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Punished for the sins of her husband

The Free Trade issue and exodus of good union jobs sinks NAFTA Bill's wife in the Michigan Presidential Primary

Brian Young's picture
Mar 09, 2016

As the clock turned from “Super Tuesday 2” to post mortem Wednesday, political pundits were shocked as Bernie Sanders delivered one of the biggest surprises in winning the Michigan primary.  Polls in the lead up to the primary showed Sanders trailing Hillary Clinton by about 18 points.  Even the noted political prognosticator, Five Thirty-Eight, gave Clinton a 99% chance of winning.   Nate Silver, the editor of Five Thirty-Eight said that it was the biggest upset since 1984 when Gary Hart was 17% down to Walter Mondale.  So what led to Michigan feeling the late Bern and coming out to support Sanders?  Free trade may have had something to do with it.

Michigan was one of the states that was hardest hit when the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) was pushed through by President Bill Clinton.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor progressive think tank, Michigan lost 43,600 jobs or 1% of all the jobs in the state thanks to NAFTA.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 138,000 auto industry jobs moved out of Michigan in the 20 years following NAFTA.  Cities like Detroit and Flint where no longer on the cutting edge of automobile technology, they were now trying to figure out how to avoid bankruptcy, feed their populations, and keep them in their homes.  The economic impact of the loss of the auto industry can be seen in the crumbling schools in Detroit and Flint water crisis. 

Michigan voter’s aversion to free trade was a major reason why Sanders began running ads attacking Clinton for her ties to the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and her support of NAFTA.  According to the CNN exit polls, 58% of voters said that trade takes away jobs.  Of people who believe this, 58% of them support Sanders.  The exit polls also show that he won with voters who made up their minds in the last month, after he attacked Clinton on free trade. 

The results of the election also show that in the areas hardest hit by NAFTA, Sanders won almost every district.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, Michigan has 7 of the top 15 hardest hit congressional districts from NAFTA.  Of those 7, Sanders won 5 of the districts, only losing district 14, which has a large African American population from Detroit, and Congressional District 5, President Gerald Ford’s old district.  African American’s voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. 

Over the next few weeks, many more of the industrial states that suffered great job losses under NAFTA and other free trade agreements will be voting.  If Sanders is to win the election, he might have come up with a blueprint for how to mobilize angry, disaffected voters across the Midwest.

For more on the TPP, check out the AFL-CIO's Liz Schuler's comments below.

AFL-CIO's Liz Shuler: TPP Is Another Corporate Attack On Women: Workers Independent News: On International Women's Day Tuesday AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler said the TPP trade agreement is "another corporate attack on women" at a time of enduring gender wage inequality.[Liz Shuler]: "When it comes to women's issues people don't realize that the labor movement is actually the largest women's organization in the country. We represent six and a half million working women with a voice on the job. So we have an opinion when it comes to women's issues and especially when it comes to trade and trade policy and how women are impacted. White women are making 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. Black women making only 63 cents and Latina women only 54 cents. Certainly women of color bearing the brunt of the wage gap. They're experiencing lower median weekly earnings, higher rates of poverty, higher unemployment

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