World Labor Unions Urge Halt to TPP Negotiations

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has called on governments to stop negotiations on the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” agreement, criticising the secrecy and corporate bias in the current negotiations.

The Communication Workers of America (CWA), the Teamsters and the Machinists are leading the AFL-CIO’s efforts.  Together with a broad coalition of organizations put together by the Citizen’s Trade Campaign, they delivered a total of 663,373 petition signatures and letters opposing Fast Track trade authority to House and Senate leaders.

CWA President Larry Cohen promised that CWA activists would turn their attention to stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as “a dangerous trade deal that threatens our jobs, communities and the environment by giving big business new powers to undermine important laws and regulations.”  Cohen added:”We’ll be demanding that the White House and Congress put its citizens before the corporate and financial interests that already define and dominate the global economy.”

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “This secretive trade deal is good for some multinational corporations, but deeply damaging to ordinary people and the very role of governments. Corporate interests are at the negotiating table, but national parliaments and other democratic actors are being kept in the dark. What we do know, much of it through leaks, is that this proposed deal is not about ensuring better livelihoods for people, but about giving multinational companies a big boost to profits. Governments should shut down the negotiations, and not re-open them unless they get genuine and transparent public mandates at home that put people’s interest in the centre.”

The current TPP proposals include provisions which would:
- Make governments submit to so-called investor to state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedures whereby investors can sue governments on a wide range of policies, including environmental and social policies ;
- Introduce patent protections that would boost pharmaceutical companies’ profits, but put vital medicines out of reach for millions of poorer people;
- Severely restrict governments’ ability to make national laws for public health, safety and general welfare with a ‘regulatory coherence’ chapter;
- Stop governments from giving priority to public policy aims when making decisions about public procurement;
- Impose a series of restrictions on governments’ abilities to regulate the financial sector, thus holding back efforts to reform damaging financial speculation and impeding governments from taking measures to maintain their balance of payment.

Proposals for protection of workers’ rights have met with heavy resistance from some countries, and appear to not cover all ILO Conventions that establish Fundamental Rights at Work or subnational (state and province) labour legislation. The proposals also contain no enforcement for environmental provisions, and fail to address the need for action to mitigate climate change.

“A fair and open global trading system is essential to prosperity, but this proposed TPP is nothing of the sort. Global and regional trade needs to create jobs and prosperity for the many, not just provide welfare for corporations and transfer more power from the parliaments to the boardroom,” said Burrow.

National trade union centers in the countries negotiating the TPP are today formally calling on their governments to stop the negotiations, and to seek a proper negotiation mandate if they are to engage in the negotiations again.

The national trade union centers that support this call are: Australia, ACTU; Canada, CSN and CSD; Japan, JTUC-RENGO; Mexico, UNT; New Zealand, NZCTU; Peru, CUT and CATP; United States, AFL-CIO. Some of these trade unions, as well as the unions of Chile (CUT-Chile) and Malaysia (MTUC) had asked for the negotiations to stop at an earlier stage.

For more information on the global trade union effort, contact the ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 02 04

Trumka on the 2014 Elections

Seeds of a New Labor Movement ?

Harold Meyerson.

Mother Jones, American labor activist.

Mother Jones, American labor activist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sit down and read. Prepare yourself for the coming battles.  Mother Jones.

 

DSA Honorary Chair Harold Meyerson has written the following important long form piece on the US. Labor Movement for the American Prospect. This piece merits discussion.

Excerpts:

“The path to collective bargaining has been shut down in the United States,” says Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and head of the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Committee. Where Rolf differs from most of his colleagues is in his belief that collective bargaining—at least, as the nation has known it for the past 80 years—is not coming back. In a paper he distributed to his colleagues in 2012 and in commentaries he wrote for several magazines (including this one), he argued that unions should acknowledge their impending demise—at least in the form that dates to the Wagner Act—and focus their energies and resources on incubating new institutions that can better address workers’ concerns. “The once powerful industrial labor unions that built the mid-century American middle class are in a deep crisis and are no longer able to protect the interests of American workers with the scale and power necessary to reverse contemporary economic trends,” he wrote in his paper. “The strategy and tactics that we’ve pursued since the 1947 Taft-Hartley Amendments [which narrowed the ground rules under which unions may operate] are out of date and have demonstrably failed to produce lasting economic power for workers. We must look to the future and invest our resources in new organizational models that respond to our contemporary economy and the needs of today’s workers.”

This October, with funding from his local, from the national SEIU, and from several liberal foundations, Rolf will unveil The Workers Lab, housed at the Roosevelt Institute in New York. The center will study and, in time, invest in organizations that, in Rolf’s words, “have the potential to build economic power for workers, at scale, and to sustain themselves financially.” Whatever those organizations may be, they won’t be unions—at least, not unions as they currently exist… Continue reading

Union Members need to understand Fast Track

Map of Free Trade Agreements of Mexico. Green ...

Map of Free Trade Agreements of Mexico. Green is Mexico. Red are the other countries of the NAFTA. Blue are countries which have a FTA with Mexico. Orange are countries that want to have a FTA with Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast Track legislation allowed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to be rammed through Congress with weak labor and environmental side deals. Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, North American workers have experienced downward pressure on wages and a tougher organizing environment. Twenty years later, we find an unbalanced system in which profits soar even as workers take home a diminishing share of the national income.

More recent trade deals, like the World Trade Organization trade deal, had no labor or environmental standards at all. And other Fast Track trade deals have included Colombia, a country in which nearly 3,000 labor leaders and activists have been killed since 1986, and Korea—a country with which our trade deficit is already rising, and which, under the very low standards of the deal, can receive tariff benefits for cars that contain only 35% Korean content.

To really have trade deals with high standards, the American public must have more say—and that means no Fast Track authority from Congress. Continue reading

How Labor Can Save Itself

by Michael Hirsch

A Review of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF AMERICAN LABOR: TOWARDS A NEW WORKERS’ MOVEMENT (Verso Books, 2014) by Stanley Aronowitz

In 1955, when the country’s two contending labor federations merged to form the AFL-CIO, the combined organization represented more than one in three American workers. Unions then were strong enough, employers cautious enough and the economy juiced enough to create a working class that for the first time in history was for the most part not poor. Today the number of union members in the civilian labor force alone is just a hair above one in nine. The numbers are worse for private sector workers, where just one in 14 are unionized — this in a period when pay is frozen, real wages fall and an explosion of young people work at part-time or contingent jobs, when they work at all.

The reasons for the collapse of the “House of Labor” are many: the failure of the postwar drive to organize the South, the purges at the onset of the Cold War of radicals who were often labor’s best organizers, insular union leaders who emphasized contract unionism, allowing employers free rein to run their own enterprises with no voice from workers. Union leaders even traded away the right to strike for more or less steady work. Then there’s the sheer power of U.S. capital, at home and unchained.

Even in their debilitated state, unions remain by far the largest and most deep-pocketed institutions on the left and, in theory, have the potential to be the anchors of a broad-based, multiracial progressive movement. Yet, organizing the unemployed and making alliances with community groups and radicals are sadly rare. Even the support Occupy received from labor — which in New York City was a lot — was episodic. And the outstanding things Occupy did, including intervening in home foreclosures, are not yet on any union’s agenda.

None of this is new to people who follow labor closely. What’s new is the way it is understood by Stanley Aronowitz, former factory worker, union organizer with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers unions, prolific author and sociology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. His latest book, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement is a slim, compelling and highly readable treatment. It builds on work Aronowitz has done over the past four decades since the publication of his seminal work, False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness. This latest not only harks back to the labor movement’s glory days in the 1930s and charts the present hard times for working people, but also looks at a problematic future where he says mass unemployment will be the rule and union resistance extinct unless labor rediscovers its historic mission of fighting not just for its own static or shrinking memberships but for engaging every worker and every worker’s family in the fight.

Aronowitz targets collective bargaining itself as the rock in the shoe. Contracts have their good points: they lock in wages and benefits, codify work rules and prescribe a transparent and agreed-upon due-process system for handling grievances, discipline and firings. In return, workers give up their birthright: the right to strike and challenge the employer’s arbitrary right to manage.
In the postwar boom years such a strategy bought labor peace. With the flight of manufacturing jobs, first to the South, then to Mexico and overseas in search of a workforce that would work for almost nothing, good jobs at home shriveled and unions workers were forced to make major concessions on wages, benefits, working conditions and even job security. Collective bargaining today, Aronowitz says, “is now mostly a kind of collective begging.”

For the author, the era of labor-management cooperation initiated by the New Deal and welcomed by unions has come to an end. At this point business isn’t even looking for lapdogs, let alone labor allies. It’s a brave new world where business-driven automation across many sectors of the economy is gaining speed and destroying more U.S. jobs at home than are outsourced overseas. Worst of all, the unions’ dependency on management circumscribes revolt. Labor-led struggles, such as they are, are either defensive efforts in support of Social Security and Medicare or parochial battles to preserve defined benefit pensions for government workers while private sector employees must rely on 401K plans that are contingent on a booming investment market that regularly goes through bust cycles.

Aronowitz’s advice: encourage direct action in the workplace (such as the walkouts that galvanized the fast-food workers movement), don’t leave the fightback at protracted grievance handling and fight for a guaranteed basic income — even a $15 minimum wage is below the poverty level. He wants working people to intervene in the process of technological change by demanding control over its introduction and design, as well as a say in how the product or service is made. (The first step: recognizing that they currently have no choice in these matters.) He wants unions to stop thinking of workers as purely wage earners or their clients, but as partners in job and community struggles, among them “raise[ing] hell about the virtually closed-down state of mass transit.

Aronowitz wants the movement to “take seriously the question of workplace democracy,” to stop investing in polluting industries and take seriously that the war measures taken by the last two presidents are as much about spiking war production, with its fading hope of creating large numbers of new jobs, as with actual ongoing imperial ambitions.

To its credit, the book reads like the words of a secular prophet, but without the hectoring or sanctimony. Where Aronowitz misses the target, and he doesn’t miss it much, is in not quantifying the trends to some of his more scarifying predictions. He first floated the idea of job shrinkage as the wave of the future in his co-authored 1995 book The Jobless Future, and the present book holds that the jobless wave morphed into a tsunami of lost work and blown opportunities for labor. He uses the specter of mass unemployment throughout, a problem that for him outstrips even the creation of a precariat, but he relies on anecdotal evidence for that, when a look at the last 20 years of Bureau of Labor Statistics data would better demonstrate actual job loss trends. Absent that, Aronowitz’s book is a wonder.

This review is reposted from The Indypendent with permission of the author.

Richard Trumka, Ferguson Missouri

AFL-CIO President Trumka Says Labor Must Confront Racism

On Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke to the Missouri AFL-CIO about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the need for labor to address racism and classism. He urges all working people to come together for economic equality and to confront issues of racism in our communities and in the labor movement.

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