After Senate loss, fast-track fight shifts to House

WASHINGTON (PAI) – After an expected Senate loss on so-called presidential “fast-track” trade promotion authority, workers, unions and their allies are increasing their attention on the GOP-run House, where the vote is expected to be much closer and up for grabs.

Facing off against them: The combined forces of President Obama, corporate titans and the House GOP leadership.

The Senate voted 62-37 on May 22 to approve fast-track, which would let Obama and his successor jam through Congress legislation implementing so-called “free trade” pacts with limited debate, no changes, no worker rights, no environmental protections and on single up-or-down votes. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants to pass fast-track by June 30.

But workers and their environmental, community, religious, retiree and human rights allies have marshaled forces to lobby lawmakers to oppose fast-track, notably the most-dangerous “free trade” pact it would allow, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“We’ve been preparing for this fight for two years,” says Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, who is particularly outspoken about the negative impact of the TPP.

He estimates there are around 15 still-uncommitted representatives on fast-track.

The TPP, like other trade pacts, has been negotiated in secret, and Obama says he needs fast-track to keep the secrecy and assure other nations that once the pact is signed, it stays as all the nations agreed. Unions and their allies reply it’s not secret for companies, but only for the U.S. people and their lawmakers: Obama’s trade representative has 600 corporate officials and lobbyists “advising” him in the room during the talks.

“Who wants to buy a pig in a poke?” Bricklayers President James Boland asks of the TPP. “If it’s such a great deal, tell us what’s in it.

“And if I go into a union hall and make an agreement” – a contract with management – “I need to be able to explain it. If I couldn’t, I’d get thrown out at the next election,” Boland adds.

That’s what will happen to pro-fast-track lawmakers in November 2016, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a statement after the Senate roll call.

“Americans expected their Senate to have a full debate about what our future trade policies should look like. What they got instead was an abbreviated debate designed to stifle dissent and discussion. Senators voting for cloture (ending debate) and passage made it clear they believe the status quo is good enough. The facts prove otherwise and, at election time, voters will remember who was on their side and who voted to sell them out,” he predicted.

The pro-fast-track lawmakers “undermined the rights of working Americans,” he added. “Workers want good jobs and wages, not more false promises,” Gerard said. USW has already mobilized its extensive Rapid Response effort to campaign against fast-track. Cohen predicts 20,000 CWA activists will be out in the field against fast-track, too.

Unionists and their allies are also marshaling other arguments to persuade their U.S. representatives to vote against fast-track and the TPP. They include:

Fast-track “would enable changes to prescription drug prices to occur without open and full debate. Leaked versions of this secret deal suggest governments would have to pay ‘competitive, market-driven prices’ for drugs and medical devices. That sounds reasonable, but in reality it limits the ability of the U.S. government to regulate drug prices and promote the use of proven, generic drugs – two ways Medicare and Medicaid work to keep prescription drug prices affordable for retirees and low-income Americans,” said Fiesta.

  • Fast-track, by allowing two more pacts, in services and with the European Union, would threaten USPS jobs, Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando warned lawmakers in a recent letter. He said corporations and the EU would use secret trade courts – allowed by both pacts – to challenge the Postal Service’s right to be the sole carrier of first-class mail.

“Trade agreements should not have the ability to deregulate the Postal Service” or to ban it from seeking new business, such as banking in unbanked areas, a postal union plan.

  • The Senate’s fast-track vote “puts the powerful ahead of regular people,” Teamsters President Jim Hoffa declared. His union will keep fighting fast-track, because of TPP. “We will meet with members in their district offices and let them know they are jeopardizing the livelihoods of their constituents if they approve this measure.” Hoffa said fast-track’s road to the TPP “will jeopardize the U.S. economy by shipping jobs overseas and lowering wages at home” and “it will hurt democracy by making it possible for foreign corporations to pursue the overturning of laws they don’t like.

 “This is not about being against trade. It is about sticking up for what America is supposed to stand for – a place where an honest worker can earn an honest wage that supports a family. Lawmakers shouldn’t be turning their back on those they are supposed to represent,” Hoffa concluded.

  • AFSCME said fast-track, by allowing low-wage, repressive nations to ship goods freely into the U.S., would not only steal jobs but weaken food safety standards. “Winning the House vote will largely depend upon the efforts of union members and activists in the states demanding their representative vote ‘no,'” the union said. It gave a toll-free number 1-855-712-8441 for the call.

Gerard laid the blame on the GOP and corporate America. While Republicans have tried to rein in Obama’s authority elsewhere, “When it comes to trade, the majority of them are beholden to corporate backers who are salivating at the prospect of increased profits at the expense of workers here in America and around the globe.”

Photo: Bold Nebraska joined allies including AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America, Alliance for Retired Americans at Congressman Brad Ashford’s office on May 21 for a rally to urge him to VOTE NO on Fast-Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The shady trade deal is bad for workers and the environment.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.