Follow the Leaders: U.S. Progressives Need to Support a Global Effort to Halt Neoliberalism in Its Tracks

By Lee, Hyun | Colorlines Magazine, July-August 2007 | Go to article overview

Follow the Leaders: U.S. Progressives Need to Support a Global Effort to Halt Neoliberalism in Its Tracks


Lee, Hyun, Colorlines Magazine


THIS YEAR, THE DEMOCRAT-CONTROLLED U.S. legislature has an important opportunity--the kind that maybe comes once in a Ways and Means Committee member's political lifetime--to radically shift course in U.S. trade policy. It has a full plate of trade issues to consider: no less than four bilateral free-trade agreements (with Colombia, Peru, Panama and Korea), as well as the renewal of the Bush administration's "fast track" authority to negotiate trade deals and the fate of the failed WTO Doha round of negotiations. How our elected officials decide on these issues will determine the future of global trade relations and the fate of millions of people--predominantly people in formerly colonized nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as people of color in the industrialized nations--whose lives have come to depend on global trade.

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Around the world, vibrant and powerful people's struggles have been growing against the WTO and "free trade." But in the U.S., undoubtedly the most powerful nation in determining global trade policy, the people most impacted by neoliberal trade policies--low wage workers, immigrants, and Black communities in the South--have heard virtually nothing of these issues, and our voices are completely missing from the U.S. trade policy debate. Discussions about the future of U.S. trade policy and alternatives, garbled in technical trade jargon, are confined to a handful of trade lobbyists inside the beltway and never reach the thousands of small farmers and workers whose lives are fundamentally altered by the U.S. pursuit of "free trade" around the world. If we want fundamental change in this country's trade policy, we need to start at the grassroots by defining our own stakes in the global struggles.

Neoliberalism (popularly known as "globalization") is an economic and social system in which every aspect of society, including its culture and values, is ultimately determined by the market. Everything from shoes to exotic fruit and even tourist sites is produced for competition on the global market. For example, farmers no longer grow food to feed their villages but are forced to cultivate specialty crops that will sell for the greatest return on the global market. In a system where the role of government is to ensure maximum profits for corporations, privatization of everything--including healthcare and education--and deregulation of anything that stands in the way of corporate profits--such as rent control and environmental standards--have been the order of the day.

Many people understand neoliberalism as a "problem of the third world," but neoliberal policies right here at home are responsible for many of the struggles faced by ordinary people, particularly people of color. Government refusal to enact and enforce stronger labor laws has meant that irregular work--part-time, temporary and/or self-contract work with no benefits or security--has become the norm rather than the exception. Privatization of basic services has meant more than 45 million people in the U.S. have no access to healthcare, and deregulation of housing laws has made affordable housing unattainable for 42 million households.

According to Angaza Laughinghouse of Black Workers for Justice, southern states have a lot in common with the third world in their relationship to foreign investment. To attract northern and foreign investments, southern states use tax dollars to provide major financial incentives for corporations. The incentives used to attract industries to the South are financed by monies in state and local budgets that could have been slated for community development, particularly in the Black Belt. While corporations profit from this arrangement, southern Blacks live in some of the worst economic conditions in the country. It is estimated that about one million people residing in the Black Belt live in substandard housing that lacks complete indoor plumbing. …

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