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Michael Pirret (2005) "American Labor Unions and Free Trade Agreements: A Struggle for Compatibility", Wayne Law Review, vol. 50 (hiver); 1257-1275

18 December 2005

This article argues that free trade, if practiced efficiently, will increase labor standards in even the poorest countries. The author contends that the U.S. manufacturing sector, formerly union-strong, has lost the most jobs to free trade. As union numbers shrink, so does its political power to keep manufacturing jobs at home. Section II describes the dynamic of global trade. Business pursues cheap labor in poor countries, which devalue their currency to encourage exports to the US, and the resulting trade imbalance hurts US business and encourages more outsourcing. The author discusses NAFTA, and new trade pacts with Chile, Singapore and Jordan. Except for Jordan, which provides for labor standards enforcement, these pacts spur a "race to the bottom dilemma." Section III argues that in the long run, the export of manufacturing to poor countries is good for all. As business increases production overseas, it will spread profits to poor. It will also create new high-tech jobs in the US. The author concludes that unions should accept trade liberalization, permit restructuring, and allow wage and benefit flexibility so that "producers can keep costs low and ride out boom-and-bust cycles" (p. 1275). This way, US labor can simultaneous become more relevant and support the increase of labor standards in poor countries.

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