Democratic presidential contender John Edwards on Monday criticized former President Clinton, arguing that he allowed corporate insiders to shape the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement that has cost U.S. jobs.

Edwards' complaints about the former president beloved by voters in his own party was a defiant move meant to highlight rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's relationship with special interests. It comes two days after Clinton refused Edwards' challenge to stop taking campaign donations from lobbyists, saying many represent good causes.

"It's time that the president stood up and fought for American workers," Edwards told a crowd of about 300 people at a union hall in Cedar Rapids. "It's time to have a president that always puts the interests of the American people first."

While Edwards' speech did not mention the name Clinton, the object of his complaint was obvious. Edwards criticized the presidential leadership during the 1993 passage of NAFTA, which was started by President George H.W. Bush and pushed through by Clinton. He said the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada was "written by insiders in all three countries."

Edwards said the policies of President George W. Bush have devastated towns and communities all across America, but "this is not just his doing."

"For far too long, presidents from both parties have entered into trade agreements, agreements like NAFTA, promising that they would create millions of new jobs and enrich communities," he said. "Instead, too many of these agreements have cost jobs and devastated towns and communities across this country."

Edwards' remarks come a day before he will share a stage with Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates at an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago in which the White House hopefuls will make their appeal to labor.

Edwards said the trade deal "did not serve the interests of regular workers. It included unprecedented rights for corporate investors, but no labor or environmental protections in the core text. And over the past 15 years, we have seen the growing inequality in the United States, and Mexico and in Canada."

Edwards used the campaign appearance to offer his trade proposals. The 2004 vice presidential nominee said the economy is growing and productivity is at an all-time high, but wages aren't keeping pace with the increased costs of education, health care and retirement. He blamed technological change and globalization, as well as outdated labor and workplace laws for a system that is benefiting the wealthiest and shortchanging workers.

"Trade has become a bad word for working Americans for a very simple reason — it's because our trade policies have been bad for working Americans," he said.