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.

 

AFT group develops lessons on ’63 ‘Jobs and Freedom’ march

by Michael Hirsch

aft-group-lessons-on-freedom-march-1

The massive 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom represented the high-water mark of the civil rights movement.

The rally was the culmination of decades of organizing and a spur to all the new social movements that followed. It showed ordinary people making history.

Though not all its aims were met — domestic workers and farm workers, who are largely people of color, are

Bayard Rustin (left) and

Bayard Rustin (left) outside the march headquarters in NYC

still not protected by federal law — Congress, in the years that followed, began to address racial discrimination in jobs, voting, housing and public accommodations.

Telling the story of that epochal march to public school students is a project of the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank supported by the American Federation of Teachers, which is creating a set of lesson plans on the occasion of the march’s 50th anniversary.

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Union Reactions to Obama Re-election

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Tonight, working families across the country celebrate the re-election of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden – and breathe a sigh of relief that our country will move forward on the path of sanity and shared prosperity. Nothing about the last four years has been easy, from the Great Recession to Hurricane Sandy, from unrelenting partisan obstruction by Republicans to the greatest onslaught of negative ads ever unleashed against an American president.

Throughout the tumult, President Obama and Vice President Biden have been steadfast allies of working men and women and the values we cherish, focused on repairing the economy, rebuilding the ladder to the middle class and investing in our shared future. That’s why workers and their unions made an historic effort on their behalf, bringing home the vote for the President from Nevada to Ohio, from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.

With “Osama dead and GM alive” and the economy beginning to pick up steam, we are ready to work together with the President and all willing parties to win greater equality and economic opportunity for all – starting with ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and opposing any cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.

Below are statements from the AFT, UFCW,UAW AFGE , UFW, SEIU, IBEW, and IAM
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The Chicago Teacher’s Strike and the Struggle for a New Unionism

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.

One of the most striking features of the Chicago teacher’s strike was the level of community support for the teachers. Contrary to public expectations, the strike turned into a social mobilization around education rather than a battle for the special interests of teachers. This feature did not come out of nowhere, but actually reflected an on-going effort to shift the direction of labor unionism in America, and in this case, labor unionism among teachers.

As successful as teacher organizing has been over the last fifty years, there has been an increasing gap between teachers and communities.  This came to catastrophic proportions in the disastrous 1968 New York City Teachers strike, which pitted African American and Puerto Rican community-based organizations against the largely white United Federation of Teachers (affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) over the issue of community control of schools. While the teacher’s unions became increasingly successful in winning a better living standard for their members, they frequently became a source of resentment for many parents and community-based organizations who no longer saw the unions as being at the vanguard of the struggle for genuine education reform.

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Waiting for Superman?


By Duane Campbell

Waiting for Superman is an emotional film that follows five public school students who compete in lotteries to attend public charter schools. This film was made by the producer of An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim. Waiting for Superman has been screened at a variety of film festivals, including Sundance, and was released on  September 24, 2010.

Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp wrote this after viewing the film:

“The message of the film is that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their unions. The film’s “solution,” to the minimal extent it suggests one, is to replace them with “great” charter schools and teachers who have less power over their schools and classrooms.

This message is not just wrong. In the current political climate, it’s toxic.”

This film tells a moving story about  problems and injustice in public schools  but it blames the problems of schools on teachers unions.  Why is that ?

Waiting for Superman says  several important things about the challenges of the public education system.  However, the central  message—”charters are good” and “teachers unions are bad”—oversimplifies complicated issues and promotes a particular corporate view of school reform.  This is the viewpoint promoted by the Bill Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, by Michele Rhee and Joel Klien among others.

Are charters superior to public schools?

First,  you need to understand what are charter schools? They are  usually public schools using public money  but without the direct over sight of school districts, school administrations and  school boards.  They often do not allow teachers to have a union and they usually do not have a union contract.  Charters are established by state laws and promoted by federal legislation including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Continue reading

AFT convention adopts peace resolutions

US Labor Against the War

The recently concluded national convention of the American Federation of Teachers saw two significant breakthroughs on the antiwar front.

Delegates adopted a resolution that puts the giant teacher union on new ground in opposition to the war and occupation of Afghanistan, opposing any further escalation and calling for “rapid, orderly withdrawal of all armed forces and military contractors, to begin immediately.”

In a separate but related action, AFT referred to its Executive Council a “special order” resolution on Iraqi Labor Rights that was introduced too late to go through the normal resolution process.  It was adopted unanimously at a meeting of the council that took place immediately following the convention.

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McCain attacks teachers’ unions

by Leo Casey

John McCain

In his speech last week to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers, Barack Obama was clear and unequivocal in his opposition to using public money for vouchers for private schools. At that time, Obama made it clear that he supported public school choice — the ability of students and their families to chose which public school they would attend. In taking this stance, Obama reiterated what is a longstanding position of his — he had made the same point to the National Education Association convention earlier in July, and had explicitly disowned attempts by pro-voucher partisans to spin comments he made in a primary campaign interview into support for private school vouchers. Today, John McCain chose the occasion of a speech to the august civil rights organization, the NAACP, to take on Obama — and teacher unions — on this very point. Continue reading

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