Populism 2015: Citizens Insist On Trade Deals That Work For All Of Us

Dave Johnson

Everyone gets that past “free” trade deals rigged the rules against working people. Now across the country a strong populist movement has gained momentum to stop more trade deals from making things worse.

This is just one part of the populist movement that has grown up since Occupy Wall Street in response to terrible inequality. Now across the country citizens and organizations are mobilizing in opposition to the way our country’s rules have been rigged to the benefit of the 1 percent and against the interests of 99 percent of us.

Many of the key leaders and activists in that movement will converge in Washington for the “Populism2015: Building a Movement for People and the Planet” conference on April 18-20. Campaign for America’s Future is a co-sponsor of that conference, with National People’s Action, USAction and Alliance for a Fair Society. (Register for the conference at the Populism2015 website.)

The conference organizers have adopted a 12-point platform for a progressive populist agenda that will drive independent political organizing over the next two years. One of the key planks in that platform is forging “a global strategy that works for working people.”

Our global trade and tax policies are rigged by multinational companies to drive down pay and worker protections while harming the environment. We need more but balanced trade, global standards that protect the rights of workers, consumers and the environment. That requires a crackdown on tax havens, currency manipulation, and deals that allow corporation to trample basic labor rights here and abroad.

Trade Deals Rigged The Rules

Free trade agreements allowed companies to move factories and jobs out of the U.S., escaping our wage and safety standards and environmental regulations. These companies could bring the same goods back to sell in the same stores with no penalty. Of course, the country lost millions of jobs, tens of thousands of factories and entire industries.

Since the “free trade” ideology kicked in during the late 1970s and especially the early 1980s, factory after factory has closed, job after job has left the country and community after community has been devastated. Unions were broken. Productivity increases have detached from wage increases, with all the gains going to an already-wealthy few. Our trade deficit – the metric that measures lost factories, jobs and living standards – has grown to enormous, huge levels.

People have come to realize how “free trade” agreements have rigged the rules in favor of the wealthy and undermined America’s working people. Those of us in the 99 percent either have experienced or know someone who has experienced being told, or the fear of being told, their job is being moved out of the country. With rising numbers of jobless lining up for any available job, people became afraid to ask for raises, better hours or even improvements in working conditions.

Everyone knows the result of “NAFTA-style” trade agreements has been terrible for 99 percent of us. Say the word “NAFTA” in the “rust belt” and stand back as people express their anger over what has happened to them, to their friends and families and to their communities. They move your job out of the country, a few people pocket the wage difference and you end up with a $10 job as a greeter at Walmart, paid so little that you qualify for food assistance.

People are fed up and finally are ready to do something about it.

Populist Revolt On Trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the largest trade agreement in history. It covers countries that are responsible for 40 percent of the world’s economy. President Obama sells it by saying that it rewrites the rules for doing business in the 21st century. Yet there is little to no coverage of this trade agreement in the national media. (Media Matters reported, “A Media Matters transcript search of the CBS Evening News, ABC’s World News Tonight, and NBC’s Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015, found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”)

Even though there is a virtual media blackout on information about TPP, people around the country are finding out anyway. There is a remarkable level of unity and opposition to the fast track process that will be used to pass TPP – among people who have heard of it. Fast track and TPP are quickly becoming a political “third rail.” If politicians go against the public on this one, they find themselves in trouble.

On a press call Wednesday talking about the level of opposition to TPP among the membership of various organizations, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, explained, “The grassroots forces against fast track are the local clergy, small business owners, union and environmental group members, activist retirees and students that members of Congress face whenever they go home.”

On the same call, Neil Sroka, communications director for the million-member Democracy for America, said:

“The progressive movement could not be more united, more focused and in particular more committed to holding our leaders accountable than when it comes to fast track and TPP. … The fact is, you can be a progressive committed to fighting for working families or you can be for this massive job-killing trade deal written by hundreds of corporate representatives, but you can’t be both. And, if you stand with the wrong side in this fight, the progressive base of the Democratic Party stands ready to hold you accountable at the ballot box.”

Murshed Zaheed, deputy political director at CREDO Action (3.5 million members) said progressives are united, citing over 1 million petition signatures opposing the treaty. “Time and time again, so-called free trade agreements have been bad for American workers, bad for the environment and bad for the United States. We don’t expect the TPP to be any different.”

Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org, said, “MoveOn’s 8 million members across the country stand ready to do whatever it takes to kill fast track before the TPP kills jobs. And you’d better believe that grassroots progressives will remember who voted for and against the middle class when it comes to the 2016 primaries.”

Rafael Navar, national political director, Communications Workers of America said that every single union is opposed to TPP – which is unprecedented. Navar said, “Progressives from unions, environmental groups, good government organizations, consumer and citizens’ rights groups, students and many more have put together the biggest coalition ever to stop ‘fast track’ trade promotion authority for bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Across the country, members of our coalition are taking this message to their senators and representatives right now: Stand with working people and our communities and vote no on Fast Track. There is no wiggle room on this issue.”

That’s a lot of people represented by these groups, and it’s just a start.

Populism 2015 Conference April 18-20

CAF co-founder Robert Borosage explains the overall importance of the Populism2015 conference in “The Populist Challenge: Moving On Up“:

On April 18-20, CAF will join with National People’s Action, the Alliance for a Fair Society, U.S.Action and dozens of other organizations to lay out a populist platform and map out strategies for driving reforms at the city and state level. As cities across the country move to raise the minimum wage, to crack down on payday lenders, to empower workers, clean up elections and drive new energy and energy efficiency, the movement will grow. And politicians will be forced to respond. (To read more and register to attend, go here)

Get updates in your inbox

Comments