somehow, is our black and brown communities expand and we know that they are growing in the United States of America get the amount of money that is there for education is shrunk. And it is shrunken in such a major way that all of these young people of color are not getting an equitable education. And this is, of course, going to have a lot of impacts in terms of the future of our country. When all of these young people, I mean, you know, hundreds of thousands every other graduate from high school. And of course, you have the ones that don’t even finish high school, that this is going to have a big effect on our economy in the future.

Lori: Certainly the deindustrialization. But also now increasingly, the offshoring of union call centers, the offshoring of information technology, jobs, and medical transcription, jobs, and engineering jobs, this race to the bottom has gutted the tax bases of cities, and small towns across the country. And so that the students who are relying on the public schools, versus who have a way to buy their way into a private school to get a good education, what you’re saying is, those are the students that are being the most impacted, which then just continues a trend of poverty.

Dolores: Yeah, and at the same time, these are the populations that are growing the fastest.

Lori: So for the future of our country, the rising majority, under this paradigm of race to the bottom, globalization, which has stolen so many good jobs and gutted the tax base, is basically creating a majority population that has not will have neither the quality education of previous generations. And that will not find the jobs that pay well, for people who don’t have higher education, it’s a real catch-22 is you said, it’s like some kind of social design.

Dolores: And when you think about the only way that poor people can survive, again, I mentioned a little while ago, where you have all of these outlets that sell goods that come from China. And when we think about, you know, this is the only way that poor people can survive, is to, they’re the ones that actually go to those stores for the things that they need. And so the system and perpetuates itself, it doesn’t really give any remedies that just say people sustain themselves by going to the dollar store, even for groceries, you know, because they sell groceries now. And this is the only way that they can possibly survive is by being the consumers and sustainers of this poverty system.

Lori: So that is a downward spiral for sure. And when Joe Biden was running for president, he talked a lot about his build back better plan. And one of the things that’s a big priority, and that plan is creating more manufacturing capacity, doing more investment in domestic jobs and education. And he has basically tried to think about how not only can we get out of the COVID economic crunch, but that when we come on the other side of it, we’ve actually invested to be in a better place than before the COVID-19 crisis happened. Do you have a sense that Joe Biden understands these very real dynamics that you’re describing? And that he can we’ll do something about it?

Dolores: I don’t know. I think that’s the question. The big question is, how do you get these corporations to cooperate? Because they don’t really, I don’t think they care. As long as prophets have their motive, and they want to make as much money as possible. I think they’re going to continue to the system that gives them the greatest wealth. And I don’t know that Joe Biden can rein them in, or what he can do to save them, you got to come back to the US, and you’ve got to pay taxes in the United States of America. You know, we recently lost proposition 13 here in California that we were all working on, that proposition would have been in $12 billion, 60% of it would have gone to our local communities, which are hurting because of COVID-19. And the other 40% would have gone to our school systems. But the corporations that they, you know, they got together and they spent all this money that they could, and ended the tax of this money that would have come in for this $12 billion would have come in from the wealthy corporations like Amazon, Disney, Chevron, only 10% of the wealthy corporations that work in California would have valued 2% of the money would have come from those very mega-corporations, but they did everything that they could to defeat it. So I think that is like a mirror that really shows that these wealthy corporations don’t give a damn if our kids get an education or not. They don’t really care if people live in poverty. And so the big question is, how was the president-elect, Biden going to rein these corporations and even when you’re talking about, about, you know, Medicare for all, they will not stand up to the big pharmaceuticals and, and these big insurance companies, which is, the only way that we can get Medicare for All is by taking these, these people are out of the health business and, you know, giving the money to doctors and hospitals and nurses and the people that do tend to the, to the people that are sick, and not to these middle managers. And I don’t know Joe Biden’s going to be able to do that. He back down on Medicare already, because they just have such a powerful lobby, powerful communication systems. And the general public has no clue about what it what that even means, you know, they call it, quote-and-quote, socialism, and something that you have to be afraid of?

 Lori: Well, one thing you told me back during NAFTA, when we were moping, and in, in a very blue mood about how we would get some of the California Democratic members of Congress to vote against NAFTA. And, you know, I remember saying, boy, they’re really convinced they don’t want to vote against NAFTA, all these corporations are telling them, they have to vote for NAFTA. And I remember you saying something, like, we’re just gonna have to make them do it, we’re gonna have to organize. And that’s been your whole life. That’s something you’ve taught me, you’ve taught generations of people, that the companies don’t want to do the thing that’s good for the people, you have to make them do it. And so it strikes me that in a weird way, the COVID-19 crisis provided a lesson for a lot of people who aren’t the working people who already knew that this system was rigged against them. All those people who you know, don’t work in a factory, don’t do a service job that isn’t a doctor or a lawyer suddenly have this experience of somehow in the richest country in the world, they couldn’t get the things they need it because we don’t make it anymore. And it was suddenly a wake-up call that here we are, and they couldn’t get masks, and no one could make masks and someone could die because they couldn’t have a ventilator. And we couldn’t make ventilators. And it just makes me wonder as you know, your that you are the Empress of organizing, what your view is about how we can leverage this unifying experience of how screwed we are in a country that can’t make things anymore, to try and get some of the people who haven’t really cared about what happens to the people who make things. But because they’re the people who buy things, they’re now also the people who are on the losing end of this version of trade and globalization. What is your view of how we can basically organize the people who make the stuff we’re used to the people who bought the stuffing cans to make Joe Biden do the right thing?

Dolores: Well, I think it will continue the organizing, and I have a lot of hope. I mean, we have seen all the young people that are marching out there and on the issues of racial justice. And somehow I have said this before, but I know back in the 60s and the 70s, we had a cultural revolution in the United States of America. But you know, that’s when the LGBTQ movement got, really, you might say, it grew so much, and the environmental justice movement was just starting. The woman’s movement was like, in its second or third phase. The Civil Rights Movement made a lot of changes. And but I think this next revolution and ethics got it, the young people that wasn’t gonna have to lead it. And it’s got to be an economic revolution. I think before it might have been iffy because people didn’t really feel the pain that much. But now I think people are not only feeling the pain but seeing the pain because you can’t walk down a single street without or any city in America without seeing homeless people on the street. It’s so it’s all very, very visible now, and maybe doubted that we were going to this pandemic, this might be a good time to really start uplifting those messages and explaining to people like you do with your great work that you’re doing on the research so that you can actually show people the data, as you’re doing and say, “Look, this is what it looks like this is what’s happening.” And so, especially younger people that may have said, Well, I don’t know how this all happened, I was just, you know, born into this, this system and this situation. And you can say, “No, this is how it happened. And these are the people that are making it happen. Okay, so now it’s time for us to address this, and do it in a mass way,” the way that people are now organizing around racial justice. And I think we saw one little piece of this when the republicans were trying to get rid of Obamacare. And so you had people demonstrating at the opposite of all of these senators, and Congress people that were involved in trying to get rid of Obamacare, and they back down. So it’s got to be that same type of organizing. And I know it’s a little bit more difficult with the virtual organizing. But I think the main thing is that we have to get people to understand and to see this, to see what’s happened, because people really can’t take action until they understand. And once they understand, then we can go for the solutions, and then put the pressure on the big corporations.

Lori: Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here. First, Dolores Huerta, one of the deans of political organizing strategy and progress in the United States of America has given us our marching orders. And that is Dolores. That is spot on. And we can’t tell you how much we appreciate the honor, you’ve honored us by coming to be on this podcast and sharing your wisdom. And so we will see you at the barricades as we fight for a trade system that is just for working people. And that puts the corporations on the receiving end of the limitations, not the environment, not the workers, not our health. Thank you so much.

 Dolores: Now, thank you for inviting me, and thank you for sharing your wisdom and your research and all of your great energy. Thank you very much, Lori. I feel honored.

Ryan: Rethinking trade is produced by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, I would encourage you to visit rethink trade org as well as tradewatch.org to educate yourself and to find out how you can get involved in the work we’re doing to fight for fairer and more equitable trade policies.