CONCORD, N.H. (PAI) – It was no coincidence – and he said so – that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka formally kicked off the labor federation’s campaign to derail the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” pact in Concord, N.H.
That’s because New Hampshire is the site of the first presidential primary next year, and the TPP has already become an issue on the campaign trail.
Trumka spoke at a Raise The Wages Summit in the state capital of Concord. It is one of four such forums, all in early primary or caucus states, the AFL-CIO has put together in the run-up to the start of formal voting for nominees for the Oval Office.
A prior Town Hall, in Iowa, the first caucus state, occurred before TPP was finalized and President Obama formally signed it. But even then, enough was known about the trade pact to make workers and their allies dubious.
Obama must send the pact and its implementing legislation to Congress, though he can choose when to do so. Thanks to “fast-track” presidential trade authority, lawmakers can’t change the legislation – they don’t vote on the TPP itself – and may consider it, with one up-or-down vote, only after limited debate.
Obama contends the TPP has worker rights and other protections in its text. Trumka told the crowd in Concord it doesn’t. “We have a responsibility to put real pressure on these candidates and ask them, ‘What are you going to do to raise the wages for working families?'” he said. TPP doesn’t do that.
“After six long years, the administration finally released the text of the TPP. To our disappointment but not our surprise, it is a bad deal for workers,” said Trumka. “It would drive down wages, kill jobs, give corporations special rights, hurt consumers, and jeopardize the public health.”
Earlier this year, workers and their congressional allies came within three votes in the U.S. House of killing fast-track, whose defeat would have blocked the TPP and other such job-losing “free trade” pacts, Trumka explained. Only 28 House Democrats joined the huge majority of Republicans in voting to approve fast-track.
But since fast-track enabled the TPP, Trumka said, “Congress must decide to accept or reject it” – the TPP – “once and for all.”
Otherwise, he warned, there will be more shuttered factories and more U.S. workers out of jobs, as corporations decamp to the other TPP nations, particularly those with no worker rights and low wages, in pursuit of high profits.
“Unfair trade deals have ripped apart the fabric of our nation. You know it and I know it. We’ve seen the shuttered factories. We’ve visited the towns that look like they are stuck in the 1970s. We’ve talked to the workers who lost everything, only to be told they should retrain in another field. That’s why we fought so hard against fast track. We were fighting for the future of the American dream,” Trumka declared.
“The release of the TPP text confirmed our worst suspicions: This deal would be a disaster for America. So brothers and sisters, we are going to continue to make our voices heard. We are going to fight like hell against the TPP. And when it comes up for a vote, we are going to kill this bad trade deal once and for all,” Trumka stated.
“We are going to stand united and defeat the TPP so we can start investing in working men and women again,” said Trumka.
Beating the TPP is just one part of restoring the American dream – and of the AFL-CIO’s campaign for its Raise the Wages agenda. Other sections include raising the minimum wage, strengthening and restoring the right to organize, and comprehensive immigration reform that would bring undocumented workers out of exploitative shadows.
Trumka also said the narrow fast-track loss in the House had changed the political landscape: All three Democratic presidential hopefuls now oppose the TPP. And that’s where New Hampshire really comes in.
“We have said all along the presidential candidates must explain what they will do to make our economy fairer for working families. That’s what we insisted on at our national summit in January, and that’s what you are demanding here in New Hampshire today.
“We have also been crystal clear that we do not work for any political party or candidate. We work for working people, plain and simple, because we want the freedom to live better lives, to take care of our families and to improve our jobs and our communities.
“For too long we’ve worked for the Democratic Party. In this election, we’re making the Democratic Party work for us. Heck, even last week’s Republican debate included a discussion about inequality,” Trumka commented.
“It is clear we are part of a powerful movement at an historic time and you are on the front lines. It starts with us and it starts here in New Hampshire. We’re building collective power in the workplace, in the economy and in politics. From now until the New Hampshire primary and beyond, we need to keep up the pressure,” he declared.
Even as Trumka spoke, other union leaders joined him and the presidents of the Steelworkers and the Communications Workers, who strongly opposed the TPP when Obama released the text the week before, on Nov. 5: Despite Obama’s “promises and reassurances,” TPP’s “final text is even worse than prior reports predicted. No wonder it was concealed for so long,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United. Nurses are “particularly appalled” by its continued protection of drug company pricing monopolies and “expansion of the ability of corporate giants to use corporate tribunals to seek to overturn public health and safety laws.”
“Americans’ fears over how the TPP will tamp down on wages, allow foreign companies to sue governments and create even larger trade deficits due to a lack of currency manipulation controls are very real and justified,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa.
“And because Congress approved fast-track trade promotion authority earlier this year, there’s not a damn thing elected officials can do about it except oppose ratification of this bad deal when it comes to a vote. Officials talked about side deals and special arrangements they say will improve the agreement. But they are unenforceable and won’t help protect the jobs of hardworking Americans. That’s why there is only one right answer for lawmakers when it comes to TPP: Just say no,” Hoffa concluded.
“Proponents of this un-American agreement have no intention of supporting job growth in the U.S. – unless it’s the growth of jobs that pay slave wages,” Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley said in a joint statement with NNU the week before.
Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the TPP represents “flawed trade and economic policy that puts corporate special interests above the interests of working people and their communities. At a time when income inequality continues to rise, and working families are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, this goes in the wrong direction.”
And the TPP “looks awfully similar to past trade deals that have paved the way for outsourcing, lifting up multinational corporations at the expense of working families and consumers,” added new Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson.
Photo: Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO NOW Blog.