Trade rally draws mixed crowd in Duluth

Nathan Halverson

Two men, one in dreadlocks and wearing patchouli oil and the other with a mullet and teamster’s cap, chanted and cheered side-by-side for the same cause.

Saturday’s rally in Duluth for “fair trade, not free trade” drew an eclectic mix of people, including University students and Twin Cities’ union workers who traveled from Minneapolis to Duluth, part of the way in a police-escorted caravan.

Four semitrailers, 12 chartered buses, and 48 cars left the St. Paul Technical College parking lot to attend the gathering featuring speakers such as Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

Event-goers denounced trade policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement for undercutting environmental and humanitarian needs.

University student Shaun Laden said many different people attended the event because many different groups are affected.

“It really hits home that the move in itself is all-encompassing; it affects everyone,” he said.

The featured speakers at the rally were as diverse as the hundreds of people who attended.

The speakers included Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach, small-time Nicaraguan farmer Cornelio Rivera, United Steelworker President Leo Gerard and many others.

Gerard said NAFTA and free trade have caused thousands of steel workers to lose their jobs.

These layoffs have harmed the workers’ families, their communities and the U.S. economy as a whole, he said.

Gerard said free trade was only benefiting the wealthy.

He said he wasn’t against the foreign workers who got U.S. jobs.

“I’m just against the Ö system that is ripping us off,” he said.

Carla Garcia Zendejas, an international environmental lawyer and Tijuana, Mexico, resident said although international workers are getting the U.S. jobs, they aren’t getting everything American workers have.

She said Mexican workers weren’t getting the safety goggles, protective gloves, the hazardous-fume ventilators and other tools necessary for a safe working environment.

She said when unprotected work in hazardous environments caused an injury, the disabled individual would be fired.

She said that the multinational corporations saw Mexicans as a disposable labor force.

Zendejas said NAFTA was supposed to make things better, but it didn’t.

She said maquiladoras – factories along the U.S.-Mexican border – were springing up in ramshackle communities that didn’t have basic necessities like running water.

But the high-tech factories were given subsidized water not provided to the villages.

Speaking through a translator, Nicaraguan farmer Cornelio Rivera said local farmers can’t compete with foreign companies that have far superior technology and capital.

“It’s like putting a loose tiger in the ring with a donkey that is tied up,” he said.

Free trade controversy

proponents of free trade contend that lost jobs are unavoidable, but in the long run economies will strengthen as resources are more efficiently allocated.

They say free trade lowers costs for everyone, freeing up disposable income and allowing customers to find new places to spend their money.

And, proponents say, entrepreneurial-minded people will start businesses to meet this new demand, therefore creating more jobs so that in the long run, consumers will actually be getting more for their money.

But Saturday’s fair trade speakers said corporations had corrupted the process.

Speaker Jim Hightower said fair trade advocates weren’t against trade.

“We’re against closed-door trade agreements,” Hightower said.

He said trade negotiators need to be accountable to citizens by having more direct representation and less corporate involvement.

“We’ll never get the waters cleaned up until we get the hogs out of the creek,” Hightower said.

He said corporate executives don’t care about the public.

“They get to thinking they’re the top dogs and we’re just a bunch of fire hydrants,” he said.

Hightower said not enough politicians were concerned with free trade problems. But he said Wellstone was a key player against corporate abuses.

“If you want to send a message to George W. Bush, send him Paul Wellstone,” he said.

Wellstone spoke last. He said that he, too, was in favor of trade, but “not trade policy that only works for multi-nationals.”

He said the World Trade Organization and NAFTA were supposed to help the country, but now the economy is down and jobs are being lost.

He said certain trade policies hurt the environment.

NAFTA’s Chapter 11 allows foreign companies to sue governments who enact legislation designed to protect the environment, according to Public Citizen, a national nonprofit public interest organization.

So if a country determines a forest is endangered and therefore off limits to loggers, a foreign logging company could sue for damages due to the loss of potential revenue.

Wellstone, like the speakers before him, stressed the need for activists to organize and stick together, saying justice and human rights are bringing together the diverse crowd.

University student Andy Carhart said he thought the activists’ vast mix of backgrounds was great.

“I think people have gotten along together extremely well,” he said.

“Except for the camera guy,” added fellow University student Pete Meidlinger.

Meidlinger referred to a Republican who attended the event apparently to film Wellstone’s speech.

As Wellstone began his speech, he thanked the speakers who preceded him and concluded the accolades by thanking the “Republican cameras,” gesturing to an individual with a digital video camera.

The cameraman was jostled throughout the speech as activists held signs in front his camera and bumped into him.

At one point, after moving to a new location, the cameraman was pushed into an apparent union worker who responded with kidney-punches into the cameraman’s side.

Volunteers rushed to the scuffle and escorted away the cameraman, who held his hands in the air.

Wal-Mart targeted

the convoy that left the Twin Cities for Duluth stopped in Cloquet, Minn. to denounce Wal-Mart before going to the rally.

Speakers stood atop a union semi-trailer parked in the store’s lot to address a few hundred people holding signs and wearing T-shirts criticizing the world’s largest retailer.

Speakers, including union leaders, environmentalists and a local high school girl, chastised the company for importing a large percentage of its goods.

They said these goods were often produced under harsh working conditions that didn’t provide livable wages, forbade collective bargaining and used child labor.

The crowd chanted, “What does Wal-Mart have to hide? Sweatshop products hide inside.”

Speakers demanded Wal-Mart address these concerns.

The speakers said Wal-Mart forces so-called mom and pop shops out of business and don’t pay their U.S. workers a livable wage.

They called for an independent monitoring system.


Nathan Halverson welcomes comments at [email protected]