On March 9, 1994, Jean Swanson and I traveled to Seattle, Washington to take part in a trilateral (United States, Canada, Mexico) demonstration against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The demonstration was supported by the Seattle Labour Council, and organized by the Jobs with Justice Committee. Jean and I represented Action Canada BC.
An upbeat, energetic crowd of about two hundred and fifty union and community activists met in a parking lot across the street from the Labour Temple Building. Demonstrators carried banners, shook rattles made of op tins with dried peas inside, sang union songs, and listened to one speaker from each of the United States, Canada (Jean), and Mexico. The speakers told the crowd that NAFTA was killing jobs, killing wages, and in Chiapas, Mexico, killing people. It was also killing democracy as it transferred the power to make important decisions about the economy from elected institutions such as Parliament or the Congress to the boardrooms of transnational corporations.
The Mexican speaker, a Jesuit worker priest, said that working people in Mexico were against NAFTA, and that many workers could not buy adequate food, clothing and shelter with the wages they earned.
The demonstration was planned because an expensive trade conference ($300 registration fee) on how to make money out of NAFTA was taking place at the Seattle International Trade Centre. Because of the downward spiral of competitive impoverishment that NAFTA generated, the demonstrators called for jobs with justice. They wanted it known that they would fight against job losses and wage and benefit reductions.
After the speeches were over, we marched to the accompaniment of songs, rattles, and chants such as “Human need, not corporate greed,” to the International Trade Centre two blocks away, where business executives hoped to have a gourmet banquet. The march to the Trade Centre didn’t take long and before we knew it, and much to our surprise, we had taken over the banquet room on the second floor. The circular tables were set for dinner, but the guests had not yet arrived because it was only 6:15 pm. We sang and chanted slogans for the next forty –five minutes in a festive spirit of disciplined defiance. Our favourite chant was “No justice, no dinner,” and we delayed the banquet for more than one hour. Nothing on the tables was disturbed, including the dinner rolls and the exquisite wine glasses, but our presence made it impossible for the executives to put on their feed bags.
The Seattle police waited quietly on the sidelines, and at 7:10 pm demonstrators snake danced around the banquet hall and down the stairs to the street. The message had been delivered.
Jean and I felt privileged to be part of this trilateral demonstration for democracy and against NAFA. We were impressed with the energy and commitment to justice of our American and Mexican sisters and brothers. We knew the fight against the North American Free Trade Agreement wasn’t over. In fact, it was just beginning.