A few months back, in an early debate, Bernie Sanders graciously said he was “sick and tired” of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s “damn” email scandal. But in the upcoming debate, this Sunday before the Michigan primary on Tuesday, he should raise the issue. He should do so not to stoke the controversy over the procedural legality of running a private server. Rather, he should focus on the content of the emails.
Sanders should ask Clinton about her relentless advocacy of free-trade treaties, and in particular about one 2011 email (to which David Sirota and Sarah Berger called attention in a piece last week) where she wrote, in pushing for the now ratified free-trade agreement with Colombia: “at the rate we were going, Columbian [sic] workers were going to end up w the same or better rights than workers in Wisconsin and Indiana and, maybe even, Michigan.”
The effect of Bill Clinton’s NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s Colombian Free Trade Agreement has been devastating to Michigan and most of the rest of the country, and accounts for the appeal of Donald Trump.
As to the “better rights” Colombian workers have, vis-á-vis Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana, here’s what that looks like:
- According to Colombia’s respected Escuela Nacional Sindical, as of April 2015, 105 union activists had been executed in the four years since Clinton’s free-trade treaty went into effect. That’s just trade unionists. More broadly, Colombia continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for activists of all stripes.
- Threats of death and physical violence against workers—teachers, peasants, mine and oil laborers, and so on—are uncountable. They are an everyday fact of life for any Colombian who hopes to have some say over terms of labor.
- Beyond physical repression and threats of physical repression, the “rights” of labor in Colombia are practically nonexistent for vast numbers of workers. Routine are “illegal forms of hiring, the use of collective pacts by companies to thwart union organizing, and the problem of impunity for anti-union activity.”
- Also see this report by David Sirota: “as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed…harrowing reports of violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011, urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded first with silence” and then public praise for “Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.”
Considering that Clinton said in that email that Colombian “workers were going to end up w the same or better rights than workers in Wisconsin and Indiana and, maybe even, Michigan,” here’s the question Sanders should ask her: Did she mean that she hoped to raise Colombia up to US standards, or lower the United States’ to Colombia’s?