The TPP Will Cost 448,000 Jobs

by Celeste Drake

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a so-called “trade deal” that could cost 448,000 U.S. jobs, suppress U.S. wages, and irreparably weaken our democracy and sovereignty.
How-TPP-Could-Make-Our-Economy-Worse_blog_post_fullWidth
Yet U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is trying to get your member of Congress to vote for it. To win the vote, he is uniting with “Republican-friendly organizations” to win votes from the Republican side of the aisle, while ignoring many Democrats who stand with working families.

If this deal is so great for working people, why are labor unions and many environmental, consumer and human rights organizations united against it, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (representing apparel importers) and other business groups are for it? Can you recall a time when these special interest groups worked hard to create more American jobs and raise our wages? I can’t. So we shouldn’t believe their empty promises this time, either. Continue reading

TPP is Bad for Unions

TPPUrge Congress to Oppose the Just-Signed TPP

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is in New Zealand right now joining other trade ministers from throughout the Pacific Rim in signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Signing is not the same as ratifying. What the signing means is that the negotiations are concluded; the text is done; and that the TPP can now be submitted for a Fast Tracked vote in Congress at almost any time.

It’s critical that Congress is hearing strong constituent opposition to the TPP right now. Please write your Members of Congress and urge them to come out publicly against the TPP.

For the better part of a decade, we have told our representatives we want a “Fair Deal or No Deal” on Trans-Pacific trade. Now that the text is finalized and changes are all-but-impossible, it’s clear that — while a handful of well-connected corporations got a more-than-fair deal for themselves — for everyone else, the TPP would be a disaster for the economy, the environment and public health.

The TPP Is Bad for Jobs & Wages
As you would expect from a deal negotiated with hundreds of corporate advisors, while the public and the press were shut out, if enacted, the TPP would offshore good-paying American jobs, lower wages and increase inequality by forcing Americans into competition with highly-exploited workers abroad paid less than 65 cents an hour. Continue reading

U.S. Labor Activist Reports on China Crackdown

Interview with Ellen David Friedman

Ellen Friedman articleEllen David Friedman, a long-time organizer with the National Education Association in Vermont, founding member of the state’s Progressive Party and member of the Labor Notes Policy Committee, has been working for the last decade with labor and union activists in Hong Kong and the mainland. When she was in China recently, she was briefly detained and interrogated by the government. She spoke with Ashley Smith of Socialist Worker about the crackdown, its causes and what activists can do to help the Chinese activists win freedom and justice.

During your recent trip, you were detained amid the crackdown on labor NGOs. Can you tell us what happened?

I’ve been working in China for about 10 years, teaching labor studies and participating in various parts of the labor movement. I’d received many warnings before, but they had always been indirect, and passed along through colleagues. This was the first time that police came to question me directly.

They came to my hotel and interrogated me for about two hours–quite politely–but warned me to stop “meeting people” or risk legal consequences. They said I was violating the terms of my visa.

It’s hard to know if I was detained as part of the crackdown on activists. It happened in the same period of time, but one never knows the reason that things happen in China. Certainly when I was detained, they didn’t give me any explanation for it. So I think at best we can guess.

The context for this is that, since the start of the Xi Jinping administration in China three years ago, the state has taken a very definitive turn away from tolerance of any kind of activism and organizing in civil society. In the previous administration of Hu Jintao, there seemed to be a good deal more space for the development of NGOs and critical discourse and research. All of this under the Xi Jinping government has been very severely curtailed.

Since Xi came to power, the state has harassed labor NGOs, criminalized labor resistance, and detained and charged worker activists. The government has also conducted an “anti-foreign influence” campaign. And so, since I’ve been active in the labor movement in China during this period of time, and since I’m a foreigner, we can only say it’s consistent with their policy.

What’s the scale of the crackdown? Who is being targeted?

The most recent event was a high-profile detention of about 20 activists on December 3, all in Guangzhou, which is one of the largest cities in China. It’s on the southeast coast across from Hong Kong. It’s the capital city of Guangdong province, which was the birthplace of capital and labor markets beginning in the 1980s.

Since then, it’s undergone a vast amount of development. Tens of millions of migrant workers have moved there to get jobs. The area has also experienced an explosion of labor resistance. Around a dozen or so labor NGOs have been operating amid this worker activism.

The government targeted the activists associated with four of these labor NGOs. Some of these NGOs are pretty benign service organizations that do things like assisting injured workers to file worker’s compensation claims. Some of them are more actively involved in helping workers to develop skills for leadership and collective bargaining among those who have taken the lead in strikes and so on.

Most of the people were questioned and released within a day, but seven people are still detained and facing criminal charges. The most prominent person who was caught in the sweep is named Zeng Feiyang. He’s the founder and director of the oldest and best-known labor NGO in China, Panyu Workers’ Center.

The government has accused most of the detainees of disrupting public order, which is the usual allegation made against labor activists. They have charged one person with embezzlement. Solidarity activists have arranged for them to have attorneys–in fact, there is a now a 60-member attorney team that has volunteered to represent them–but so far, they haven’t been able to contact the detained activists. So we still don’t know the specific charges against them.

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A New Year Message from China’s Labor Community

A 2016 New Year’s Message from China’s Labor Community

劳工六人图

Dear fellow workers, compatriots, and friends from around the world: Happy New Year!

Toward the end of 2015, the labor community in China experienced an unprecedented attack. A group of activists who have dedicated years to defending the rights and interests of workers were detained, monitored and interrogated by the police. It could have been a moment for fear and paranoia to set in. But those in the labor community and other walks of life responded quickly by drafting a petition to the Communist Party Central Committee, National People’s Congress, and State Council. The petition described in no uncertain terms the severe and widespread violations of workers’ rights and interests over the last few decades, and the inevitable emergence of independent labor NGOs and worker centers and their valuable contribution to the protection of labor rights and social justice, and demanded the release of the detained activists. In less than two weeks, over 490 people added their names to this petition, and over 60 Chinese lawyers joined a legal aid team. This response was followed by petitions, appeals, and demonstrations by over 200 organizations and thousands of individuals from the international labor and academic community in over 40 countries condemning the crackdown and expressing support for the arrested labor activists.

Their calls, however, fell on the deaf ears of the Chinese authorities. The detained activists have to this day still not been allowed to meet with their lawyers. In addition, the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus—the Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily and China Central Television (CCTV)—launched a smear campaign against these activists, in particular Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋), essentially sentencing them without a trial in the court of public opinion. Feiyang’s wife and child have been intimidated, and Zhu Xiaomei (朱小梅) has been separated from her baby daughter, whom she was breastfeeding when she was detained. The families of the other detained activists—He Xiaobo (何晓波), Meng Han (孟晗), Peng Jiayong (彭家勇), Deng Xiaoming (邓小明)—are all sick with fear, and the whereabouts of another former worker-turned-collective bargaining specialist, Chen Huihai (陈辉海), is still unclear. Their treatment reflects a cowardly approach to the rule of law, and the criminal proceedings are rife with legal and procedural unfairness.

Fellow workers, compatriots, and friends: If the rights and interests of workers who make up the large majority of China’s population cannot be protected, if workers are increasingly deprived of their economic, political, cultural, and social rights, if the confrontations between officials and citizens, workers and employers, rich and poor, continues to worsen, then what are the prospects for everyone to live in a free, equal, fair, democratic, law-based society where “socialism is the core value”? It is doubtful that even our most basic survival and security can be assured in such a society!

Workers on strike at Lide Shoe Factory in April, 2015, in Guangdong.

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Sherwin Alumina Lockout in Second Year

by Mike Elk

SherwinLaborDayPhoto

Ed. note: On October 11,2014, Sherwin Alumina locked out 450 USW Local 235A members at their plant in Gregory, Texas. The lockout came after 235A members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s demands for major cuts in pension and health care benefits for members and retirees, as well as reductions in overtime pay.  The lockout is now continuing into its 15th month

Sherwin Alumina is owned by Glencore, a highly profitable Swiss commodities giant that is the 10th largest corporation in the world, with net income of $4.6 billion in 2013.

Glencore is a company set up by billionaire financier Marc Rich, who was eventually brought to terms by the USW after a lengthy lockout at the Ravenswood aluminum plant in West Virginia.  Rich, then a fugitive from American justice, was notoriously pardoned by Bill Clinton in the last days of his Presidency.

This article was originally written by labor reporter Mike Elk for Politico in July 2015, but did not appear then because of a labor dispute between Politico management and Mike Elk, who was active in the effort by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA Local 32035) to organize POLITICO.

As one with extensive experience in the global labor movement, I regard Mike Elk’s July article as an excellent case study of the difficult realities of campaigning for international labor solidarity.

December 15, 2015

This morning, I found myself wanting to cry as I spoke on the phone to a United Steelworkers staffer about an ugly lockout of 450 at Sherwin Alumna lockout that has gone on for 14 months.  As a labor reporter, I have dealt with PTSD as a result of the suicides, divorces, and bar room brawls that happen during lockouts.  It’s just so awful what happens to people during lockouts and the media even the so called “left media” rarely pay proper attention to them.

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Honduras and CAFTA Show Why TPP Must be Opposed

Map of all countries which have ratified the D...

Map of all countries which have ratified the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

12/10/2015Brian Finnegan
This week, the governments of Honduras and the United States signed an action plan to begin addressing the widespread failure to enforce labor laws in Honduras. While this is a small step in the right direction, the Honduran government has not fully considered or included workers’ recommendations regarding this Monitoring and Action Plan. The Honduran government, employers and unions have reached consensus on some points, but major issues remain unresolved. The action plan should not have been signed until the parties reached agreement on the draft inspection law that is central to the viability of the action plan.

The plan also stops short of calling for stronger enforcement action should Honduras continue to fail. It is far too early for congratulations. Through such delayed and partial actions, the U.S. government has not acted effectively to defend workers’ rights in Honduras and with other trading partners. Continue reading

International Human Rights Day: How Celebrated in Hong Kong

by Paul Garver

free chinese labor activists

I am writing this on the evening of 9th December in the USA, but in Hong Kong it is already the morning of 10th December. At this moment labor and human rights activists are converging on the Western Police Station in Hong Kong to demand that the Mainland Chinese authorities in neighboring Guangdong Province release several labor rights activists rounded up over the last few days.

December 10th is International Human Rights Day, intended to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Chinese authorities, panicked by an accelerating wave of actions by workers protesting factory closures and non-payment of wages, are trying to stifle workers’ desperate defensive protests by detaining labor rights activists and closing worker rights centers.

This is no trivial matter. The Pearl River Delta on the mainland opposite Hong Kong represents the largest and densest concentration of industrial workers on the planet. The Chinese Communist Party and local government authorities above all want to maintain a subservient and docile working class. In order to do so, they are willing to crush the worker centers that, in the absence of genuine labor unions in China, offer the few sparks of hope and support for workers struggling for their basic rights and working conditions.

The Hong Kong labor and human rights activists, who recently fought a brave and protracted battle of their own for democratic rights in Hong Kong, are acting out of solidarity with their Mainland China compatriots who lack such fundamental rights of free association.

We in our turn must demonstrate our solidarity with and support for rights activists both in Mainland China and in Hong Kong. If human rights are not universal, they are not secure anywhere.

Stay tuned for the measures that these courageous Chinese activists will be asking their sisters and brothers elsewhere to take in support and solidarity.

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