A Trade Deal at What Cost ?

HaroldMeyersonAIDHarold Meyerson.

So what gives with the American people? Don’t they realize, as my colleague Charles Krauthammer argued last week, “that free trade is advantageous to both sides”?

The sides to which Krauthammer referred, of course, are nations. But perhaps those who’ve experienced such free-trade consequences as factory closings and lower-paying jobs are thinking about two entirely different sides — capital and labor. Trade promoters cite David Ricardo’s 200-year-old assessments of trade’s benefits to nations, but skeptics can mine a rich vein of mainstream economics that demonstrates how trade deals can, and frequently do, benefit major investors at workers’ expense.

As a letter to The Post noted this week, future Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson wrote in 1955 that, under free trade, “national product would go up, but the relative and absolute share of labor might go down.” More pointedly still, another Nobel laureate, Bertil Ohlin, showed that as a result of trade, a nation’s workers could see their wages decline even if none of them lost their jobs.

Samuelson and Ohlin have been proved right. Increased trade with lower-wage nations over the past 30 years has resulted in both massive offshoring of manufacturing and wage decline for most U.S. workers. As economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson have demonstrated, Chinese import competition has lowered wages not just for displaced manufacturing workers in this country but also, on average, for all workers in their midst. Continue reading

Desperately seeking a new model for trade

by Michael Brune and Randi Weingarten

[Ed. note: The Senate has just voted 68-32 for cloture after an all-too brief debate on this insidious and dangerous legislation. However the outcome is by no means bleak in the House, since both Democratic and Republican legislators are bring swamped by mail and phone calls from their constituents against enacting Fast Track and the Trans Pacific Partnership.  A very broad coalition of representative American organizations is mobilizing against “fast-tracking” gigantic trade and investment agreements that would cement in place global corporate domination over popular democratic rules and safeguards.   Here is a joint statement from the Sierra Club and the American Federation of Teachers.]

Fast-tracking bad trade deals would shrink protections for communities, the economy and the environment.

Each of us has a stake in the legacy we leave our kids. The members of the respective organizations that we lead — the Sierra Club and the American Federation of Teachers — share a commitment to creating an America that is safe, healthy and economically secure. But over the past three decades, the American dream has moved out of reach for too many families, and our communities have borne the brunt of extreme weather and an increasingly disrupted climate.

To make matters worse, Congress is considering a dangerous plan that would put the health and livelihoods of many Americans at risk. The Hatch-Wyden-Ryan trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation would fast-track deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It limits Congress’ ability to debate and amend such deals by granting the administration the authority to sign a trade deal before sending it to Congress for a vote. Fast track removes the ability of our elected representatives to ensure that trade pacts don’t sacrifice the health of communities, the economy and the environment.

Although the TPP has been in the works for more than five years, all the negotiating has happened behind closed doors. Hundreds of corporate executives have been involved in shaping the agreement, while ordinary citizens have been left out. The TPP would dwarf the North American Free Trade Agreement and apply to more than 40 percent of the world’s total GDP. Its reach would extend far beyond traditional trade matters such as tariffs and quotas. The TPP includes rules that would expand the power of multinational corporations while limiting the ability of our government to protect our workers, communities and environment.

Put simply, the TPP is toxic for the health of people, our economy and the planet. It is riddled with problems that give serious pause to all of us who care about economic security and future generations. These include provisions that allow foreign corporations to sue our government if they think our industry safeguards might hurt their profits. The investor-state dispute settlement provision could have a chilling effect on our ability to regulate in the public interest.

We need a new model for trade that doesn’t prioritize corporate profits over the health of our communities, the economic security of everyday Americans and the future of our kids.

Consumer protections such as ensuring affordable prescription drug prices and country-of-origin labeling are also in jeopardy because of the TPP. Buy-American procurement rules would be undermined by a provision that would force the U.S. in some instances to treat foreign bidders the same as American ones. Also, the TPP not only fails to address climate change but would exacerbate the crisis by granting new rights to big polluters and encouraging investments in the countries with the weakest environmental protections.

Some are touting the TPA legislation as an opportunity for Congress to shape the contents of the deal. But this is simply not the case, for a number of reasons. First, after more than five years of negotiations, the TPP is nearly complete, and the TPA would remove any remaining leverage that Congress has to shape the deal. Second, any worker, consumer, environmental or human rights protections that Congress identifies as priorities under the TPA would be completely unenforceable. Legally, they are goals rather than obligations, and a deal that doesn’t achieve them still gets a luge run through Congress. The negotiating guidelines in the bill won’t even help protect workers and the environment. For example, there is not a single mention of climate change in the legislation.

We commend Congress for considering trade adjustment assistance, which provides support to workers who have been affected negatively by the loss of jobs because of past free trade agreements and offshoring. But packaging fast track with other legislation such as trade adjustment assistance will not prevent it from hurting the jobs and wages of working families.

As advocates for working families and the environment, we ask ourselves, Will our trade policy help us fulfill our collective obligation to our kids? Will they have clean air to breathe and water to drink? Will they have access to quality education and health care? Will we keep our promise to them that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can build decent lives for themselves? The Hatch-Wyden-Ryan bill would set us on the wrong path on all those fronts and must be opposed.

We need a new model for trade that doesn’t prioritize corporate profits over the health of our communities, the economic security of everyday Americans and the future of our kids.

Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club.
Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Reposted from Al Jazeera Opinion page.

 

LA Advances Toward $15 Minimum Wage

by Bobbi Murray

raisewagecityhall4Fair wage advocates won a big victory Tuesday, when the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to advance a measure that would gradually boost the base pay in the City of Los Angeles to $15 an hour by 2020. City Attorney Mike Feuer will now be asked to draft a minimum-wage ordinance that the council will vote upon to make the measure law.
The legislation begins by raising the current wage of $9 an hour to $10.50 in July of 2016—after that the hourly wage would go up each year by one dollar. The vote could lead to making Los Angeles the largest city in the nation to set a minimum wage standard above the federal level, one that will benefit some 600,000 employees in the city—some 40 percent of L.A.’s workforce. The decision also adds heft and momentum to efforts nationally to raise the minimum wage for the nation’s lowest-paid workers.
“That will be fantastic,” says Dan Flaming, president of Los Angeles’ Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit policy research group. “Our cost of living is 37 percent higher than the national average. We’re a low-wage city with a high cost of living.” The United States, with an hourly federal minimum of $7.25, ranks 11th out of the 27 countries in the developed world that set a minimum wage standard. The U.S. minimum wage makes for an hourly take-home pay of $6.25. Continue reading

Message from Iowa To Presidential Candidates: Which Side Are You On?

by Larry Cohen

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More than 500 active leaders from 56 organizations spent Saturday at Iowa State University in general sessions and workshops uniting around issues and strategies at the Working Families Summit. I had been to Iowa in previous presidential election years as presidential campaigns warmed up, but Saturday’s conference was not about a candidate or even a platform. It was broader than that. Recognizing that the leading candidates who are eventually the party nominees will raise and spend in excess of $2 billion, on Saturday, Iowans were energized by the longer road through the nominating process, the 2016 election and beyond. Big money in politics has changed our democracy, but on Saturday populism was alive and well, despite the hard path ahead.

We were labor and green, students and seniors, farmers and community organizers, urban and rural, immigrants and native-born, all realizing that more than ever, we have a common narrative based on democracy and economic justice that goes beyond our organizational silos, as important as those silos may be.

In years past, hosts of a meeting like this might have invited presidential candidates. But these 56 organizations with tens of thousands of Iowa members realize now that the path to real change on the national level is blocked by structural issues in our democracy and will likely continue to be blocked for years to come.

For a presidential candidate, the current debate on fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is central to credibility on any claim to a populist agenda. The issue in Iowa is not trade or no trade, as some apologists for fast track try to argue. The issue is what kind of ground rules do we want so that we can evaluate trade deals after 20 years of corporate trade agreements that mostly are meant to protect the investment profits of multinational corporations.

For example, why is the U.S. the only nation of the 12 current TPP partners considering fast track? Under fast track, Congress all but signs off on adoption of trade deals for the next six years with no authority to amend, and agrees to quick up or down votes. This goes well beyond the TPP and President Obama, since fast track would likely last for six years. Eight of the 12 TPP nations are democracies and their parliament or congress will read the full document before taking any action. With 90 percent of the TPP already negotiated, the only real reason for fast track for the TPP is the growing realization that the TPP never would be adopted if it was subject to careful review and meaningful congressional oversight.

Why has there been little modification in the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process in the leaked chapters of TPP despite rising global opposition? ISDS means private and virtually secret tribunals where multinational corporations can sue national and local governments for any governmental action that limits the corporation’s future profits. Currently there are 500 such cases pending. Philip Morris has sued Australia and Uruguay for implementing plain package cigarette labeling. Occidental Petroleum has won a $2.3 billion judgment against Peru for limiting its right to drill based on environmental concerns.

The U.S. Trade Representative answers the criticism by saying the U.S. has not lost a case yet. But Ambassador Michael Froman knows full well that ISDS provides incentives for moving investment outside the U.S., by guaranteeing that future profits are insulated from stronger environmental or other regulations in other nations.

Democratic presidential contenders campaigning in Iowa need to step up now and tell us “which side they are on.” The president controls trade policy so what these candidates say on trade is far more consequential than on issues that require congressional approval.

For Democrats campaigning in Iowa, the case is even clearer. Two-thirds of Senate Democrats and 80-plus percent of House Democrats are opposing fast track. Are we going to nominate a presidential candidate who turns her/his back on those who are running for office at the same time? Just as importantly in Iowa and across the nation, the entire base of the Democratic Party is saying “no” to fast track. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats in Iowa owe it to the party to speak out now when it matters. Particularly in the House, the vote in several weeks will be very close. Dodging the issue will lead to little accountability in the campaign and in the years ahead.

Saturday was inspirational for so many reasons. For me it renewed my hope that working families in Iowa and across our nation are ready to Stand Up and Fight Back!

Larry-Cohen-avatar-1413481216-60x60Larry Cohen will step down as President of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) on June 8, 2015

Bernie Sanders is a Thoroughbred

Senator Bernie Sanders   Photo by Don Shall

Senator Bernie Sanders Photo by Don Shall

Bernie Sanders is a thoroughbred—why call him a stalking horse?

by Michael Hirsch

Voltaire wrote that “the best is the enemy of the good,” but he cited it as a foible and not a redeeming practice.  Within hours of Bernie Sanders announcing his candidacy for the Democratic Party presidential nod on April 30th, in some warrens of the radical left, the long corrective knives were already out for the only socialist in Congress. Why? Because Bernie is just not good enough, they said. Criticism ranged from his being a faux socialist, a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton whose backing by the left would be a practical waste of a year that could be better spent building a movement. Politicking for a candidate who can’t win the nomination and who would be destroyed by corporate America and an avalanche of corporate funding if somehow he did was seen as a mug’s game.

They would be wrong.

Take this example: in his incisive report on the recent Future of the
Left/Independent Politics Conference in Chicago, Dan La Botz cites remarks made by Bruce Dixon of the Georgia Green Party to the effect that “Sanders is a sheep dog whose job is like that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman Dennis Kucinich in earlier elections, to round up folks who had strayed to the left in response to the Democratic Party’s retrograde domestic and foreign policies and to bring them back to the Party.” At least Dixon didn’t say Judas goat, leading lambs to the slaughter, but it’s still early in the campaign, and the cat-scratch phase hasn’t kicked in yet.

Another group that would at first blush seem natural allies of the insurgent Sanders is organized labor. Despite favorable coverage of him  in AFL-CIO Now , the website of the national labor federation, reporting on his role at a recent anti-TPP rally in Washington, D.C. and his remarks on the U.S. Senate floor against the job-swallowing trade bill and the slight-of-hand that would fast-track a vote on legislation no one has even seen, neither the national federation nor its 56 constituent unions are even hinting that Sanders could be their man. While there is considerable support for Sanders among middle-level union staff, that won’t be–and never is–enough to cinch an endorsement. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said that the beating Democrats took last fall during the midterm elections was due to the fact that labor issues–specifically  economic issues close to workers’ hearts–were not foremost in almost any campaign. Now Trumka and the others have a chance to correct that blunder by backing a presidential candidate who reflects and expands on their economic views. Will they do it? Or will they make a Christmas peace with their class enemy again. We’ll know by December.   Continue reading

Justice for Janitors: A Misunderstood Success

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

Los Angeles, CA. 15 Ap. 08:  The first day of the labor sponsored 3 day march

Los Angeles, CA. 15 Ap. 08: The first day of the labor sponsored 3 day march “Hollywood to the Docks”.

Part two of a series looking back on the 20th anniversary the AFL-CIO’s New Voice movement

John Sweeney, his officers, and their staff team came into office with high expectations and great optimism. A good part of their inspiration was drawn from SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign that many had directly participated in or saw as a model of success. After all, Justice for Janitors had succeeded in mobilizing members, winning better contracts and organizing thousands of new, mostly Latino members while garnering broad public support.(1)

Founded in 1921, the Building Service Workers was a Chicago-based janitors, window washer and doormen’s union. George Hardy, the predecessor to John Sweeney as International President, was a San Francisco native and organizer who took his comrades from Hayes Valley to Southern California after World War II to organize janitors in Los Angeles. From his base at Local 399 in Los Angeles, Hardy launched the campaign to organize Kaiser and health care that would transform the Building Service Workers into the Service Employees International Union.(2)

By the 1980s, much of the union’s market power among urban janitors had eroded as the industry restructured to a cleaning model that relied on outsourced contract cleaners instead of permanent staff. When Justice for Janitors was launched in the late 1980s however, the union still retained tremendous power and thousands of members in its traditional strongholds of New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

In these cities, the union had excellent contracts with good wages and benefits for doormen and cleaners. These were the “fortresses” that played such a crucial role in the success of the janitor’s campaigns in Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Denver and San Diego where the battle was to reorganize weak and degraded bargaining units and organize thousands of new members.

The early janitor organizers in Los Angeles recognized the importance of first rebuilding and re-energizing their base. One of the first campaigns undertaken was the contract campaign for downtown janitors. Cecile Richards(3) skillfully directed a winning contract fight for the approximately 1,000 janitors in the core market of LA. The contract struggle gave the union a new core group of supporters; many of whom became the front line soldiers in the campaign to organize the vast non-union market outside of downtown.

A key to the membership mobilization was “market triggers” that Local 399 inserted into its collectively bargained agreements. The triggers provided for automatic increases in wages and benefits if the janitors union succeeded in organizing 50 percent or more of the commercial buildings in mutually agreed upon geographic areas. Thus, when rank and file union janitors marched for “justice for the unorganized janitors” it meant marching to increase their own wages and benefits and to gain a more secure future.

In Los Angeles long-time union signatory contractors like International Service Systems (ISS) were operating non-union or in the case of American Building Maintenance (ABM) double breasting by creating new entities like “Bradford Building Services” to clean non-union in LA.(4) On May 29, 1990 the SEIU janitors boldly struck non-union ISS buildings in the entertainment high rise complex called Century City. When the Daryl Gates-led police department brutally attacked the striking Los Angeles janitors on June 15, the shocking news footage traveled around the country.(5) With some prompting, SEIU Local 32 B-J leader Gus Bevona threatened ISS with a shutdown in New York City if the company didn’t settle in LA. That strategic solidarity contributed to victory and the nearly immediate organization of thousands of new members for SEIU Local 399.

Most successful organizing is not done in a vacuum, existing members have to be front line apostles.

The campaign even had a movie made about it; “Bread and Roses” directed by the Scottish filmmaker Ken Loach.(6) It did a fine job of presenting SEIU’s strategy to organize industry-wide and build a campaign that resonated broadly in the community particularly among Latinos. It also portrayed the challenges organizers always face in holding the unity of the working class. The deep divisions and contradictions among workers are often the biggest obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to have a shot at beating the boss.(7)

The Justice for Janitors campaign was often showcased by New Voice supporters as a premier example of “new” organizing. But what many union leaders and key staff strategists have missed is the fact it was not a “blank slate” campaign disconnected from the sources of SEIU’s membership and contract power. As we have shown above, it was a campaign (as William Finnegan also pointed out in an excellent New Yorker article) deeply rooted in the existing power, base and history of SEIU.(8)

Herein lies an important lesson: It takes members to organize members! While obvious and hardly a new concept, it was embraced as part of the New Voice strategy of “bargaining to organize” in 1996. But sadly the importance of worker-to-worker organizing, building strong committees and using our bargaining power with employers got lost. As a result, we’ve seen a multitude of costly “Hail Mary” passes being thrown in the labor movement with little chance of success because there is not the power of the market or the members in play.
Continue reading

Spring Awakens in the Boston Area: Climate Justice Joins Movements for Social and Racial Justice

by Paul Garver

Divestement and People of Color

As the piles of snow finally melted and spring blossomed in the Boston area, the movements for climate, economic, social and racial justice burgeoned and filled the assemblies and the streets with voices demanding genuine changes.

The reawakened Boston movements seems more numerous, more diverse, and more youthful than in previous years. The banners and chants are livelier, and the demands both more radical and more inclusive than before. The bravado and defiance of the Occupy Movement persists, but with greater direction, purpose and a sense that breakthrough victories are inevitable, even though to be achieved painfully and incrementally.

I spent much of Harvard Heat Week on the campus, in the assemblies and at the occupation. What struck me was the positive energy and patient eloquence of the students and their community and alumni supporters, along with their conviction that while Harvard University was not about to accede to the demand for divestment from fossil fuels, it would sooner or later be forced to do so. Tufts University students organized their own substantial protest action the following week. And as of May 17, Harvard students demanding divestment have again occupied the administration building.

Supporters of the campus divestment movement with their banners joined the massive and spirited march of the Fight for $15 the same week. For a number of years it has seemed that there been insufficient convergence between the campaigns for higher wages, for worker rights, for jobs for youth and against police brutality with those of the climate justice movement. Though these equally legitimate and parallel movements are all gaining traction in the Boston area streets, they are only now beginning to join together in mutual support.

But the silos that serve to isolate activists from each other are beginning to break down. Coalitions like Jobs for Justice are bringing together very diverse persons and organizations for mutual support and solidarity. And the effective climate justice organization Better Future Project/350Mass is not only building its own grassroots “nodes” to campaign for fossil fuel divestment and related climate issues – it is urging its members to join wholeheartedly in solidarity campaigns for economic, social and racial justice.

Following is a May Day statement from Emily Kirkland, Alissa Zimmer, and Craig Altemose of the Better Future Project {Cambridge, MA). Visit its web-site at http://www.betterfutureproject.org/ for information on all Massachusetts events related to climate justice.
Standing in Solidarity, from Baltimore to Boston and beyond
MAY 01, 2015 BETTER FUTURE PROJECT/350 MASS

Many of us are part of this movement because we see climate change as a social justice issue. We’re fighting for a clean energy economy because we know that the use of fossil fuels has devastating consequences for people already facing economic and racial injustice — especially communities of color here in the US and around the world. From poisoned air to polluted water, from droughts to flooding to extreme storms, communities of color are hit first and hit hardest.

But to truly stand in solidarity with the communities most impacted by fossil fuel use and global warming, we need to do more than demand action on climate change: we need to confront the other types of oppression and injustice that affect communities of color. When people of color are beaten or killed by the police, we have an obligation to speak out.

At the 350 Mass campaign summit a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to share our core values with one another, and compassion and solidarity came up again and again. Putting those values into practice means fighting to end structural racism and state-sanctioned violence against Black people and other people of color.

We  urge members of the Better Future Project / 350 Mass community to show solidarity with those protesting the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, at the hands of the Baltimore Police Department. 
Our commitment to solidarity should not be limited to a single event or a single crisis. As a community, we need to continue to find ways to stand with other movements and integrate social, racial, and economic justice into everything we do

There are multiple events happening over the next few weeks, including:
• Our Jobs. Our Truths. Our Lives. Wednesday, May 20, 3:00pm, Park Street Station, Tremont Street, Boston.

Funeral for Youth Jobs and People Lost to Police Violence

Youth Justice

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