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NDP And Labour Must Heed Blue-Collar Fury That Fuelled Trump Win

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Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer as he arrives to a campaign rally, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, in Wilmington, Ohio. (Photo: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

There is so much weeping and gnashing of teeth, so many people thrashing about, looking to hang the blame on someone or something for Donald Trump's shocking victory on election night, that the outcome bears further reflection.

I reject the notion that it was a "white-lash" by voters, a racist reflex against minorities and people of colour. The electoral rebellion goes much deeper than that. It was, in large measure, the working class all across America, white, black and Latino, sending a big "F**k you!" to politicians and insiders who have used "free" trade agreements to ship American jobs offshore.

The so-called "rust belt unionized states" plunged the dagger into Hillary Clinton's heart. That is not to say that the misogynist, bigoted messenger they chose to deliver the message will actually honour his rhetorical promises to right the wrongs inflicted on working people.

You cannot purport to represent the interests of workers by giving Justin Trudeau a free pass on CETA.

Still, there are lessons for the New Democratic Party and the Canadian Labour Congress in the stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton. The NDP should grow a backbone and learn to more vigorously fight trade agreements such as the CETA and TPP because workers in this country are suffering just as much as their American counterparts. They feel the ill effects of such trade agreements in terms of lost good jobs, the rise of precarious part-time work and the deepening of tremendous inequality.

The lesson for the CLC is that you cannot purport to represent the interests of workers and at the same time suck up to the Liberal government by giving Justin Trudeau a free pass on CETA. Workers rightly expect their unions and the NDP to fight on their behalf against these rotten trade arrangements that ship their jobs overseas.

When unions and their allies protested CETA on the streets of Europe, they should have a seen a comparable mobilization of unions on this side of the pond. The lack of serious opposition by both the NDP and the CLC only emboldened the new federal Liberal government to push for the resurrection of the nearly interred CETA.

europe protests ceta
Thousands of people demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the centre of Brussels, Belgium on Sept. 20, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Eric Vidal)

The lack of CLC mobilization of workers and allies against CETA reminds me of the inaction of the American labour movement (AFL-CIO) against NAFTA in 1993. Then, the AFL-CIO was enthralled by a newly elected and popular president by the name of Bill Clinton. Clinton was a huge booster of "free trade," but faced a skeptical union leadership that raised legitimate concerns about labour rights and demanded protection against jobs being shipped to Mexico.

The Canadian and Mexican labour movements worked together to try to defeat NAFTA, but were hampered by the lack of mobilization on the part of the AFL-CIO. Instead of working with Canadian and Mexican unions to defeat North American Free Trade Agreement, the AFL-CIO agreed to a "side deal" on labour rights that Clinton cajoled them to accept.

The consequences were disastrous. The side deal proved to be totally useless in preventing the loss of good-paying jobs to Mexico. According to Public Citizen, a non-profit, non-partisan public interest group, the U.S. has lost 5 million jobs since NAFTA was implemented in 1994, along with 55,000 factory closures.

Fast forward to 2016 and the campaign to defeat CETA. Unions across Europe mobilized their members. They brought hundreds of thousands of workers and their families onto the streets of several European capitals. The Canadian labour movement had the opportunity to join forces with our allies in Europe -- to bury CETA, once and for all.

Sadly, we let them down by emulating the great failure of the AFL-CIO in 1993. Justin Trudeau resurrected CETA from its deathbed. The protest from the CLC was minimal. It took the form of a news release, embroidered by a set of demands never implemented.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, got it right (except for trying to reform the Wall Street-controlled Democratic Party). Sanders challenged the bad trade agreements that enrich a tiny handful of people at the top, who disappear middle-income jobs by shipping them offshore to make a bigger buck. His campaign caught fire. It energized millions because he connected with them. He empathized with feelings of abandonment and hopelessness experienced by young Americans.

Blue collar workers saw through Clinton's charade on "free trade."

Hillary Clinton -- just like her husband, Bill -- is correctly viewed as being in bed with Wall Street types. Her leaked emails confirm that she advanced one opinion whilst speaking behind closed doors to the muckety mucks of Goldman Sachs, and she presented a different opinion when speaking to folks on Main Street.

Blue collar workers saw through Clinton's charade on "free trade," among other issues. That is why so many in the key "rust belt states" stayed home or voted for Trump on election day, rather than vote for someone they just couldn't stomach or trust.

If there is a silver lining in this very dark cloud, it may be that the latest incarnation of a free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), may be dead on arrival -- that is, if Trump keeps his word. But what an irony it is, and how poorly it reflects on the NDP and CLC leadership, that it may take a right-wing, bigoted billionaire to kill a rotten trade deal.

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