Public opinion and government policy with respect to MNCs, in other words, conjure up the image of a fault line along the earth's crust, quiet for the moment but with pressures building below that could—will—divide the earth above. Despite the best-educated guesses, however, nobody really knows just when and under what circumstances this will happen or how severe the damage will be. Already odd alliances have been formed among the parties most affected by the growth of MNCs. One of these took place beginning in 1991 when free-trade advocates in the United States found themselves joined by the multinationals but strongly opposed by rank-and-file workers over the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was ratified in 1992 despite labor's objections. In 1994 the MNCs and free traders won a limited victory with the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which since its founding has focused much of its attention on breaking down remaining restrictions on the expansion of MNCs worldwide. It has had only moderate success, however, because it lacks judicial authority, something the U.S. negotiators refused to give it because of congressional reservations about granting extensive powers to the new body.
In the late 1980s, free traders in Europe joined with European workers in successfully opposing the proposed merger of Honeywell International and General Electric on antitrust grounds. The United States and the European Union also entered in a trade war. They clashed over European restrictions on imports of American beef and bananas, and the U.S. steel industry accused European firms of dumping steel on American markets. European business and political leaders retaliated with charges that Washington unfairly subsidized U.S. exports and rejected its efforts to resolve trade disputes.
These claims and counterclaims suggest that, in a world becoming smaller each day, with corporate mergers across national boundaries becoming more common and a technological and information revolution unlike any in the past, calls will continue to grow about bringing the aspirations of private enterprise more in line with national needs. How that will happen or whether it is even possible remain unanswered questions. The failure of the United States and Europe to resolve their economic differences and a growing movement toward economic regionalism in East Asia, including mutual currency supports, cooperative exchange systems, and an East Asian free trade area, even suggest a worldwide backlash already under way against economic globalization. At the same time, it is difficult to imagine anything less than a highly integrated world economy or one without the glue of the multinational corporations that helped bring it about in the first place.