Rep. Marcy Kaptur Speaks
Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur addressed students and community members Wednesday with a strident anti-globalization message.
“It’s as great a struggle as our country ridding itself officially of slavery,” Kaptur said, comparing the fight against exploitive international trade agreements to the abolitionist movement. “Why would we think, having come from a country that was rooted in slavery, that it would be any easier to deal with this set of forces today?”
Kaptur, who has long been an opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement and its successor, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, sustained the analogy throughout her speech. “The Mason-Dixon line was just moved,” she said. “They just moved it down to the US-Mexico border.”
The speech was part of a week of events called “Trade in the Americas,” a series sponsored by Oberlin Solidarity with El Salvador, Student Labor Action Coalition, the Nicaragua Sister Co-op Committee and Oberlin Students in Solidarity with Guatemala, which confronts issues of free trade, fair trade and globalization across the continent.
Kaptur spoke for an hour and a half without written notes, relying on stories of her experiences working in Washington and visiting those marginalized, in Kaptur’s opinion, by America and Mexico’s trade agreements.
According to Kaptur, who has been a US representative for more than 20 years and was in office when President Clinton signed NAFTA into law, the promises made by its proponents never came true.
“It sounded good,” Kaptur said of NAFTA. “It sounded like we were all going to be brothers and sisters on the continent and that we were going to have the same rules of trade and that tariffs would be gone and that we would create more jobs in America because people in Mexico would buy our products and that the Mexican people would be able to lift themselves up… and everything would be great. It didn’t happen.”
Instead, Kaptur said, America lost jobs by the thousands.
Kaptur stressed that Americans are not the only ones hurt by NAFTA; immigrants also fall victim to an exploitive, illegal system of labor recruitment on the border. In describing the many that have died trying to get into the US, Kaptur said, “The underbelly of labor on this continent is ugly. It is really ugly.”
Kaptur unequivocally stated, however, that she is not pro-illegal immigration. “I don’t support illegal labor in this country.” She later stated that she felt that any businesses employing undocumented workers should be shut down.
In the question and answer period, an audience member challenged her on this point: “What do you do with the workers?”
“Send them home,” Kaptur responded. Kaptur’s colleagues in Congress are not very receptive to her message. And Bush? “A lost cause,” she said. The representative even accused her opponents of being bought off by pro-NAFTA lobbyists. Despite this, she has tried to convince other congresspeople that “trade policy and immigration policy are linked. They are not separate.”
The issue will come up again this summer, when Congress will vote on a bill known as “fast track” that could potentially extend NAFTA to other countries in the hemisphere.
Kaptur urged students to get involved and to further the campaign with their own research. “If you don’t come away upset,” she said, “then you have no conscience.”