U.S. Economic Policy: January 2011 Archives

The Obama administration is trying to defuse a trade skirmish with Mexico by proposing to allow long-haul Mexican trucks access to the U.S. after banning them from U.S. roads in March 2009. Like many industries in which U.S. workers feel pressure from non-Americans willing to do the same work for less pay, U.S. truckers are upset, judging by the negative reaction from Teamsters president James Hoffa. But did he have to dredge up the bogeyman of border violence to make his case?

the proposal by the Transportation Department was denounced by the Teamsters union, which represents long-haul truckers and fears that expanded Mexican trucking within the United States will threaten jobs.

"I am deeply disappointed by this proposal," the union's president, James P. Hoffa, said in a statement. "Why would the D.O.T. propose to threaten U.S. truck drivers' and warehouse workers' jobs when unemployment is so high? And why would we do it when drug cartel violence along the border is just getting worse?" Mr. Hoffa also raised safety concerns.

The Teamsters make a stink, and Democratic politicians don't know what to do, not wanting to take a strong position on the issue that will upset either labor or immigrant rights constituencies, or both.

In situations like this, business has the last laugh. Transnational corporations move capital and goods more or less freely across borders, and move management from country to country with relatively little trouble. But workers are stuck in the countries they were born in, either fighting to cross borders in contravention of business-oriented immigration laws or fighting to send workers just like them back to the countries they escaped from. Why is the assumption about low-wage migration always that when workers have more options and more freedom, workers will lose? Why do workers always end up pitted against each other across borders instead of working together, while corporate profits keep rolling in? It doesn't have to be this way.

There's a cosmopolitan, classically liberal element of business that is aligned with an open borders immigration policy. But business in the U.S. has generally been focused on increasing the flow of high-skill, high-wage workers, ceding control over conservative messaging to nativists. Business has not pulled its weight in recent years in promoting liberal immigration reform, it had delivered a paltry number of Republican politicians for any compromise bill and has by now lost even those. Business's families aren't being separated every day, business isn't getting locked up and deported, business isn't dying in the desert. Business is doing just fine under the status quo.

When the Teamsters play to nativist sympathies to keep immigrant workers out of the U.S. or stuck in the underground economy, they are ultimately not doing any favors for U.S. workers.

(Check out Mexico Trucker Online for "straight talk about Mexico and Mexican trucks.")

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This page is a archive of entries in the U.S. Economic Policy category from January 2011.

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