I’ll never forget an interview I did years ago with the late Richard Trumka, the then-president of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labour union. Trumka, a tough-talking former Pennsylvania coal miner turned lawyer, told me about a conversation he had had in the 1990s with a Clinton administration official about the fallout of Nafta, which had been ratified in 1993, and the potential impact of China coming into the global trading system.
Trumka was concerned about a sudden flood of cheap labour into the global marketplace, and the effect it would have on American workers’ incomes and lives. “I told [the official] that the deals would kill us, and he agreed.” But the official said that after a while, “wages would start to go up again, and things would even out around the world”. When Trumka asked him how long this process of “levelling out” might take, he answered: “about three to five generations”.