Rejecting TPP, AFL-CIO’s Trumka Calls for ‘Global New Deal’

Bruce Vail March 25, 2014

At a March 25 Center for American Progress event, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had sharp words about backroom trade deals such as the TPP.

AFL-CIO Pres­i­dent Richard Trum­ka today called for a Glob­al New Deal” to fun­da­men­tal­ly rethink U.S. for­eign trade poli­cies, espe­cial­ly so-called free trade agree­ments” such as the pend­ing Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP) and the Transat­lantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP).

These treaties in the works are exam­ples of a failed mod­el of glob­al eco­nom­ic poli­cies” based on the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAF­TA) of the mid-1990s, Trum­ka said. We can­not enact new trade agree­ments mod­eled on NAF­TA. … NAF­TA put cor­po­ra­tions in charge of America’s eco­nom­ic strat­e­gy with the goal of ship­ping jobs off shore to low­er labor costs,” he told an audi­ence at the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., offices of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­ca Progress, an advo­ca­cy group close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Echo­ing com­mon pro­gres­sive crit­i­cisms of the trade deals, Trum­ka called NAF­TA, TPP and TTIP thin­ly dis­guised tools to increase cor­po­rate prof­its by poi­son­ing work­ers, pol­lut­ing the envi­ron­ment and hid­ing infor­ma­tion from consumers.”

The NAF­TA mod­el is not inevitable,” Trum­ka con­tin­ued. We have a choice, and we will choose between the world econ­o­my of today — with slow growth, high unem­ploy­ment and obscene lev­els of inequal­i­ty — and the world of tomor­row, of broad­ly shared pros­per­i­ty. We will choose between a world of wealth for the 1%, with pover­ty for the rest of us, and a world in which all of us who work hard can enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

Tak­ing a glob­al view, Trum­ka made the broad point that work­ers in the Unit­ed States and else­where need new poli­cies to spark a vir­tu­ous cycle where ris­ing wages fuel demand, not flim­sy debt-dri­ven demand, but healthy demand, which would in turn spark busi­ness invest­ment and more jobs and high­er wages in a strong cycle of glob­al growth that works for all our fam­i­lies, for the envi­ron­ment and our com­mu­ni­ties. We need a glob­al New Deal: a world­wide pro­gram to bring the basic infra­struc­ture of mod­ern soci­ety — elec­tric­i­ty, water, schools, roads, Inter­net access— to every­one on Earth,” he said. Rene­go­ti­at­ed trade deals could be a means for estab­lish­ing such a sys­tem, he sug­gest­ed, but that would require an entire­ly new approach by gov­ern­ment officials.

Speak­ing to a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty-friend­ly audi­ence, Trum­ka avoid­ed any direct attacks of Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, although some crit­i­cism was implied in his remarks. He con­ced­ed that TPP and TTIP are prod­ucts of the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion,” and our hope was that we would see a new tem­plate” from trade agree­ments nego­ti­at­ed by Oba­ma appointees, but that has not come to pass. So far, we see the same cor­po­rate-dom­i­nat­ed process­es, and, in too many respects, the same fun­da­men­tal out­dat­ed frame­work for both agree­ments,” Trum­ka said. The TTIP and TPP have been nego­ti­at­ed behind closed doors by the gov­ern­ments of the par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries and multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions. Even Con­gress mem­bers have not been privy to the treaty drafts, though pieces have been leaked. Trum­ka added, how­ev­er, that AFL-CIO would be will­ing to work with Oba­ma to pass a revised ver­sion of TPP if such a major revi­sion ade­quate­ly addressed the com­plaints of orga­nized labor and its pro­gres­sive allies.

The AFL-CIO chief’s crit­i­cisms of the TTP and TIPP did not break new ground for labor, as a num­ber of oth­er union lead­ers have already spo­ken out force­ful­ly against the pro­posed treaties. Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Machin­ists & Aero­space Work­ers (IAM) Pres­i­dent Tom Buf­fen­barg­er, for exam­ple, denounced TPP in a Decem­ber 2013 speech at the Nation­al Press Club. Like­wise, Team­sters Pres­i­dent James Hof­fa has been pub­licly crit­i­cizing the treaties for months, specif­i­cal­ly link­ing them to U.S. jobs lost as a result of NAF­TA. And lead­ers of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca (CWA) have been active­ly cam­paign­ing against TPP for more than a year.

Most recent­ly, these labor orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing AFL-CIO, were among those lob­by­ing to kill an Oba­ma-endorsed pro­pos­al to place TPP on a fast-track” to quick approval in the U.S. Sen­ate. Unions and oth­er oppo­nents count­ed it as a vic­to­ry when Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Har­ry Reid announced his oppo­si­tion to fast track in late Jan­u­ary, a devel­op­ment that will slow, or pos­si­bly kill, any chances that Con­gress will approve TPP this year.

As for spe­cif­ic changes in TPP and TIPP sought by AFL-CIO, Trum­ka said: We know what we’re look­ing for in these agree­ments. We want trade agree­ments to con­tribute to demo­c­ra­t­ic glob­al eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance and to pro­mote good jobs, full employ­ment and ris­ing wages. A key ele­ment, of course, is strong labor rights pro­tec­tions so that every work­er in every coun­try can exer­cise fun­da­men­tal human rights on the job — with­out fear. So we are look­ing for every trade agree­ment to require nations to adopt, main­tain and enforce the core labor rights — as agreed by the Inter­na­tion­al Labor Orga­ni­za­tion — and as set out in the ILO core con­ven­tions and their relat­ed jurispru­dence. These include free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion and the right to orga­nize, and bans on child labor, forced labor, and dis­crim­i­na­tion in employ­ment.” Leaked por­tions of the TPP and TTIP have not includ­ed any men­tion of these rights.

But labor union rights are not the sole inter­est of AFL-CIO, Trum­ka con­tin­ued. Envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and con­sumer rights also need full con­sid­er­a­tion: We live in a glob­al­ized eco­nom­ic envi­ron­ment, and one where the need for rules that pro­tect peo­ple and the plan­et is grow­ing. We sim­ply can­not afford trade rules that push in the oth­er direc­tion, that make the glob­al econ­o­my a free fire zone for cor­po­rate pow­er, or make it impos­si­ble to act effec­tive­ly to address pro­found chal­lenges like cli­mate change,” he said. 

The AFL-CIO leader con­clud­ed by demand­ing that the Unit­ed States put our demo­c­ra­t­ic rights at the cen­ter of our eco­nom­ic poli­cies and our trade agreements.”

The CWA and IAM are web­site spon­sors of In These Times. Spon­sors have no role in edi­to­r­i­al content.

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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