House Members, Activist Leaders Form United Front Against Trade Scheme

Dave Johnson

“We are tens of millions of Americans and we are committed that we are not going to have another raw deal on trade.” – Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America (CWA)

Several members of Congress joined with representatives of a cross-section of organizations today to express opposition to “fast track” – a process under which Congress agrees to essentially pre-approve trade deals before even reading them.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Dan Kildee (D-Minn.) and several others attended, representing the large number of House Democrats opposed to fast track.

Also speaking at the event were Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO; Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby – known as “Nuns on the bus”; Larry Cohen, President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA); Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the Washington Bureau/Senior Vice President for Advocacy, NAACP; Tony Corbo, Food and Water Watch; Ellen Bloom; Senior Director Washington Office and Federal Policy; Consumers Union and Debbie Sease, Federal Campaign Director of the Sierra Club. Several other organizations provided banners and otherwise expressed their support, including the Campaign for America’s Future.

The AFL-CIO’s Trumka said fast track pulls a curtain in front of another effort to drive jobs out of the country and cut wages. “Trade negotiations should be open to the public. These deals affect people’s lives. … We need a new trade model that benefits ordinary Americans, not just Wall Street fat cats. … Trade deals should be open to the American public and should be open to everybody, not just Wall Street.”

Sister Simone Campbell said these trade agreements “create a huge imbalance and disequilibrium” that causes people in poorer Central and South American countries to have to migrate north to the U.S. to try to feed themselves. “Fast track, a seal of approval without even looking at it, is the wrong way forward.”

Larry Cohen of the CWA said that the people at the press conference represented the biggest coalition on trade ever. They are “together to talk about what the global economy should be.” To fix wages, “we have to stop trade deals that only move in one direction. … The trade policies that devastated Detroit devastate others as well. … We are tens of millions of Americans and we are committed that we are not going to have another raw deal on trade.”

Rep. Barbara Lee spoke about the effect of offshoring on communities of color. Rep. Keith Ellison relayed what happened when he asked the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to “send over a copy of the bill.” The audience laughed because the joke was that members of Congress can’t see the agreement except under special circumstances and their staff cannot see it at all.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur pointed out that since NAFTA passed, the U.S. has “racked up $9.7 trillion of trade deficits” while “wages have dropped for the average family $7000 a year.”

Rep. Tim Ryan talked about the anxiety that people feel because trade has “decimated the middle class in the United States.” He went on to say, “We need to talk about the issues that voters care about and it is fast track and it is trade.”

Rep. Alan Grayson said “Trade is a simple concept. You sell me yours and I’ll sell you mine. But that is not what is happening … we are creating tens of millions of jobs in other countries with poor purchasing power. … It’s not free trade, it’s fake trade. … Every single year since NAFTA we have had a trade deficit over $140 billion a year. … We are in a deep, deep hole because of fake trade. One seventh of all the assets in this country are now owned by foreigners. … Let’s not only have a trade policy, let’s have a trade deficit policy.”

What Is This Fast Track Of Which They Speak?

“Fast track” is the shorthand name for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). (Corporations and their representatives might change “fast track” to something like “smart track,” similar to how the Philip Morris tobacco company changed its name to Altria in order to sound altruistic.)

Fast track is essentially pre-approval of these agreements. When Congress passes fast track they agree to vote on new trade agreements within 90 days of seeing them, agree not to amend them, and agree not to allow filibusters or other rules to get in the way.

1) By agreeing to vote within 90 days of first seeing the agreement they force a situation where there is not enough time to fully analyze the agreement and its consequences and rally the public if there are problems.
2) But in the meantime corporations are executing a massive PR campaign promising people that the agreement will bring jobs and prosperity, etc.
3) By agreeing not to amend the agreement in any way the conversation changes to “will you scuttle the whole thing?” instead of being about details of the agreement. This puts tremendous pressure on them to vote yes. Remember how the recent budget bill was about “will you shut down the government?” and was not about the things Wall Street and others had slipped into the bill at the last second.

Obviously there is no other legislation where Congress gives up its constitutional role like this.

The record of these trade deals is terrible. The jobs lost and the terrible trade deficits that resulted from them should speak for themselves.

Last month’s trade deficit was $39 billion. Imagine how our economy would be operating if companies inside the country were receiving $39 billion in new orders each month. Imagine how many people would be hired, and the upward pressure on wages. Imagine the local grocery, shoe, hardware stores, etc getting the business from those new hires.

When you picture what would happen if businesses inside of the U.S. were getting $39 billion of new orders every month, you are actually seeing the effect of trade deficits of that magnitude. All those jobs and the prosperity you are picturing is what is lost because of these trade deals.

These trade deals have forced wages down – and a few at the top pocket that wage differential for themselves.

A way of thinking about these trade agreements is to imagine what a trade agreement would look like if it was put together by stakeholders like consumers, working people and environmentalists instead of corporate representatives.

Imagine a trade agreement that prohibits companies from threatening to move someone’s job out of the country if they ask for a raise.

Imagine a trade agreement that prohibits the international sale of goods made in ways that hurt the environment.

Those are the kinds of things trade could do for the world, if we changed the process and imagined ourselves as a democracy again.