Backdoor Deals over Fast Track Show the Bankruptcy of the Corporate Trade Agenda

AFL-CIO Communications Department


[Editor’s note:  This may be our last post before the crucial vote in the House on “Fast Track.”  This statement from the AFL-CIO Communications Department updates the latest cynical maneuvers to ram this deeply anti-democratic payoff to corporate capitalism down the throats of the 99%.

However I quibble over one bit of terminology – namely the reference to the “Democratic” values and concerns that are being savagely violated by this legislation.  Worker rights, human rights, climate justice, internet freedom are genuine “small d” democratic values, but if they were indeed the concerns and values of the “large D” Democratic Party, then why is the titular head of the Democratic Party and his Administration so committed to the passage of Fast Track and the TPP? 

In fact a battle has been joined over the divided soul and essence of the Democratic Party.  Fast Track may or may not prevail by a few votes tomorrow, but in any case the AFL-CIO may have to decide whether to join other progressive movements  in a firm commitment to create our own autonomous political institutions apart from pro-business-as-usual centrist Democrats. – Paul Garver]

The House Republican amendments to the suite of trade bills that began in the Senate back in April demonstrate—for anyone who still had doubts—the total bankruptcy of the corporate trade agenda. In order to advance an unpopular, undemocratic, failed trade policy, the Republican majority has to play games that make sausage making look good.
When House Democrats refused to fall in the trap of cutting Medicare in order to pay for trade adjustment assistance, the Republican leadership relented by changing the pay-for, but in order to save the Fast Track bill, the procedural mechanism developed by the Rules Committee will allow Democrats to vote against the Medicare cut before they vote for it.
In order to buy votes from a skeptical Republican caucus, Republican leadership has loaded up what had been a positive and useful trade enforcement package with new “trade negotiating objectives” that undermine long-held Democratic values, like addressing climate change and ensuring rights for migrant workers. Two of the TPP’s major weaknesses include inadequate worker protections and no climate change provisions. These new trade negotiating objectives could ensure these provisions never make it in to the TPP or any other trade agreement.
A currency provision has been stripped from the Customs bill. This provision, supported by Senators Schumer, Brown and others, was potentially the most critical enforcement tool in the entire package. It would have allowed the US to treat currency manipulation as a countervailable subsidy. Stripping this provision will cost jobs.
On the other hand, language weakening a provision that would have forced countries to address human trafficking before that country could be included in a fast-tracked trade deal with the US has been added to the Customs bill. This weakening undermines the promises made about how the TPP will protect workers.
All of these last-minute procedural manipulations and unconscionable amendments are designed to secure Republican votes, with no consideration whatsoever for Democratic concerns or values.

Our TPP Negotiators are Determined to Win the Race to the Bottom

by Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

Trade deals write the rules for globalization. That is, they determine who will be winners, and who won’t.
Under NAFTA-style trade deals, the winners have been pharmaceutical companies, big polluters, banks and companies like Nike who scour the earth for the lowest wages and weakest regulations.

One ray of redemption is the promise of high-standard 21st Century labor and environmental provisions. With good international standards, civil society can balance the power of global corporations and share gains.
Stop laughing. We need to get this piece right.

Bill Clinton promised us enforceable labor and environmental standards in NAFTA. He never enforced those standards. George Bush promised us enforceable standards in the “May 10th Agreements” which would fix NAFTA. He never enforced them.

Now, President Obama promises us high-standards labor and environmental protections with meaningful enforcement in his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Our lived experience is decades of failure to enforce labor standards.

President Obama’s promise is eloquent and inspiring. It would be more convincing if he had pursued even a single meaningful enforcement action after hundreds of killed labor activists in Guatemala, Colombia and Honduras, and over 1,300 reported death threats. Our inaction has been a bitter disappointment to workers in Central America, Mexico and the U.S. We have never applied our leverage by suspending trade preferences in a trade agreement.

By chance, TPP has given us a clear opportunity to demonstrate commitment to high-standard labor protections.
The Senate recently approved Fast Track — procedural legislation that Congress will use for TPP. The Senate version of Fast Track appropriately excludes countries with the worst records for human trafficking, forced labor and child labor. The U.S. State Department ranks countries each year, and Malaysia, one of the 12 TPP countries, falls into that worst category called “Tier 3.”

The Malaysian electronics industry uses forced labor for 28 percent of its workforce to make products for well-known U.S. companies. Forced labor and child labor drive its garment and palm oil industries.
Malaysia relies on its very weak human trafficking practices to give it a competitive advantage in global markets.

Recent press reports from Malaysia document unimaginably poor conditions for refugees, who are held for ransom, traded from one kidnapper to another, tortured and murdered. This is 21st century slavery.
The Senate version of Fast Track does exactly what President Obama promised — if you meet international standards, you can have favorable access to our markets. If you fail to meet those standards you lose favorable access. When you improve, you regain favorable access. The Senate’s version of Fast Track can improve the lives of thousands of workers in industries that anchor Malaysia’s economy.

Incomprehensibly, the Obama administration is asking House members to weaken the Senate’s language to let Malaysia into TPP without any actual improvement in workers’ conditions. It would let Malaysia maintain human trafficking exactly the way it is now.

Malaysia has successfully ignored the State Department’s engagement on human trafficking for at least a decade. The President engaged Malaysia in 2012 and 2013 with waivers, suspending a drop to Tier 3 status. Malaysia’s enforcement against human trafficking actually declined in 2014.

Malaysia knows exactly what risk it runs with the labor provisions in TPP, because they helped negotiate TPP’s labor chapter, with the help of US industry advisors. Malaysia can confidently ignore the labor standards in TPP, in light of our decades of ineffective enforcement in Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia under previous trade deals.

If the administration is able to weaken the Senate’s human rights language, we will be sending a message to the world that the President will sacrifice labor and environmental standards at the first opportunity. Once again, the interests of Intel, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, AMD, Texas Instruments and Dell would mean more to our trade negotiators than the suffering of refugees, exploitation of a quarter of the workers in the Malaysian electronics and garment industries and the children working in the palm oil industry. Corporate interests would mean more than the grief of families of men women and children showing signs of torture recently found in 139 graves.

If the administration and House members shrug off Malaysia’s poor human rights record, they are sending a message to the rest of the Malaysian economy and any other country that competes against Malaysia in the global economy: The U.S. will not enforce global rules on human trafficking.

It is worth noting that five other TPP countries — Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico and Brunei — are on the Tier 2 list — bad, but not the worst.

Over 150 House members signed a letter questioning Vietnam’s labor record and TPP. Over 100 House members also opposed trade concessions for Brunei, which criminalizes gay lifestyles under Sharia law. Mexico has successfully resisted improving its labor laws for the 20 years since NAFTA.

If Congress accepts the administration’s weaker condition, the message to Tier 2 countries is that exploiting workers carries no meaningful consequences. That message will certainly carry through into human trafficking in our own communities.

Our negotiators seem determined to win the race to the bottom.

On the other hand, if Congress excludes Malaysia from TPP, the five Tier 2 countries could take a lesson to improve. We will finally use the leverage we’ve always had to make other countries live up to written commitments.

TPP proponents talk about “setting the rules” so that China won’t. Our engagement on human trafficking is a clear test of which rules we value, and the kind of leadership we will express through our trade policy.
It’s clear that the Obama administration has had no interest in enforcing labor or environmental laws. Our negotiators have been criticized repeatedly for ignoring their labor advisory committee.

Fast Track gives Congress a fine opportunity to express our values as a country, and show that workers can be winners, even over objections from the Obama administration. The House should approve the Senate language and make Malaysia improve its human rights record.

Stan Sorscher is Labor Representative at Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), a union representing over 20,000 scientists, engineers, technical and professional employees in the aerospace industry. Follow Stan Sorscher on Twitter:
Reprinted from HuffPost with permission of the author.

Join Labor Campaign for Bernie 2016

by Rand Wilson

Since Bernie Sanders officially launched his presidential campaign, over 200 union members have already signed the Labor for Bernie 2016 letter on line, including more than 30 trade unionists from Massachusetts.

We need 1,000 signatures to make this labor letter credible. Please consider signing on to the letter and helping to recruit more members to the Labor for Bernie 2016 campaign by sharing this link.  Do it now! 

As we build the list of labor supporters for Bernie, we can share it by union and plan activities in Massachusetts [and other states] so folks can organize within their union and their community.

Some good news: the Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and the Green Mountain Labor Council, AFL-CIO both adopted our State Fed/CLC/union “Resolution Urging Support for Bernie 2016

These resolutions make a good template for what we hope many other labor organizations in Massachusetts will do. The sample CLC resolution is online here and a sample union resolution is online here.

The Labor for Bernie 2016 sign on letter is online here.

Use this link to visit our new Labor Campaign for Bernie Sanders Facebook page.  Please “like” the page.

Another Labor for Bernie page is here.

The campaign gmail account is:

Rand Wilson is a long-term organizer living in Somerville, MA. He currently works for SEIU Local 888 based in Charlestown, MA. He has been executive director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, and frequently contributes to various labor publications, including Talking Union.

Bernie Sanders’ Labor Record in Vermont

by Steve Early

 Bernie 1981

Bernie Sanders has a long record of supporting pro-worker policies. Organized labor should back his presidential run.

When I first met Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders, he was a relatively marginal figure in his adopted state of Vermont. It was 1976 and he was running, unsuccessfully and for the fourth time, as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party (LUP).

Liberty Union was a radical third party spearheaded by opponents of the Vietnam War who had, like Sanders, washed up in the Green Mountain State as the sixties subsided. At its historic peak, the LUP garnered maybe 5 or 6 percent of the statewide vote for some of its more presentable candidates — in short, nothing like the winning margins racked up in recent years by the far more savvy and effectiveVermont Progressive Party, which now boasts a ten-member legislature delegation and attracts growing union support.

During Sanders’s quixotic mid-1970s bid to become governor of Vermont, I accompanied him to a meeting of local granite cutters, teamsters, and electrical workers. This was not a “flatlander” crowd, nor one dominated by full-time union officials. His audience was native Vermonters, some of them Republican, who were still punching a clock at local quarries, trucking companies, and machine tool factories in an era when the future home state of Ben & Jerry’s and Vermont Teddy Bear Co. still had impressive blue-collar union density.

These local union delegates had come together to make candidate endorsements under the banner of the Vermont Labor Forum, a coalition of unions outside the AFL-CIO. Sanders then delivered what is now known — due to its essential continuity over the last four decades — as “The Speech.” (For one of its longer iterations, see his2011 book by the same name.)

Sanders’s persuasive message to the Labor Forum was that corporations were too powerful, workers were getting screwed, and both major parties were beholden to “the bosses” (or, as Sanders might call them today, “the billionaire class,” a social category not yet invented forty years ago).

Sanders’s appeal for working-class support in 1976 seemed most persuasive to rank-and-file representatives of the United Electrical Workers (UE). They were, of course, members of a left-led national organization that had long favored political action outside the Democratic Party. However, in deference to their more cautious colleagues, the UE members politely went along with the Labor Forum majority, which, per usual, voted to endorse Vermont Democrats, despite Liberty Union’s superior labor bona fides.

This labor tendency to gravitate toward the least problematic of the two major parties is still with us today. Every election cycle, in every part of the country, AFL-CIO unions and unaffiliated labor organizations make pragmatic calculations about who to back and fund.

Rarely do they take a chance on third-party candidates, no matter how ardent their support for labor causes. Even a union rank-and-filer who runs against a corporate Democrat (for example, Howie Hawkins, the blue-collar Green who challenged incumbent Andrew Cuomo for New York governor last year) finds it hard to collect labor endorsements.

A few union leaders have recently vowed to withhold future support from Democrats who favor President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, but Hillary Clinton will certainly be exempted from any such retribution. By the 2016 general election — and much sooner, in the case of some national unions — organized labor will be in full lesser-evil mode once again.

The only place in the nation next year where union members will have viable, pro-labor third party candidates to support, at least at the state and local level, is Vermont. And for that the US labor movement has Sanders and other Vermont progressives to thank.

When Sanders comes knocking on their door, looking for support in his presidential primary challenge, trade unionists in other states should remember his long history of helping Vermont workers get their act together, in politics, organizing, and contract strikes. It’s a track record that few “friends of labor” can match.

Sanders got his own electoral act together by going local in 1981. Instead of persisting as a fringe candidate in futile statewide races, he joined a four-way contest for mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. Sanders beat the incumbent, a five-term Democrat, by ten votes.

As mayor, Sanders immediately hired a new human resources director for Burlington. This union-friendly lawyer worked to improve relations between city hall and municipal workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

During his four terms, Sanders continued to champion the cause of workers, tenants, the poor, and unemployed, while revitalizing the city. Under the Sanders administration, Burlington backed worker co-ops, affordable housing initiatives, new cultural and youth programs, and development of the city’s waterfront in a way that preserved public access and use.

“We were paying attention to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods rather than just downtown or the big-money interests,” Sanders told the Nation last year. “In fact, I went to war with virtually every part of the ruling class in Burlington during my years as mayor.”

The result, according to Sanders, was that “large numbers of people who previously had not participated in the political process got involved.” In addition, Sanders allies won up to six seats on the city council and campaigned as the Progressive Coalition (the forerunner of the statewide Progressive Party, which was founded in 1999).

But even a left-wing independent with a laudable record of labor advocacy at the municipal level found it hard to attract national union backing when he sought higher office. In 1988 major unions largely ignored Sanders when he ran for Congress against a Democrat and Republican. The latter won, but two years later, Sanders ran again and ousted the GOP incumbent, with more union support this time. Only gradually and very slowly has the country’s longest serving independent in Congress received the kind of national union funding that he should have gotten from the very beginning.

On Capitol Hill, Sanders blazed a trail not followed since Vito Marcantonio served six terms in Congress, between 1939 and 1951, as the lonely tribune of the New York City–based American Labor Party.

Fifty years later, during the Clinton administration, Sanders helped create a left pole for mainstream labor’s soon-to-be-thwarted campaign to reform the National Labor Relations Act. He introduced a “‘Workplace Democracy Act” to comprehensively reform and strengthen workers’ rights . . . to improve living standards for American workers, which have fallen precipitously.”

Sanders also promoted “economic conversion” — refashioning Pentagon-dependent manufacturing firms to produce socially useful goods — a cause since downplayed or abandoned by major industrial unions themselves.

Back in Vermont, Sanders used his congressional office to help workers get better organized, in their workplaces and communities, even when the labor movement lagged behind in both areas. He not only urged Vermonters to vote “yes” in union representation elections, he actually convened annual meetings of local labor activists to assist them in developing more successful organizing and bargaining strategies in the private and public sector. To stimulate new rank-and-file thinking, Sanders and his staff invited out-of-state labor speakers who were part of national efforts to revitalize organized labor.

He has also been a staunch and longtime ally of the Vermont Workers Center, the statewide community-labor coalition that fights for single-payer health care, immigrants’ rights, paid sick leave, and other working-class causes in the Green Mountain State.

When Vermont Verizon workers that I represented opposed the company’s sale of its northern New England landline operations in 2006, Sanders was campaigning for the US Senate seat that he now holds. He convened a public forum highlighting the reasons for our “Stop The Sale” campaign and brokered a meeting with the proposed buyer, FairPoint Communications, that enabled us to confront top managers about the company’s record of anti-unionism.

More recently, as labor opponents of the sale predicted, Verizon’s successor has floundered financially and tried to impose contract concessions on its workforce of several thousand. During their four-month strike last year, FairPoint union members had no stronger political ally, in public and behind the scenes, than Sanders.

Sanders’s four decades of active engagement with workers’ struggles in Vermont has provided a model for the Vermont Progressive Party’s own strong labor orientation. The VPP’s elected steering committee now includes key union activists in Vermont; its public office holders — on the Burlington City Council and in the state legislature — regularly join union members where major party officials are scarce: on picket lines and at rallies and press conferences. Members of my own union and others have been recruited to run as candidates for what has become the country’s most successful state-level third party.

It’s an axiom of labor solidarity that help received, in a period of need, will be reciprocated down the road. Vermont union members learned long ago that the mutual benefit derived from their work with and for Sanders goes far beyond the results of labor’s usual (and sometimes tawdry) transactional relationships with public officeholders.

That’s why trade unionists in Vermont have turned out for Sanders as much as he’s aided them over the years. Let’s hope that their union brothers and sisters in other Democratic primary states will figure out which side they should be on, without the benefit of such long personal association.

It’s promising that many rank-and-file activists have already signed up to join the “Labor Campaign for Bernie.” Last week, the Vermont State Labor Council urged the national AFL-CIO to support Sanders, calling him “the strongest candidate articulating our issues.”

But if the rest of organized labor plays it cautious and safe, jumping on the Clinton bandwagon instead of rallying around Sanders, it will be just one more sign of diminished union capacity for mounting any kind of worker self-defense, on the job or in politics.

Steve Early worked for 27 years as a Boston-based organizer for the Communication Workers of America (CWA) in Vermont and New England.   He is the author of Embedded With Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home and The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor.  He now lives in Richmond, CA.

Immigrant workers and Justice for Janitors

We posted a fine piece on Justice for Janitors (below) by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson with suggested lessons for organizing.  Here is a well informed supplement by labor journalist and activist David Bacon.

David Bacon,

jforjr-1This article makes some excellent points, and shows the importance of the way the existing base of membership was used to reorganize building services and start Justice for Janitors. Its point about the market triggers was very interesting – I hadn’t really heard this discussed before, and it does show that putting this in the contract gave workers a concrete reason to support reorganizing the non-union buildings. As it says, ” it was not a ‘blank slate’ campaign disconnected from the sources of SEIU’s membership and contract power.”

Many of the janitors and leaders who fought in Century City were the Central American immigrants coming into LA from the wars. Their experience in their home countries was very important in their willingness to fight, and the use of the tactics of mass demonstrations and even CD in the street. They’re one of the best examples of the way migration, for all the pain it causes migrants, has benefited our labor movement enormously and given us leaders from Rocio Saenz to Ana Martinez to Yanira Merino. This is a big reason why there was an upsurge of organizing in general in LA in the 90s. Without this wave of migration I don’t think the best of strategies would have produced the results we saw. The article credits Gus Bevona with a role in getting the contract in Century City, but by comparison, this seems less important to me, and more like the mechanism than what actually forced the contractors to settle. Continue reading

Desperate Chinese are turning to mass suicide to get their government’s attention

by Robert Foyle Hunwick

BEIJING, China — The location was chosen for maximum impact: a downtown boulevard, famous for Beijing’s swankiest shops and its plushest hotels. Studded with these symbols of Western capitalist chic, Wangfujing Shopping Street could hardly be further from the more desperate concerns of rural China.

It was here that a group of about 30 men gathered on a warm spring morning and, in front of hundreds of shoppers, swallowed a quantity of pesticide. They fell to the ground en masse and, according to several eyewitnesses, foamed at the mouth.

As the men were rushed to hospital, startled crowds spread the news on social media, while the scene quickly returned to normal. Police issued a statement later that day that none had died; local reports explained they were taxi drivers from the northeast, who’d traveled to the capital to stage the protest. And there the official narrative ended.

But the fate of the men, and the extreme means of airing their grievance, reflects a tactic of last resort that’s far from uncommon. For some in China, suicide is the ultimate form of protest.

In Tibet, a cycle of clampdowns and radicalization, which began with a widespread uprising that embarrassed the government in 2008, has led to nearly 140 self-immolations in the last six years. These acts are prompted by fury at the repressive tactics of Chinese officials, according to Tibetan exile groups. The government says such acts are examples of “the Dalai Lama clique” exploiting vulnerable youths, blaming “forces abroad” that are “all aimed at separating Tibet from China.” Among the most recent was Yeshi Khando, a nun in her 40s, who set herself ablaze near a monastery in Sichuan province in early April. She is reported to have died. The fate of those who survive such protests is thought to be equally grim.

On the surface, Tibetan monks and disgruntled cabbies may not have much in common. Yet both groups were driven to abandon rational means, inflicting agonizing acts of self-harm to bring attention to their cause. The anthropologist Margery Wolf once observed of suicidal women in Mao’s era that, “In the West, we ask of suicide, ‘Why?’ In China, the question is more commonly ‘Who?’”

Tibetans-in-exile take part in a candlelight vigil following the self-immolation attempt by a monk to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet on Feb. 13, 2013.
Getty Images

Continue reading

New Zealand Fast Food Workers Win Minimum Hours Guarantee

by Mike Treen, National Director, Unite

indonesia fast food nz

[Ed. note: Fast food industry workers in New Zealand have been organized by the Unite union for over a decade. Their relative strength has enabled their union to play an active role in the international campaigns to organize the fast food industry, both giving support to the Fight for $15 in the USA and receiving support from fast food workers in other countries through the IUF for their own campaigns. The photo shows a support demonstration from workers in Indonesia.-pg]

Workers in the fast food industry in New Zealand scored a spectacular victory over what has been dubbed “zero hour contracts” during a collective agreement bargaining round over the course of March and April this year.

The campaign played out over the national media as well as on picket lines. The victory was seen by many observers as the product of a determined fight by a valiant group of workers and their union, Unite. It was a morale boost for all working people after what has seemed like a period of retreat for working class struggle in recent years.

Workers in the fast food industry have long identified “zero hour contracts” as the central problem they face. These are contracts that don’t guarantee any hours per week, meanwhile workers are expected to work any shifts rostered within the workers “availability”. Managers have power to use and abuse the rostering system to reward and punish, without any real means of holding them to account.

This year, all the collective agreements with the major fast food companies (McDonald’s, Burger King, Restaurant Brands) expired on March 31. We were already in dispute with Wendy’s, as their agreement remains unresolved from last year. Unite Union was determined to end the system of zero hours and get guaranteed hours included in the new collective agreements. We had no illusions that this was going to be easy. We knew this would be a tough battle and we needed to prepare for that reality if we were to have a chance of success. At organising meetings I would sometimes use a phrase that appealed: “If you want peace, prepare for war”. I was told later it is taken from a Latin adage: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. Whoever coined the phrase, it is a wise strategy.

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