Teamsters Call for Defeat of Fast Track and TPP

by James P. Hoffa

TPPMedia2~~element70

[Ed. note:  Leaders of the U.S. labor movement are unanimously opposed to the passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and CWA President Larry Cohen, IBT General President James Hoffa has been a vocal critic of anti-worker “trade legislation.”  Even though even a united labor movement by itself may not be able to prevail against the unholy alliance of President Obama, the mainstream Republican and Democratic party leaderships, and the Business Roundtable and America Chamber of Commerce, a large and diverse coalition of progressive political movements, citizens’ action, religious and environmental groups has been mobilizing alongside organize labor to oppose Fast Track and the TPP]

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has for years been shrouded in mystery. But last night, WikiLeaks gave U.S. workers a real gift when it pulled back the curtain on a portion of the proposed trade deal that shows what a boondoggle the agreement would be for big business.

Language included in the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) chapter of the TPP would grant new rights to companies to challenge limitations and exceptions to copyrights, patents and other intellectual property. That means corporations could sue the U.S. or other countries included in the deal if they didn’t like their laws. Such challenges would be handled by an unaccountable international arbitration forum. And taxpayers would end up paying the tab if the private sector wins.

Companies are already challenging governments around the globe when they feel elected officials are holding down their profit margins. Tobacco giant Philip Morris, for instance, is currently appealing Uruguay’s regulation of advertising on cigarette packages because it believes the nation’s rules are tamping down on sales in that South American country. But the TPP language would make it worse.

Trade experts agree the ISDS provisions would be very bad news for the public. “With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that would undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

An analysis of the ISDS text by Public Citizen shows, among other things:

  • Foreign investors would be allowed to challenge new policies that apply to both domestic and international corporations on the grounds that they undermine foreign investors’ “expectations” of how they should be treated.
  • The amount that an ISDS tribunal would order a government to pay to a foreign investor as compensation would be based on the “expected future profits.”
  • There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create even broader interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.

In short, the ISDS language shows that based on this TPP chapter alone, the average worker is going to get screwed. The provisions will give corporations the ability to do an end-around on U.S. laws they don’t like. How is that fair? What about the rights of the American people? What about democracy?

Mind you, this doesn’t even address how Americans will be hammered by the other 28 chapters included in this Pacific Rim trade deal. But we already know they will. We’ve seen what NAFTA has done; we’ve seen what the recent U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement has done. Those two deals together have led to more than a million lost U.S. jobs.

Previous leaks have also let us know that lower wages, unsafe food and products, lessened environmental standards and reduced access to affordable medicines will result if the TPP becomes a reality. It’s why the Teamsters and our numerous allies have taken a stand against this terrible trade agreement. And it’s why we can’t let up now.

Want to stop this from happening? Let your members of Congress know you oppose fast-track trade authority. Forcing Capitol Hill to debate this agreement in the open on its merits is the only way hard-working Americans will be able to get a full picture of what the TPP will do. And it’s the best opportunity we have to halt TPP in its tracks.

James P, Hoffa is General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  His statement is reblogged from the Huffington Post with the permission of the IBT.

Striking Oil Workers Emerge Victorious Thanks in Part to Green Group Solidarity

by Kate Aronoff

Due, in part, to the environmental concerns posed by unsafe refineries, strikers quickly gained the support of green groups. (Photo: USW Oil Workers)

Yesterday afternoon, the United Steelworkers reached a tentative contract agreement with negotiators from Shell Oil Co., which has represented Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil companies affected by the union’s now nearly six-week strike. Even as the strike continues in many workplaces, yesterday’s victory is the hard-won result of careful organizing and some promising collaboration.

Beginning on February 1 — after a particularly contentious round of negotiations — an estimated 3,800 workers kicked off a strike action across nine refineries in Texas, California, Kentucky and Washington. As of Thursday’s truce, the strike had grown to include 7,000 workers across 15 refineries, petrochemical and cogeneration plants, including the nation’s largest refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. In total, the United Steelworkers, or USW, represents 30,000 members, and holds leverage over an impressive 64 percent of the United States’ refining capacity.

United Steelworkers’ spokeswoman Lynne Hancock says that she hopes the past several weeks’ events will serve as a sign to oil companies “that we are serious when we bring up issues … that they come from the membership.”

Although the oil workers brought demands around wages and benefits, union negotiators’ central demands were for safer working conditions and a scale-back in companies’ hiring of non-union, often temporary workers. Chiefly, Hancock said, health and safety concerns were “key in this round of bargaining.” Long hours, scant safety regulations and lax training requirements — the oil workers argued — have contributed to workplace environments harmful to not only employees, but the communities surrounding the plants and refineries where they work.

While the four-year contract — covering wages, benefits, working conditions, and health and safety measures — received unanimous support from the rank-and-file National Oil Bargaining Policy Committee, the end of the strike remains contingent on plant locals’ negotiations with management over “local concerns,” such as seniority and vacation time. Because the national agreement has yet to be approved by either USW locals or international leadership, the union is not yet discussing the details of the pending contract. Hancock, however, said that she does not “anticipate there being any problems with it getting ratified at local union bargaining tables.”

A press release by the USW yesterday stated that the proposed contract includes “calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility,” as well as “daily maintenance and repair work in the plants,” yearly wage increases, a joint review of plant staffing needs, and an agreement that hiring plans be developed “in conjunction with recruitment and training programs.” Negotiators had rejected seven previous contract proposals from Shell before Thursday’s agreement.

In addition to the strike, workers took part in an ongoing series of rallies and guerrilla film screenings at refineries and corporate headquarters. One delegation of workers traveled to Europe to garner international support for their actions; alongside the British union UNITE and Divest London, oil workers demonstrated outside a speech by Shell CEO Ben van Buerden in the British capital. USW Local 675 in Torrance, Calif., took a particularly creative route, delivering a pile of horse manure to ExxonMobil offices in response to the company’s failure to respond to inquiries about the health impacts of a mid-February refinery explosion that left four workers injured.

Due, in part, to the environmental concerns posed by unsafe refineries, strikers quickly gained the support of green groups, including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment in the Bay Area, which walked the picket line with workers at a Tesoro refinery in Martinez, Calif. Joe Uehlein, a long-time unionist and executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, urged fellow environmentalists to support USW workers in a statement released at the strike’s onset.

“As we work to protect the earth from climate change,” he said, “it is particularly important that we advocate for the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries whose well-being must not be sacrificed to the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Hancock echoed this sentiment, noting, “The workers are like canaries in the mine … They can see what’s going on and what happens before something tragic happens.” She also saw environmental groups’ support as a major boon to the strike. “It is encouraging to other unions to see that working with environmental groups helps you in your bargaining strength and in improving the work situation for the workers,” Hancock told me. Notably, the United Steelworkers were a founding member of the Blue Green Alliance, which seeks to unite “America’s largest labor unions and its most influential environmental organizations,” according to the group’s website.

The fight for the United Steelworkers is far from over, but the last six weeks have proven a galvanizing force for the union’s membership. Just coming off conference calls with locals around the country, Hancock observed “a lot of energy [among workers], and the motivation to stay involved and support the locals that are still having trouble on local issues.”

As collective bargaining comes under fresh attack by Republicans in Illinois and Wisconsin, the oil workers’ victory this week might be one of the month’s most hopeful headlines — especially with regards to organized labor. Amid dropping oil prices and divestment campaigners, fossil fuel companies, now more than ever, are on the defensive. Given thenot-so-secret ties between fossil fuel magnates and the GOP, ties between unions and green groups built during the strike could well have just bolstered the foundation for one of history’s most powerful — and necessary — alliances.

Kate Aronoff is a History major at Swarthmore College active in the climate justice movement, including Swarthmore Mountain Justice‘s campaign to divest the college’s endowment from fossil fuels. She currently serves as a Board Member for the Responsible Endowments Coalition. Find her on Twitter @KateAronoff.

Support the USW Strikers !

We support the USW unfair labor practices strike against big oil companies

Petition by James P. Thompson

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/we-support-the-usw-strike?source=mo&id=109686-22927824-YUOthAx

To be delivered to Ben van Beurden, CEO, Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company

We support the unfair labor practice strike by steelworkers at the refineries in Texas City, Texas, and across the country. Their struggle is the struggle of working people in this country and around the world. We all want safe refineries and safe communities.

Editor note: STEELWORKERS AND ROYAL DUTCH SHELL COME TO TENTATIVE AGREEMENT: The United Steelworkers and Royal Dutch Shell reached a tentative four-year contract that includes wage increases and “improvement” on worker safety issues like fatigue and refinery maintenance.

We don’t want any more workers to die. That’s why the United Steelworkers union is taking on the richest, most powerful industry in the world by fighting to secure a fair contract that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities. The oil industry’s greed and bad-faith bargaining have stalled efforts to improve conditions in its workplaces. The industry has refused to address serious health and safety issues that have already killed thousands of workers over the years.

We support the efforts of the USW union to improve the working conditions of the striking refinery workers. Jobs in refineries are dangerous and require a high level of skill. As we know from the BP disaster, mistakes can cause catastrophes for the surrounding communities and the environment.

These workers deserve to be treated fairly. Failure to bargain fairly in these negotiations will only reflect the oil industry’s lack of regard for the workers and the communities in which its enterprises are located.

The Legacy of the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement

By Rachel Johnson,

300Willie_Pelote

Q&A with Willie Pelote Sr., AFSCME

Willie L. Pelote, Sr. has served as California Political and Legislative Director for the 1.4 million members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) since 1995.

 

Can you describe how you got started in the labor movement and how you came to work for AFSCME?

I’m from a family of nine and I grew up on our family farm in Clyo, Georgia. When you grow up on a farm, you work from the day you can walk and learning about hard work in that environment has been a major influence in my life.  My first job outside of working on my grandparents’ farm was a union job. It was then that I learned about the power workers can achieve when they stand together.  Everyone supported each other and our negotiations helped people earn a living wage to support their families.

After coming home from Vietnam, I was stationed in Sacramento. While going to school and working as a Sergeant-of-Arms at the State Capitol, I met Willie Brown, then Speaker of the State Assembly. After working with his office for several years, I was asked to come to work with AFSCME. That was over 19 years ago. I can’t believe I’ve been given such an incredible opportunity to work in the largest public sector union in the country and to also represent 176,000 Californians. I stayed with AFSCME for nearly 20 years for many reasons. I enjoyed working with all levels of government, driving campaigns to help working people in our state, and getting to know our members; but I was always most passionate about the idea that I was helping working people like my family make it in California.

As a labor leader in CA, what work are you most proud of?

I’m proud that we have been able to give a united collective voice to our members at their worksite and the agency to take part in decision-making about the vital services they provide to people in our great state.  I’m also proud that we’ve been persistent with holding elected officials accountable to working people in California.

During the civil rights movement there was a very clear intersection with the labor movement.  What are the opportunities to continue that legacy today? Continue reading

Aliens and Humans

by Gene Grabiner

genegrabiner

Capitalism grows and sows alienation as it accumulates and expands accumulation. The capitalists, of course, accumulate and accumulate, (not only for personal gain—they are not hoarders or misers, but to expansively accumulate capital, itself). This is what economists term, ‘growth.’ But it is growth with a vengeance, growth like a cancer; and it has metastasized, globally. Capital reproduces itself through expanded reproduction on an ever-grander, ever-extended scale until it is the global occupant instead of humanity.
Yes, of course people are all over the globe, but they have not yet emerged into the true measure of their own humanity. And that cannot happen unless and until they win themselves back from capital and, in so doing, save the world. As accumulation grows, so grows alienation. Workers are alienated or separated from their product, from each other, and from themselves. So, the capitalists then come to embody the tumor of alienation, which on its other pole is the daily life experience of wage-labor.
While wage-labor may be alienated, the capitalists are aliens. It is true as science fiction has so long warned us: “they are here,” “they walk among us.” They are the well-documented aliens. As the privacy, the true insularity, the gated and garrisoned world of the capitalists grows, the privacy of the rest of the ever-more-alienated people diminishes. Likewise, the immiseration of the people grows—a psychic immiseration if not a material one.
Among other struggles over contested ground, the struggle to preserve, protect and expand privacy for all is also a struggle against, e.g., the NSA and corporate spying on us all. Still, this is only a sort of holding action, given how ruling social forces use, are using, and will use communication and expression/repression. But the true reclamation of privacy is also actually the true and fullest expansion of publicity.
To fully win back the sphere of the private, we must fully inhabit or occupy the sphere of the public through mass restoration of the Commons at a higher level. As the Commons is restored both off and on-line, the private more and more will be reclaimed by those to whom it is denied. The restoration of Fourth Amendment privacy is at the same time the achievement of total public existence—what has been called the Public Opinion State that is enshrined in the First Amendment.
The Occupy Movement contained this insight, whether explicitly or implicitly. The Occupy Movement asked the proper questions and, in many respects, provided among its demands, the appropriate answers. The issue is this: how, effectively, to move from posing those questions to the full attainment of those answers? How to build the bridge to the future; and in so doing, how to build the future itself? For Occupy, the difficulty lay in the very anarchic character of that movement which, on the one hand was its romantic beauty and attractiveness but, on the other, its lack of a program, a way to move forward.
For this substantive forward motion to occur, the centrality of labor is key. When a mass global popular front/united front movement is crystallized, and all begin to understand and act on the fact that “Workers Create the Wealth,” we humans will no longer be kidnapped by those aliens. In fact, this is the only salvation for the aliens themselves. It is the only way to set them on the path toward becoming human.

Gene Grabiner, PhD, is SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, has been Vice-President, Grievance Chairperson, and a Contract Negotiator for the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College, (FFECC/NYSUT), AFL-CIO.

A Bigger Tent | Boston Review

A Bigger Tent | Boston Review. by Amy Dean.

Trans Pacific Partnership : TPP- The Dirty Deal

This is the proposal that President Obama wants authority to negotiate.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,263 other followers