U.S. to push worker rights trade case vs. Guatemala

WASHINGTON (PAI) — Saying the Guatemalan government did not live up to its own worker rights commitments, the Obama administration will push its trade case against the Central American nation, Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, announced. It’s the first-ever U.S. case involving worker rights filed against a trading partner.

“Our goal in taking action today remains the same as it has always been: To ensure that Guatemala implements the labor protections to which its workers are entitled,” he told the press conference. The suit “is a means toward that goal, not an end in itself,” he added.

The 7-year-old pact that covers Guatemala and other Central American nations includes some worker rights protections, Froman and Deputy Labor Secretary Christopher Lu all said. Guatemala is violating an enforcement plan it signed 18 months ago, Froman said. He added the legal case shows the administration is serious about protecting worker rights.

 “We remain hopeful that Guatemala can succeed in producing concrete improvements for workers on the ground, which would send a positive signal to the world that would help attract investment, expand economic activity, and promote inclusive growth.”

One concrete measure Guatemalan lawmakers are working on would strengthen penalties against employers who break that nation’s labor laws, he added. Froman said the U.S., concurrent with the suit, is still committed to helping Guatemala protect workers’ rights.

“Six years ago, the AFL-CIO, together with Guatemalan unions, filed a petition concerning widespread and serious labor rights violations in Guatemala, including numerous murders of trade unionists not being addressed or investigated by the government,” Richard Trumka said.

“Since the filing, Guatemala has repeatedly made promises to protect and respect labor rights, but has consistently failed to act. This is why we applaud” the Obama administration’s filing and demand that arbitration about the abuses resume, he told the press conference.

“When CAFTA was signed, both parties promised to enforce their own labor laws and respect international labor standards, so increased trade and investment would lead to better jobs and economic opportunities. This has not been the reality for Guatemala’s workers.

 “Since 2007, over 70 Guatemalan unionists have been murdered for exercising their fundamental rights, while many more have been fired. We cannot remain silent over the ongoing abuses of worker rights and the violence against trade unionists,” he said.

But Froman’s Sept. 18 statement, which drew support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and from leading congressional Democrats involved with trade, comes as the administration again prepares a push to get lawmakers to enact so-called “fast track” trade promotion authority, in the lame-duck session that begins after the Nov. 4 election.

Fast-track would let any president push trade pacts through Congress on single up-or-down votes with no changes and no requirements for enforceable worker rights. Obama wants fast-track so he can push through three pacts Froman is negotiating now: One with 12 nations around the Pacific Rim, one with the European Union and a third on trade in services, including government services.

Photo: A demonstrator carries a sign that reads in Spanish “Guatemala bleeds” during a protest against violence in Guatemala City. There are about 17 deaths per day in Guatemala City, a city of 2 million. (AP/Moises Castillo)

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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