Workers Speak Out Against the Trans Pacific Partnership

This video presents a message from workers across the Pacific Rim about the potential negative consequences of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and globalization agreement among 12 countries (Australia, Brunei-Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam). If this agreement puts corporate rights first, workers and their families in all 12 countries could be harmed by downward pressure on wages and labor rights; more polluted air and water; reduced access to life saving medicines; and more powerful corporations influencing our laws and trying to override our voices. We encourage you to learn more about the TPP, share the video, and sign the petition to ask the governments involved to put people first as they work on this deal. Learn more about the TPP here:

http://aflcio.org/fair-tpp

The following labor federations and organizations helped create this video: ACTU (Australia), AFL-CIO (US), CATP (Peru), CGTP (Peru), CLC (Canada), CSD (Canada), CSN (Canada), CUT (Peru), ITUC (International), MTUC (Malaysia), NZCTU (New Zealand), RedGE (Peru), and UNT (Mexico).

‘Free Trade’ Was Never Really About Trade

by Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

We need to think differently about trade.

First, let me say that I am 100% in favor of trade. Trade is when we do what we do best, they do what they do best, and we trade. Trade, done right, will raise living standards.

If trade is good, then free trade must be better, right? So consider this old joke about “free trade.”

  • It’s not free.
  • It’s not trade.

Twenty years after NAFTA we can add that it doesn’t work. It’s bad for millions of workers, families and communities around the world.

“Free trade” is not free. Our free trade policy encourages production to leave the country. We’ve lost millions of manufacturing jobs. More than 60,000 manufacturing plants were closed between 2000 and 2010 as production moved overseas. These costs are real.

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What If We Did Trade Right?

Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

by Stan Sorscher

Everyone I know is in favor of trade done right.

Recently, I heard a congressman explain how investors interpret that.

From that perspective, trade is done right when the investor’s property is protected from capricious foreign governments who might snatch property. I think he meant Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro — China, or maybe Peru. I got the impression that in 1917, Bolsheviks left a deep, traumatic scar on the collective investor psyche. But let’s walk through this, because I think it has a strong streak of truth.

Our congressman put this into context, saying it took America 200 years to act in the public interest while protecting business and property rights. When we build a freeway, we seize private property for the public good, then pay owners fair compensation. We regulate cigarettes, set emissions standards for automobiles and power generating stations, and we want assurance that drugs are safe and effective.

Our 200-year process found a balance between public and private interests. How? We had a strong civil society — an active free press, public advocacy, and political power in the hands of organized workers, environmental groups, and public health advocates. Our political process held elected officials accountable, at least from time to time.

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Trade was sleeper issue in Senate wins

Public Citizen

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An analysis of the 2012 election reveals a bipartisan race to align campaign positions with the American public’s opposition to current U.S. trade policies and the job offshoring they cause. Over the course of the past three months, a wave of ads focused mainly on job offshoring and secondarily on trade with China, has spotlighted the damage caused by current U.S. trade policies, fueling transpartisan expectations for reform and further complicating the path for the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” pact that is slated for completion in 2013, Public Citizen said today.

The presidential race featured more than three times as many trade-themed ads as in 2008, creating a trade-reform-is-urgently-needed narrative that reinforces the majority position of the U.S. public. Following this trend, congressional candidates across 30 states deployed more than 125 ads criticizing the economic fallout of status quo trade policy.

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We don’t know, exactly, what the Trans-Pacific Partnership is, but I’m against it

by Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is probably the most important trade agreement you’ve never heard of. Sometimes described as our “21st Century trade agreement,” its terms are being negotiated in secret by 11 countries, big and small, arranged around the Pacific Ocean.

As the TPP takes shape, we see that it’s really the old NAFTA model, built from the ground up to shield global businesses from public debate, public policy, and public regulation. The 14th round of talks took place in September, in Leesburg VA.

At the meeting, Pat Ranald, a researcher from the University of Sydney in Australia, told a remarkable story about cigarette packaging. Smoking causes about 15,000 excess deaths, and costs Australia over $30 billion per year. In response, Parliament passed a “plain-packaging” policy, requiring all cigarette packages in Australia to have plain brown designs, with no advertising. We’ve had similar rules for decades that prohibit cigarette smoking, cigarette advertising, and liquor advertising on television.

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So-Called Free Trade — Bad Policy and Wrong Debate

by Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

An editorial in my local paper is a good example of how we trivialize our public discussion of globalization and trade policy.

The editorial follows this logic: Trade is good. All trade is good. More trade is better than less trade. Maximum possible trade! Anyone who disagrees is protectionist or resentful.

I can immediately correct one misunderstanding. Everyone I know is in favor of trade. I am 100 percent in favor of trade. The issue is not “trade.” The issue is good trade policy, which raises my standard of living, or bad trade policy, which lowers it.

Similarly, I am in favor of capitalism. Even so, we can have real, significant, meaningful, legitimate debates about good rules for capitalism and bad rules for capitalism.

I am in favor of banks. We deserve serious policy debates about banking.

I am 100 percent in favor manufacturing. China’s manufacturing capacity is prodigious. It grows on the misguided principle of maximum possible output. As a result, air pollution in China is legendary, causing 750,000 premature deaths per year. In America, we debated clean air and clean water. Our public health and living standards are better for that debate.

I am in favor of copper, iron ore and titanium. However, it is bad trade policy for international trade tribunals to compel El Salvador to expose their people to unsafe mining practices, threatening more than a third of their clean water. Maximum possible mining threatens public health and safety in El Salvador.

It is bad public policy for a trade tribunal to overturn Ecuador’s $18 billion environmental penalties against Exxon, compelling the national courts to back down in the face of trade sanctions. Exxon has already damaged the environment, and been found guilty in court. Bad trade policy punishes Ecuador instead of Exxon.

These concerns are not new. Past trade negotiations identified them in writing, but dealt with them ineffectually.

For instance, when China entered the WTO in 2001, it signed an “accession agreement” with several conditions designed to make trade a two-way deal. China’s national policies flagrantly violate those conditions. China openly manipulates its currency. China demands that U.S. companies transfer technology to Chinese domestic producers. Foreign companies are discouraged or prevented from selling to China’s domestic consumers, and Chinese producers receive subsidies and incentives that drive our producers from the market.

Free speech, free press and labor standards are notoriously weak in China. China has a rich history and amazing culture. However, they lack the institutions of civil society for democratic debate about serious policy issues.

This harms workers and producers in America.

In our NAFTA and WTO debates, advocates of so-called free trade promised us a rising standard of living, balanced trade and millions of good new jobs. Instead, U.S. companies shifted 2.4 million jobs abroad, while eliminating 2.9 million jobs in America. Our cumulative trade deficit since NAFTA is over $7 trillion. Our economy is de-industrializing, and we are losing strategic opportunities to produce the next generations of products.

These are fundamental flaws in our trade policy that lower our standard of living — well worth a serious public discussion. Nineteenth century “free trade” theory may work well in a textbook, but it has profound conceptual, economic, social, environmental, and political shortcomings in our real 21st century global economy.

Challenging bad policy is the way democracy works.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney found fault with aspects of our trade policy (at least during election campaigns). Candidate Obama recognized the weaknesses in our trade theory, and promised better trade agreements all through the campaign. Candidate Romney says action on China’s currency manipulation will be a top priority.

In at least one respect, our so-called free trade policy is fabulously successful. It’s really about putting investor and business interests at the highest priority, while sweeping aside the environment, labor rights, human rights, public health and reasonable regulations. Investors go first; civil society comes after. Maximum possible trade! It’s great for companies who move production to countries with low-wages and weak democracies.

Dave Johnson says this in plain language:

The business advantage China offers is not low wages — it is that in China the people do not have a say, and here people have a say. When people have a say they say they want better pay, health care, retirement, vacations, sick pay, protections, worker safety, clean environment and taxes to support the country — things like that — the very things China offers to let our businesses escape from.So what China offers is that China is “business-friendly.” Because people there do not have a say, so they can’t ask for the things people should have.

When our newspapers and policy-makers trivialize globalization and dismiss legitimate public concerns as “resentment” or protectionism, they weaken our democracy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the Obama administration’s signature trade agreement, which is being negotiated in total secret. Text was leaked recently, showing that TPP will be worse than the past agreements. A crummy deal, negotiated in secrecy is not saying much for democracy.

Popular disillusionment with so-called free trade is real. It is based on personal experience, rational analysis, and looking out the window.

Voters, workers, families and Main Street businesses sense serious problems with our domestic economy. Whatever those problems are, they are made worse by so-called free trade. We won’t solve either unless we deal with both.

Stan Sorscher is Labor Representative at the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), a union representing over 24,000 scientists, engineers, technical and professional employees in the aerospace industry. He has been with SPEEA since 2000.

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