Unions demand opening of secret trade pacts

WASHINGTON (PAI) – On June 2, hundreds of unionists and their allies descended on the office of the Obama administration’s U.S. Trade Representative, demanding that controversial trade pacts that “free trade” policy would implement be opened to the public now.

They were met with security guards and locked doors – which they pounded on unsuccessfully – while chanting against Obama’s “fast-track” trade authority that would grease the skids for such pacts. And those pacts would cost U.S. jobs, workers’ rights, and more.

“Let us in. We’re U.S. citizens!” one marcher said.

The protest, led by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, federation Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, and Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, came as the U.S. House prepares to debate and vote, sometime this month, on “fast-track.”

“You can’t run, you can’t hide,” Gebre said of Obama and his trade rep, Michael Froman, at the end of the protest. “The next time, we’ll be inside,” Cohen responded.

“We’re tired of the secrecy going on around all these trade deals,” Shuler told a pre-march rally at the AFL-CIO. “The administration promised this would be the most-transparent of all the trade deals. Instead, we can’t see the text…We’re sick of relying on promises.”

“Show us the text!” the crowd chanted in response.

Fast-track is presidential trade promotion authority to let President Obama and his successor jam through legislation implementing the “free trade” pacts – not the pacts themselves – with little debate, no amendments, no worker rights, and on up-or-down majority votes in both houses of Congress. The Senate passed fast-track, 62-37 at the end of May.

Fast-track and one pact it would allow, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were the prime targets. Demonstrators wanted to present a petition to Froman demanding he open the TPP to the public and lawmakers now, not after the 12 nations involved – the U.S., Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam – agree to its final text.

Demonstrators included members of the Government Employees, the Communications Workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Office and Professional Employees, the Postal Workers, and News Guild President Bernie Lunzer. Virtually every union in the U.S., plus environmental, religious, community and civil rights groups, opposes fast-track.

Obama, big business and Republican congressional leaders all push fast-track and the trade pacts, putting pressure on undecided or wavering lawmakers before a close House vote.

The TPP pact and two others are under wraps, with lawmakers sometimes allowed to examine them in a reinforced room deep in the Capitol, without taking notes, and barred from discussing the pacts’ provisions with anyone else.

Indeed, the Obama-mandated secrecy around the pacts is so huge that the USTR censored all 11 pages of labor recommendations on TPP bargaining. Waving the results, Shuler said that “instead of sunlight, we have black magic marker.”

The recommendations, sent to Obama trade rep Michael Froman, from his labor advisory committee headed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, were completely covered when Froman finally released a “text,” months after Trumka sent the proposals.

But Froman didn’t black out Trumka’s cover letter, demanding openness – and saying the U.S. wants to bring China into talks overran expanded TPP. The TPP is the most-dangerous of the three trade pacts.

To push fast-track through the House, Obama has recently been using the “China card” to argue that the TPP would counter China. He contends that if the U.S. doesn’t set rules for Trans-Pacific trade, China  will.

But “at the most-recent Asia-Pacific Economic Community meeting, the U.S. agreed to China’s request for a study to pave the way for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific that would include China and many other nations,” Trumka’s cover letter reminds Froman.

Another speaker at the pre-march rally, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, raised the possibility that corporations could use the secret trade courts the TPP envisions to destroy collective bargaining, along with other worker rights.

Those courts, staffed by corporate trade lawyers, could trash any federal, state or local law or rule that might harm present or future corporate profits, leaked TPP text says. And the courts’ aim, it adds, is to protect those profits.

The latest TPP text – Doggett said it has changed over the weeks and months – “drives down the standards about food safety, about health and safety regulations, and about protecting the ability to organize.

“They’ve got a lot to hide in this agreement,” Doggett said at the pre-march rally.

Photo: Rally To #StopFastTrack. AFL-CIO Facebook.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed 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 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.