Labor Needs a Strategy of Mass Struggle to Defeat the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Deals
By Ed Grystar
The negotiations for “free trade” deals between the U.S., Europe and the Pacific continue to proceed in secrecy and with a blackout by the mainstream media. While ostensibly branded as trade negotiations whose aim is to increase trade by abolishing tariffs, these deals are essentially power grabs by multinational corporations to remove regulatory barriers on their profits. Of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. The majority would strip governments, workers and citizens of health and safety regulations, environmental protections, food safety rules and other policies benefitting the public.
Because of this blackout, the public and Congress itself is prevented from knowing the details of the talks. Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch reports that it is only through “leaks” of the actual negotiations that much of the information of these deals is made public. However, over 600 corporate “trade advisors” have full access to the texts.
Both trade deals reveal the utter collapse of democracy in the USA and the complete subservience of both major parties to the whims of moneyed interests. Obama, who campaigned on “transparency” in 2008 and pledged to avoid secret NAFTA-type deals, has signed a 2010 agreement with the other countries that keeps the negotiations secret.
Proposals included in these Frankenstein-like deals roll back the minimal banking regulations enacted to protect consumers. Any governmental financial regulation would be subordinated to the extreme version of a deregulated system contained in the upcoming proposals. A tax on financial transactions is not permitted. In health care, exemptions for big pharmaceutical companies to extend patents from eight to 12 years and perhaps even longer would raise prices and restrict access to many needed drugs. The TPP weakens food standards by altering or eliminating any regulations that ban or restrict such things as pesticides and toxins so they comply with any weaker international standards. Governments would also be penalized if they offered preferences like “prevailing wages”, buy American, or “sweatshop free” since the language in the TPP says that all corporations in the countries that sign the agreement must have equal access to the public monies spent by national, state, and local governments. Both Agreements aim to create new markets for private investors by opening up public services to privatization in critical areas such as health, education and water.
The TPP cannot be changed or modified by any new president or Congress. Once it’s signed, all modifications must be agreed to by all countries. If a new Congress or president wants to sever or get out of the agreement, there is also a ten-year look-back period when corporations can still sue for damages.
To administer these and many more horrendous proposals, a major goal is to establish and impose “foreign investor privileges and rights” and create a private enforcement mechanism through a procedure called the “investor-state” system. This new system will allow foreign corporations to challenge health, safety, environmental laws and regulations in individual countries. Incredibly, it will grant corporations and investors equal rights with a country’s government and above its citizens. This means that corporations can avoid national courts and challenge governments before courts of private lawyers operating under rules of the World Bank and the UN. These “courts” would be empowered to grant taxpayer compensation for domestic regulatory policies that corporations and investors believe diminish their “future profits.” Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch has appropriately called the TPP a “corporate coup d’état.”
While the mainstream corporate media essentially ignore these secret trade negotiations, they also conveniently never ask why the Republicans, who supposedly despise Obama and his “liberal agenda” and have majorities in the House and Senate, suddenly now have total confidence in his ability to negotiate and complete these treaties. Many Republican leaders are pushing for “fast track” authority in Congress.
None other than Paul Ryan, who is portrayed as one who abhors all things emanating from the Democrats and is the current Republican chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in Congress is quoted in The New York Times of February 7, 2015 that granting Mr. Obama fast track authority is the right thing to do, “sooner than later is my preference,” he said. Teaming up with Ryan on the Senate side is the ranking Democrat in the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden, who has joined with Republicans to push for fast track authority.
How can this be? The media pundits and liberals constantly complain of a gridlocked Congress with supposed intractable ideological differences between the two parties? It’s a phony difference without distinction and shows that big money pulls the strings of both parties and is the real power in Congress. When the interests of capital are involved, suddenly the two parties of big business find common ground to get things done that benefit the ruling class. After all, this Congress is now the richest in history — with the median wealth of an individual member now over 1 million dollars according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The interests of the working people have no organized expression in this rigged setup.
The naked power of big business, the secrecy, duplicity of the two major parties and outrageous examples in these proposed trade proposals must be widely disseminated in a mass “boots on the ground” and media campaign by labor. The AFL-CIO and many individual unions are on record as opposed to these deals in their present form and are listed with numerous other organizations that are against these deals. But labor’s overall political strategy continues to rely on an ineffective top-down, inside-the-beltway lobbying approach rather than using its resources to educate and mobilize a real grassroots movement.
Mike Dolan of the Citizens Trade Campaign summed it up in the following quote: “Currently, the European movement against the TTIP is better organized in terms of protest than its U.S. counterpart, especially when it comes to turn-out, crowd-building, and militancy of messages and tactics. I was reminded of this during a TTIP demonstration in Brussels in March 2014 outside the European Commission headquarters, the windows of which ended up covered with milk. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the capital of the great trade hegemon and the headquarters of so many of the organizations that comprise the fair trade /coalitions, even the mobilization for a small protest during the negotiations in December 2014 was a challenge.”
Given the secrecy and extremely negative consequences that will occur upon passage, one has to ask where the outrage of labor is and who do they picture as villains? Can labor continue to defend a president, their “labor management partners,” and the two major political parties that all openly advocate the surrendering of their ability to negotiate, amend and/or alter a major piece of legislation? Why are the central labor councils and other union resources not mobilized with the other organizations to hold public town hall meetings across the country? Why not picket lines at Congressional and corporate offices? Where are the union and community phone banks that can be utilized to mobilize the membership and public into action and form the foundation of a real alternative grassroots movement against the corporate takeover of our society?
Because the U.S. labor leaders are beholden to the failed policy of “labor management cooperation” and a political strategy that is conditioned on supporting Democrats, their approach to defeating these deals is a weak and compromised approach from the start. It’s apparent that without organized pressure from below, they are either incapable or unwilling to mobilize labor’s membership and build an independent movement that is not only necessary but entirely possible given the clear class nature of these corporate attacks.
These deals are bad not only for working people but they also essentially destroy any pretense of democracy in the U.S. and replace it with the private rule of capitalists. Labor campaigned for and spent hundreds of millions of dollars of union money to elect President Obama, who returns the favor by openly campaigning for these secretive corporate takeovers — and labor’s only response is to send an email in protest? Labor spends untold time extolling the virtues of “labor management harmony” yet their erstwhile corporate “partners” who are the real forces behind the monstrous deals continue to escape unscathed.
It’s hard to gain credibility and win followers if your message is not clear. As long as the song of harmony between labor and capital is the foundation of labor’s strategy, its program to defend workers and defeat these trade deals will be inherently weakened. Recognizing the incompatibility of any partnership with these capitalist forces and their political allies is the starting point for developing a real people’s campaign to stop these trade deals and move labor to an offensive position.
Why not start with an honest dialogue with the rank-and-file membership about the real face of capital and its political allies who are bent on destroying their jobs, public services, and communities with unfettered capitalism.
A real commitment to building grassroots power is the only foundation that can win. The ugly proposals inside these trade deals can and should be used as examples to the rank and file of why labor needs a new approach grounded in education, mobilization, and independent politics. A labor movement that fights can win. A labor movement that partners with capital and a corrupt two-party political system is destined to lose.
— March 1, 2015
(Ed Grystar has over 40 years of experience in the labor, political, peace and healthcare movements. He has worked as a steelworker, teacher, and for a number of labor organizations. He served as president of the Butler County (PA) United Labor Council for 15 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
 New information has surfaced since this article by Ed Grystar was written regarding public and Congressional access to the TPP agreement. Members of Congress are no longer prevented from reading the document (or parts of it), but they must travel to the basement of the Commerce Department Building in D.C. to find it — and they are still prevented from taking notes and bringing phones, cameras, recording devices, etc. It has been reported that only one senator, Alan Grayson (D-FL), has made an attempt to read the document. [click here to go back]
 Sources in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have reported that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee, is trying to slow down the “fast-track” authority, and there is talk about adding some labor and environmental protections. Slowing down the fast track, of course, is not good enough; the entire deal must be stopped in its tracks. Also, from NAFTA and similar “free trade” agreements in Europe, we have learned that the labor and environmental protections added to these fundamentally anti-labor and anti-environmental agreements are not worth the paper they are printed on. The reason for this is simple: The provisions that call for removing “barriers to free trade” (that is, existing labor and environmental laws, among others) always trump whatever “labor or environmental clauses” are inserted, be it through side agreements or in the body of the agreements themselves. [click here to go back]
Stop the TPP in Its Tracks! Repeal NAFTA!
By Al Rojas
A new “free trade” agreement — the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP — is steamrolling our way.
Many unions have issued strong statements against the TPP, as has the national leadership of the AFL-CIO — but the issue is not being given the attention it deserves from the labor movement. In Europe and Latin America they organize mass strikes, and general strikes, when attacks of this magnitude come down the pike.
It reminds me of the same overall passive response by labor back in 1992-1994, when the bosses and their paid representatives in the government rammed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) down our throats.
As I look back at those years, I am angered by labor’s passive approach. There were some exceptions, mostly emanating from the rank-and-file and by some maverick locals and labor councils, such as the San Francisco Labor Council. Our LCLAA Chapter in Sacramento was among them. We took the lead, with a strong active participation of the rank-and-file, in organizing public forums and marches, and pushing resolutions for adoption by labor bodies locally and nationally. Many of these actions were initiated by SEIU Local 1000. We even organized labor delegations to Mexico to visit the major U.S. runaway shops that had moved to a country where they could hire low-wage workers at $4 per day.
As a rank-and-file, District Council president of my union, SEIU Local 1000, I worked hard with my union to help launch a national fightback against NAFTA. We predicted at the time that NAFTA would destroy jobs and the economy south of the border — not just good union jobs with benefits here at home. We predicted that NAFTA would increase the numbers of workers and youth fleeing their countries looking for a way to feed their families. We warned that the unstoppable corporate greed would fuel a massive destruction of jobs and would most especially hit indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America. All this happened.
But what we could not predict was the scope of the damage. What has taken place over these 20 years is worse than anything we could have imagined: Millions have fled to the United States, as their countries have been literally destroyed by NAFTA, CAFTA and the other “free trade” agreements.
Those were the days of Democrat President Bill Clinton. Not only did Clinton push and sign NAFTA, he initiated “Operation Gatekeeper” which was aimed at sealing U.S. borders to keep out the people fleeing for their survival and that of their families. It was forced migration “Made in the USA.”
The response of the politicians in Washington was to build a new electronic Wall of Shame on the border. But when the bosses needed cheap labor, they created a new, updated “Bracero” Program — the so-called “guest-worker” programs — where agricultural workers and other manual laborers were brought in on a temporary basis to toil in horrendous conditions, without labor rights, and with the threat of being deported if they protested their unacceptable conditions. So, as good jobs were being outsourced to Mexico, cheap workers were being brought in to work in near slave labor conditions.
Over the past 20 years this whole globalization agenda — what many people call a “neoliberal” agenda — has been expanded, with unions being attacked left and right, with “right to work” laws being extended to states like Michigan and Wisconsin, with the privatization of public services and all the rest. Much of this, it should be noted, occurred at a time when Democrats held majorities in both houses of Congress. And now we have come full circle with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement under Obama. The large corporations are having a field day at workers’ expense.
Labor cannot sit back and let this assault on working families continue. A few speeches by labor officials denouncing the TPP and/or a timid lobbying campaign of elected officials will do nothing to stop these attacks. In fact, it will only fuel the greedy bosses’ appetites for more, as they know they can get away with murder.
It’s time to connect the dots. It’s time to build alliances in the streets and at the workplaces to fight back. It’s time to organize, including with our sisters and brothers south of the border and with their organizations. It’s time to mobilize in massive numbers.
Let’s wake up and take action before it is too late. There is still time!
Stop the Fast-Tracking of TPP!
Repeal NAFTA, CAFTA and all other “Free Trade” Deals!
(Al Rojas is the president of the Frente de Mexicanos en el Exterior (FME), based in Sacramento, Calif. He is a founding member, along with César Chávez, of the United Farm Workers/UFW. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)