The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 Asian and Pacific countries that few people have heard of. If enacted, the TPP would encompass nearly 40 percent of the global economy ($27.5 trillion) and affect the lives of 800 million people. The stated goal of the partnership is to eliminate tariffs, and increase the flow of investment capital between signatories. Concealed within this naked move by the global One Percent to squeeze as much profit as possible from the planet is the mechanism for multinational corporations to subvert democracy and legal process through the implementation of secret tribunals.
Last Thursday, CWA president Larry Cohen agreed with MSNBC’s Ed Schultz’s assessment that regarding the TPP, “the president [Obama] clearly is on the wrong side of the issue.” Not only would the trade deal result in the loss of jobs and diminish the power of U.S. workers to collectively bargain it would also grant special powers to multinational corporations. Cohen spoke passionately about the TPP’s broad side attack on democracy: “If any of these nations improve standards for workers, if they improve environmental standards, or safety standards that cut corporate profits the TPP allows these corporations to try to stop those moves by suing for billions of dollars.”
Candice Johnson, communications director for the Communications Workers of America, explains, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership will give special rights to corporations. It will allow them to challenge any laws that could impact expected future profits.” Citing the recent example of a fracking ban passed by the people of Denton, Texas, under the TPP Denton “could be sued for the amount of profit [the corporation] expected.” The suit would be filed, not in any U.S. court, but in a “secret tribunal” run by multinational corporations.
Just today Johnson learned that under the articles of the trade deal, “U.S. companies can set up overseas dummy corporations for the sole purpose of suing the United States” for losses of expected profit. In other words, any regulation or limitation of corporate profitability would result in that profit being extracted directly from the citizenry without their consent, or even awareness.
Often referred to as NAFTA on steroids, the TPP is not limited to the manufacturing and agricultural economic sectors like its predecessor. President Obama’s proposed trade deal would include the service sector, and according to Johnson, “25 percent of the work done in the United States would be considered ‘tradeable'” or eligible for “export.”
Considering that of the Communications Workers of America represents 150,000 call center workers whose jobs would be immediately “tradeable” if the TPP is enacted it is understandable why President Larry Cohen has sworn to keep his members mobilized against “the joint efforts of the State Department and The Chamber of Commerce … to shred our rights.”
While the White House has made the Trans-Pacific Partnership a key feature in the President’s “pivot” to Asia and many have raised the specter of an ascendant Chinese economy to argue for the necessity of the TPP, Johnson points out that partnering with countries like Brunei is not the way to do it. CWA is not against trade, “there could be a trade deal with Vietnam” Johnson offers, “so long as workers rights have the same attention paid to them as investor rights.”
Speaking from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s embassy in Washington D.C., Chi Dung Le from the economic section agrees that any trade deal must “improve the lives of working people.” Le recognizes that “Vietnam is a developing economy” and that while “not on the same level” as all of proposed members of the TPP, “economic integration” is the future of the Socialist Republic.
As one of the proposed partners in the TPP, the low average wage of Vietnamese workers ($.70 an hour) is often cited by organized labor as evidence that jobs currently held by U.S. workers will be shipped overseas. Some say the legitimate concerns of job losses are exacerbated by the thinly veiled chauvinism many unions indulge in. They note that framing the TPP as a struggle between U.S. and foreign workers not only fosters latent racism, it is deceptive. The Chamber of Commerce is the creator, sustainer, and should the White House have its way, the largest beneficiary of the TPP.
Chi Dung Le says Vietnam, like any good union, “is fighting for a well balanced agreement” with its former enemy. He is adamant, “we won’t lower standards, or serve an interest… that does not improve the lives and economic position of the people.”
CWA has always built broad coalitions to win with their partners what would’ve been impossible to win alone. Given the powerful, and well funded, interests behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is certain that new alliances must be formed if organized labor hopes to stop the TPP.
Photo: South Korea workers carry their unions’ flags during a rally against their government’s labor policy in Seoul, South Korea Nov. 9. About 20,000 workers denounced overall policies of South Korean President Park Geun-hye government on the issues of non-regular workers, privatization plans for the utility companies and current government’s faulty economic policies, including TPP. | Ahn Young-joon/AP