The November 1997 defeat of “fast track” was arguably the AFL-CIO’s greatest public-policy triumph in a generation. The failure of Congress to extend presidential fast track negotiating authority—which would next have been used in an attempt to broaden the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to include Chile and other South American countries—came as an enormous shock to the Washington establishment and to the nation’s pundits. As late as mid-October, nearly every published commentary predicted that fast track would pass Congress by a comfortable margin. In the wake of fast track’s defeat, the press was quickly filled with howling editorials that generally included the words “protectionism,” “dinosaur,” and “hysteria.”
The nation’s guardians of opinion might not have been so stunned if they spent more time in places like Jamestown, Kentucky. During the very week of fast track’s congressional collapse, the Fruit of the Loom company announced plans to lay off nearly a thousand nonunion workers at its plant there, taking their jobs to Mexico or the Caribbean. “I’m a United States citizen, I’m losing my job,” one of these workers told a reporter. “How is NAFTA so great?”...
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