WASHINGTON – Saying that “it’s not just us” in the labor movement who oppose the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says a wide-ranging coalition has already formed and is growing, to stop the scheme.
And it’s apparently picking up bipartisan support, too, for often-divergent reasons.
Working through the night on Oct. 4 in Atlanta – and disregarding protests outside their closed doors – trade bargainers for the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations reached agreement on a formal TPP on Oct. 5.
The pact would not only lower or eliminate tariffs on products coming into the U.S. from the 11 nations – including labor-repressive countries such as Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam – but also would give corporations virtually free rein to go to secret trade courts to override federal, state and local laws that could endanger present or future profits.
All those provisions have led unions and workers to describe the TPP as yet another, and the worst, in a long line of so-called “free trade” pacts stretching back to NAFTA 20 years ago. Congress must vote up or down within 90 days on implementing legislation for the TPP once President Obama sends it Capitol Hill, and without changes or amendments.
While the complete TPP text has yet to be unveiled, “If it’s anything like what we’ve already seen, we’ll be opposing it and we’ll be opposing it vigorously,” Trumka told a small press conference on workers’ rights on Oct. 6, the day after bargainers signed the TPP.
“It’ll make our members a little more skeptical – and a little more determined to stop it,” he added. Other union leaders agreed. Steelworkers President Leo Gerard spoke for many:
“From what we know, the draft TPP threatens the future of production and employment. It compromises the so-called 21st century standards that were supposed to form the foundation for this agreement. It will deal a critical blow to workers and their standard of living in the United States.”
While the final version “will contain some new bells and whistles, from what we have seen and know, at its core the hastily concluded TPP deal will simply continue today’s outdated, disastrous approach to trade. This TPP deal shouldn’t even be submitted to Congress and, if it is, it should be quickly rejected,” he added.
“You only have to look at the consistently dismal job numbers in manufacturing to understand what every manufacturing worker already knows. We have been on the losing end of trade deals. Once again, it appears that misguided foreign policy and global corporate interests have trumped sound economics and the opportunity to get things right. Our negotiators are trying to beat the clock to close a deal so they can rush it through Congress before next year’s elections.”
President Obama has said that worker rights were written into the TPP’s text – an assertion Gerard brushed aside.
“While supporters tout the deal, those promises” about worker rights “will fall on deaf ears,” Gerard said. U.S. workers “had to fight to get our trade rules enforced in the face of inadequate enforcement and constant cheating by our trading partners. Even the best rules, which were not included in TPP, if unenforced, are essentially worthless.
The TPP is also picking up bipartisan opposition, but for varying reasons, both in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail.
“It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multi-national corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said.
In both a press release and in his response to an AFL-CIO questionnaire, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., a top Democratic hopeful, blasted it, as did another Democratic contender, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leader in overall national Democratic polls, did not immediately comment.
Sanders called the TPP “continuation of a failed approach to trade which benefits large multi-national corporations and Wall Street, but which is a disaster for working families…I will do everything I can to defeat it.”
Billionaire developer Donald Trump, the current leader in the GOP presidential polls, called the TPP “terrible” and blasted Obama trade deal bargainers for “incompetence.” He did not say what he would do differently.
The other business executive in the Republican race, ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, has said “the devil is in the details” and called on Obama to release the TPP text.
And Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose panel wrote the “fast track” law that lets Obama send the TPP to Congress, called it “a mediocre deal that fails to set high-standard trade rules.” It “appears to fall woefully short” in key details, he added.
Photo: Protest against TPP in downtown Atlanta. | Blogspot