Unions: Dem platform stronger on unfair trade deals

ORLANDO, Fla.(PAI) – The proposed Democratic Party platform for the 2016 presidential campaign includes language that is close to an outright rejection of the controversial jobs-destroying Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” pact, union leaders who monitored and attended platform committee hearings say.

Meanwhile, as the Democrats finished work on their platform in a meeting in Orlando, Fla., the Republicans, meeting in Cleveland, started work on their platform by demanding the U.S. build a wall against Mexico, declaring that coal is clean energy and inserting strong anti-LGBT language.

Indeed, their anti-LGBT views were so fierce that Rachel Hoff, the one gay delegate on the panel, said her party – a month after the anti-gay massacre in Orlando – at least “should stand up for our right not to be killed.” Tweets indicated platform writers turned Hoff down.

The TPP and universal government-run health care were the last two big issues splitting supporters of prospective nominee Hillary Clinton and her last remaining challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt. Sanders conceded to Clinton, with a hearty endorsement, on July 12.

Union leaders said the platform, like Clinton, virtually rejects the TPP, which the GOP, big business and Clinton’s former boss, President Obama are trying to push through the GOP-run Congress, even during a post-election “lame duck” session this year. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made clear unionists will hold politicians, including Clinton, to that anti-TPP pledge. Writers also dumped language implying some Dems back the TPP.

Vote to reject TPP fails

But the platform doesn’t reject the TPP by name, which is what Sanders and his backers wanted. Their amendments to outright dump it by name lost and some of his backers, chanting “sellout,” walked out. The Democratic platform panel passed the anti-trade pact language, proposed by Clinton supporter AFSCME President Lee Saunders, 117-64.

An independent federal study shows the TPP, which covers the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, would cost U.S. factory jobs, even under the best economic circumstances, and would add little to U.S. gross domestic product.

It also would include a secret pro-business trade court, with international trade attorneys as judges, that could kill any federal, state, or local law that might reduce present or future corporate profits. The trade court got trashed, the Communications Workers, who have been leading the anti-TPP campaign, said.

“We are especially glad to see the platform so firmly reject the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system” – the trade court – “which has been used time and again by transnational corporations in attempts to undermine important environmental, labor and public health laws and regulations around the globe in the pursuit of greater corporate profits.

“Secretary Clinton was right to cite ISDS special rights for corporations as a reason to oppose the TPP, and the Democratic Party’s statement against it is a positive one. The inclusion of the language opposing the ISDS system in the platform text going to the convention floor spotlights just how clearly the TPP fails the ‘high standard’ set forth in the platform language,” the union added.

“We would have preferred to see even stronger language explicitly rejecting the TPP. However, the approved platform is a clear indication of just how much of a non-starter the TPP is within the Democratic Party and the country as a whole,” CWA said. Polls show majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents oppose the TPP, but GOP and independent opposition is higher.

The panel’s decision against the TPP was “a major milestone for everyone who believes in the high standard that trade should raise wages and create good jobs,” added Trumka. But it would not have happened without a strong workers campaign “to put the brakes on TPP and forced a real, vibrant debate about ending corporate trade.”

Left unsaid: Sanders’ strong, continuing and principled opposition to all jobs-losing trade pacts, starting with NAFTA and running to and through the TPP, forced Clinton, who backed the TPP as Obama’s Secretary of State, to switch her stand on it.

Some delegates still don’t trust Dems on that issue, Trumka noted. “We will continue to point out TPP’s fundamental flaws and mobilize to defeat it, and any trade deals that don’t work for working people,” he warned.

A public option and free tuition also on agenda

There were several other positive developments coming out of the Democratic platform decisions. Passed was a commitment to add a “public option” for government-run health care, under the Affordable Care Act, but only in states with only one private insurer on the government-run exchange for the uninsured. The public option is a milder version of single-payer government-run health care, a key cause of Sanders, National Nurses United, the Steelworkers, and 20 other unions. The Sanders and Clinton campaigns collaborated on the public option.

Obama himself endorsed the public option, on July 11, in an opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He said it would help provide health insurance for most of the remaining 20 million people without it.

There was also a commitment to more funding for childhood education and free tuition for working-class and middle-class students at public colleges, wrap-around services in schools, against test-and-sanction plans, and a “recommitment to the idea that local communities should have democratic voice in their schools,” according to AFT President Randi Weingarten. That’s a slam against GOP takeovers of big-city majority-minority unionized school districts, such as Detroit.

 “Charters must reflect the neighborhoods they serve and teach all children regardless of disability, special needs, or background. We clearly oppose the idea of for-profit charters, and call for full accountability and transparency for all charter schools. This supports the original vision for charter schools: To complement, not to replace or destabilize, traditional public schools,” the platform says.

GOP platform picks up from 2012 document

Sanders’ supporters warned that business mogul Donald Trump, the GOP nominee, could outflank Democrats on trade, claiming the Republican Party could include stronger language against the TPP than Democrats had in their platform.

While the Republicans’ work got started later and was more shrouded in secrecy, several sections have been released. One calls for teaching the Bible as part of U.S. history. Another limits marriage to between one man and one woman. And a third denounces “federal second-guessing” of law enforcement officers.

Several analysts noted that since party regulars dominate its platform committee, the panel could pick up large parts of the 2012 platform on other issues. That platform included strong anti-union and anti-worker language, featuring enactment of state and national right-to-work laws.

That GOP platform also claimed it would “restore the rule of law” by blocking card-check recognition of unions, increasing enforcement of century-old federal laws against “labor violence,” and enacting legislation to let unionized firms unilaterally give workers raises without the approval of their union representative.

“We demand an end to project labor agreements, and we call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act,” that platform said. It claimed both cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually, but offered no proof.

“We salute the Republican governors and legislators who saved their states from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions,” it stated again without proof of such “fiscal disaster.” “We urge elected officials across the country to follow their lead,” that platform said. It also advocated congressional passage of legislation “to bar mandatory (union) dues for political purposes.”

Photo: Protestors gather for a demonstration against the TPP in Portland, Oregon in March 2016.  |  AP/Alex Milan Tracy


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 a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.