President seeks renewal of authority to move more jobs out of country

President Bush has asked Congress for approval of “fast track” authority. Fast track means that the president negotiates a trade agreement and Congress cannot make any changes in it; they can only vote it up or down. For most workers, fast track is the code word for giving the capitalists the opportunity to move more jobs out of the country.

Sins of NAFTA and CAFTA

With Congress back in the hands of Democrats, workers are expecting them to make up for the sins of NAFTA and CAFTA. The AFL-CIO has issued a statement saying, “Extending fast track authority would hamstring Congress’s ability to fix our broken trade policy at a time when working families are in dire need of a correction in course.”

The AFL-CIO’s statement says it all, but being the realists they and workers are, they go on to spell it out, “Any agreement that gets the expedited consideration and an up-or-down vote included in fast track must include enforceable core international worker rights and enforceable environmental standards.” The federation insisted that such an agreement also include rules on investment, government procurement, intellectual property rights and services “that strike the right balance between democratic accountability, development concerns and international obligations.”

The AFL-CIO statement goes on to call for Congress to be let into the negotiations instead of just being handed the agreement. Fast-track authority ends in June and without it, the president will no longer have the ability to negotiate trade agreements and then send them to Congress for an up-or-down vote. A denial of fast track would squelch a new trade agreement Bush is nearing completion with the World Trade Organization. Under the terms of this new agreement, the U.S. would agree to reduce its farm subsidies in exchange for the European Union reducing tariffs on their farm goods.

This agreement will be very controversial both here and abroad. The recent U.S.-Mexico Binational Family Farmer and Farmworker Congress issued an emphatic call to get “free trade” rules out of agriculture. Bush administration officials say they cannot conclude these trade negotiations before the current fast track authority runs out.

Encouraging words

Workers listening to the Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union speech heard some encouraging words from freshman Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. Webb, a critic of free trade agreements, said, “Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas.” Workers “expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace,” he added.

Backing up the AFL-CIO call for international worker rights was a statement released by a delegation of 12 international unions led by the International Trade Union Confederation at the conclusion of the gathering of the world’s political and economic elite at the recent World Economic Forum.

‘Decent work’ initiative

The “Decent Work for a Decent Life” statement issued by the 12 unions launched an international campaign to place what it calls “decent work” at the core of national and international development, trade, financial and social policies. The decent work concept covers “equal access to employment, living wages, social protection and freedom from exploitation and union rights.”

The campaign brings together the ITUC, European TUC, Global Progressive Forum, SOLIDAR and Social Alert. The ITUC is an international labor federation that was founded on Nov. 1 of last year with the dissolution of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. It represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories.

Paul S. Kaczocha works as a millwright at a steel plant in Burns Harbor, Ind. He has been a USW member for 38 years.



Paul S. Kaczocha
Paul S. Kaczocha

Steelworker Paul Kaczocha is a long-time union and civil rights activist in Gary, Indiana.