fresh voices from the front lines of change







This week’s AFL-CIO convention discussed the problem of these "trade" agreements that have undercut America’s middle class by pitting our country’s working people against exploited people (near-slaves in some cases) elsewhere. The convention passed a resolution vowing to fight any trade agreement that promotes the rise in corporate power at the expense of working people.

Meanwhile, members of Congress are becoming more and more concerned over what they are hearing about the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

You can help fight a corporate takeover of democracy by telling Congress you oppose "Fast Track."


TPP -- The Next Terrible "Trade Treaty"

What would you expect if the giant, multinational corporations negotiated a treaty among themselves, without taking into account the concerns of groups representing labor, environmental, consumer and other groups that represent the interests of anything besides corporate profit? You would expect the kind of "trade" agreements that we have been saddled with.

But wait, there's more.

What if they are allowed to negotiate in secret, with only the interests of the giant multinationals and the billionaires at the table? And what if Congress had to pass the results “up or down” with no amendments?

This is how the new TPP is being negotiated and how it will be sold. Though it is being negotiated in secret, parts of the agreement have leaked, and it looks like TPP is exactly what we would expect to come out of such a process. It looks like this will be a treaty that writes corporate and billionaire interests into law with no protections for regular people and our environment from corporate and billionaire interests.

Senator Elizabeth Warren said at the convention,

"Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig upcoming trade deals in their favor. … I’ve heard people actually say that they have to be secret because if the American people knew what was going on, they would be opposed. … I believe that if people would be opposed to a particular trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not happen."

Fast Track

The giant corporations are starting a campaign to get Congress to pass something called "fast track" trade promotion authority. "Fast track" means Congress gives up its constitutional responsibility to carefully consider and amend trade agreements, and instead just passes the treaty as negotiated with no changes, on a fast "up-or-down" vote.

With "fast track" the vote will occur in a hurry, in the middle of one of those multimillion-dollar PR campaigns designed to whip everyone into a terrified frenzy while only offering one solution: passing this treaty and passing it fast.

Compare how this works with the run-up to the Iraq war, where big money is getting their message everywhere and the voices of opponents are not represented in the media; where scare tactics and promises saturate every discussion while warnings and reasonable concerns are kept away from the conversation and worried people are marginalized, called "fringe" or "old-fashioned" or just scorned as dirty hippies.

That is how this TPP will be sold, if Congress passes "fast track."

Members of Congress

Michigan representatives and others had a "wide-ranging meeting" to talk about concerns over currency manipulation by trade competitors, and the lack of any language that prohibits this in the TPP.

According to Politico, "Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said he and the panel’s top Democrat, Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, requested the meeting to discuss concerns that members have heard about foreign currency practices and other trade issues." Michigan automakers are concerned now that Japan is one of the countries in TPP, because Japan, like China, uses currency manipulation to keep prices low on goods made there. This gives their goods an advantage in world markets.

In June 230 members of Congress signed a letter to President Obama urging him to address currency manipulation in TPP.

AFL-CIO "Resolution 12"

This week the AFL-CIO convention passed Resolution 12: America and the World Need a New Approach to Trade and Globalization. The resolution discusses a number of trade agreements currently in the works. It says TPP, "now seems likely to be yet another in a long string of trade agreements that elevate corporate interests at the expense of working people. It appears unlikely the agreement will rectify the mistakes of past trade policy, particularly in the areas of currency, rules of origin, procurement, deregulation, labor rights, public services, investment, access to medicines, environmental protections or financial services."

The resolution calls for a "people-centered trade policy" that will:

  • Create shared gains for the workers whose labor creates society’s wealth.
  • Strengthen protections for the environment. Companies must not use trade rules to pit one country’s environmental rules against another, as they seek the lowest-cost place to produce.
  • Protect the freedom to regulate in the public interest.
  • Set rules for fair competition. Workers of a nation must not be unduly disadvantaged by unfair economic competition resulting from choices about how to organize their economies.
  • Include strong rules of origin so that trade agreements are not merely a conduit to ease the global corporation’s race to the bottom.
  • Not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors.
  • Effectively address currency manipulation.
  • Retain the ability for all nations to stimulate their economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs.
  • Protect the right of governments to choose the scope and level of public services to provide.
  • Protect intellectual property (IP) in a fair and balanced manner.
  • Protect the unique U.S. transportation regulatory and legal structure.
  • Protect the right of governments to secure the integrity and stability of their financial systems.
  • Be negotiated in an open, democratic and accountable manner.
  • Be flexible and responsive.

To accomplish this, they commit to:

  • Educating our members—and all workers—about the causes and effects of the current model of globalization, that there is another way, and that we need to act collectively to achieve a higher standard of living.
  • Reporting and publicizing to members and the general public the results of existing trade agreements and trade policy on the quality of life for U.S. workers, including the impact on jobs, wages and bargaining power.
  • Ensuring strong enforcement of trade agreements and trade remedy law, including by working to ensure sufficient funding for the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center.
  • Ensuring that U.S. trade agreements reflect a people-centered policy by recommitting our opposition to 20th century-style “fast track” trade promotion authority that allows trade and globalization agreements to become law with limited debate, no amendments and no opportunity to send the administration back to the table to achieve the principles laid out above.
  • Continuing our work to use the labor provisions of the Generalized System of Preferences and various trade agreements to hold countries to their obligations to protect labor rights.
  • Demanding greater transparency and inclusiveness in creating U.S. international economic policies, consistent with democratic principles.
  • Organizing our members, community allies and all workers to demand better—to demand trade that creates shared prosperity in the TPP, TTIP, TISA and any future trade agenda.
  • Developing and executing joint strategies with partners in the international labor movement to shape a pro-worker agenda for trade policies.
  • Utilizing all available strategies, including social media, to go beyond education and accomplish organization and mobilization.
  • Ensuring that the U.S. policies reflect reforms needed to make U.S. producers and their employees more competitive in the global marketplace, including:
  • Enacting the currency legislation that ensures the administration can treat currency manipulation as a countervailable duty;
  • Enacting expanded and enhanced skills training for all workers, not just those whose jobs have been displaced by trade;
  • Increasing federal funding to upgrade and rebuild ports, airports, railroads, roads, schools, water systems and other critical public infrastructure so that the United States does not lose private investment due to its old and crumbling public facilities; and
  • Strengthening trade enforcement and anti-dumping remedies.
  • Fighting to defeat any trade agreement that fails to prioritize the needs of working families and advance shared prosperity in the global economy.

And, finally, on TPP:

So long as the TPP appears poised to promote the rights of the 1%—rather than shared gains from trade—we, along with our international labor movement and civil society partners, will oppose its adoption and implementation, devoting resources to create a national campaign.

Here is the key takeaway: Congress must not give up its power to review and amend trade agreements. "Fast Track" works against our democracy, and against the interests of everyone except giant corporations that want to ram this agreement through before democracy and the public can rally to do something about it.

Actions on TPP and Fast Track will be ramping up. For now please tell the President that a currency manipulation rule must be included in the TPP.

Also: send an email to trade representatives for all the countries involved to tell them to create a trade agreement that works for working families.

PS see also, AFL-CIO Now blog, Global Organizing and a New Approach to Trade and Globalization

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