Larry Cohen, President Communications Workers of America
Twenty years after the North American Free Trade Agreement, working Americans are still reeling from job loss, pay cuts and a deepening environmental crisis. We are tired of leftover promises from 2008 and say it is time for a new deal on trade, only to face Korea, Colombia and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a new bottom for everything we care about. The trade deficit with Korea has increased nearly 40 percent. Since NAFTA was passed, economic inequality has only grown in Mexico, as well as immigration to the U.S. mostly from desperation and undocumented, as NAFTA has destroyed subsistence agriculture. And when new employment did develop in the maquiladoras it has again been poverty-level wages.
Despite promises to the contrary, nothing is better about this “fast track” than the last one. Nothing. The labor section is a total hoax, committing to follow international standards when national standards conform. For the U.S. this is meaningless, as our Senate has failed to ratify any of the U.N. conventions on labor. Incredible, but those needed two-thirds vote, as provided in Article II of the Constitution. But fast track is specifically designed to circumvent Article II for multi-lateral trade deals of much greater significance than the U.N. conventions safeguarding labor rights.
Why? Two reasons: the National Security Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Six hundred multinational corporations have worked on their sections of the TPP, then at best members of Congress or labor, environmental and consumer organizations are shown a peak, and then maybe the U.S. Trade Representative tweaks a sentence or two. The National Security Council — whether appointed by President Clinton, Bush or Obama — rubber stamps 60-year-old state department strategy that discounts any consequences for U.S. working families, as long as the deal supposedly promotes allegiances from the other governments.
The TPP will affect our laws, our jobs, our food and our environment. Fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, forces Congress to give up its right to amend and improve this trade deal for ordinary Americans. In order to speed the trade bill to ratification, our elected representatives would be limited to a simple up-or-down vote.
Every day U.S. employers fire and intimidate workers attempting to exercise their rights of association and engage in collective bargaining. Collective bargaining rights and coverage for U.S. workers are the lowest among other democracies, yet we continue to look for trading partners in countries like Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 28 cents an hourand child labor is rising. The White House talks about economic inequality and yet every White House economist knows that the U.S. brand of globalization and the destruction of collective bargaining rights are the two major factors that explain it. Enabling multinational corporations to shop for the lowest wage to enhance profits is at the core of not only job destruction, but wage suppression.
Two decades ago, President Clinton promised working families better labor rights and standards, arguing that NAFTA was the first agreement that had “any teeth in what another country had to do with its own workers and its own labor standards.” But workers’ collective bargaining rights have eroded. U.S. employer threats made during organizing campaigns to close plants if workers voted for a union rose from 29 percent in the mid-1980s to 50 percent in the two years following the adoption of NAFTA to 57 percent recently. Meanwhile rights on the other side of our trade agreements have not improved either, since higher pay and other standards usually means the jobs are shipped off somewhere else.
Working Americans won’t be fooled again. We know this is about our kids and the future of this nation, as we risk shipping our manufacturing sector and millions of service sector jobsoverseas. It’s about our jobs and wages, our environment, our public health and our food safety. It’s all on the line and it’s up to us to hold the line in the weeks ahead.
Some would have Americans believe that without fast track, our country would never be able to ratify trade agreements. But in fact, the United States has successfully ratified other agreements without using fast track authorization and Congress has voted fast track down before.
Twenty years of NAFTA, and its successors and several fast tracks, have proven to be the wrong track, unless we only measure corporate profits and top management pay. We need to account for the net loss of jobs, the net destruction of our communities, the net consequences on our standard of living, and stand up and fight back!