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Key Labor Voices Say: New Strategy Needed To Stop TPP and TTIP!

Labor Needs a Strategy of Mass Struggle to Defeat the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Deals
By Ed Grystar

The negotiations for “free trade” deals between the U.S., Europe and the Pacific continue to proceed in secrecy and with a blackout by the mainstream media. While ostensibly branded as trade negotiations whose aim is to increase trade by abolishing tariffs, these deals are essentially power grabs by multinational corporations to remove regulatory barriers on their profits. Of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. The majority would strip governments, workers and citizens of health and safety regulations, environmental protections, food safety rules and other policies benefitting the public.

Because of this blackout, the public and Congress itself is prevented from knowing the details of the talks.[1] Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch reports that it is only through “leaks” of the actual negotiations that much of the information of these deals is made public. However, over 600 corporate “trade advisors” have full access to the texts.

Both trade deals reveal the utter collapse of democracy in the USA and the complete subservience of both major parties to the whims of moneyed interests. Obama, who campaigned on “transparency” in 2008 and pledged to avoid secret NAFTA-type deals, has signed a 2010 agreement with the other countries that keeps the negotiations secret.

Proposals included in these Frankenstein-like deals roll back the minimal banking regulations enacted to protect consumers. Any governmental financial regulation would be subordinated to the extreme version of a deregulated system contained in the upcoming proposals. A tax on financial transactions is not permitted. In health care, exemptions for big pharmaceutical companies to extend patents from eight to 12 years and perhaps even longer would raise prices and restrict access to many needed drugs. The TPP weakens food standards by altering or eliminating any regulations that ban or restrict such things as pesticides and toxins so they comply with any weaker international standards. Governments would also be penalized if they offered preferences like “prevailing wages”, buy American, or “sweatshop free” since the language in the TPP says that all corporations in the countries that sign the agreement must have equal access to the public monies spent by national, state, and local governments. Both Agreements aim to create new markets for private investors by opening up public services to privatization in critical areas such as health, education and water.

The TPP cannot be changed or modified by any new president or Congress. Once it’s signed, all modifications must be agreed to by all countries. If a new Congress or president wants to sever or get out of the agreement, there is also a ten-year look-back period when corporations can still sue for damages.

To administer these and many more horrendous proposals, a major goal is to establish and impose “foreign investor privileges and rights” and create a private enforcement mechanism through a procedure called the “investor-state” system. This new system will allow foreign corporations to challenge health, safety, environmental laws and regulations in individual countries. Incredibly, it will grant corporations and investors equal rights with a country’s government and above its citizens. This means that corporations can avoid national courts and challenge governments before courts of private lawyers operating under rules of the World Bank and the UN. These “courts” would be empowered to grant taxpayer compensation for domestic regulatory policies that corporations and investors believe diminish their “future profits.” Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch has appropriately called the TPP a “corporate coup d’état.”

While the mainstream corporate media essentially ignore these secret trade negotiations, they also conveniently never ask why the Republicans, who supposedly despise Obama and his “liberal agenda” and have majorities in the House and Senate, suddenly now have total confidence in his ability to negotiate and complete these treaties. Many Republican leaders are pushing for “fast track” authority in Congress.

None other than Paul Ryan, who is portrayed as one who abhors all things emanating from the Democrats and is the current Republican chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in Congress is quoted in The New York Times of February 7, 2015 that granting Mr. Obama fast track authority is the right thing to do, “sooner than later is my preference,” he said. Teaming up with Ryan on the Senate side is the ranking Democrat in the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden, who has joined with Republicans to push for fast track authority.[2]

How can this be? The media pundits and liberals constantly complain of a gridlocked Congress with supposed intractable ideological differences between the two parties? It’s a phony difference without distinction and shows that big money pulls the strings of both parties and is the real power in Congress. When the interests of capital are involved, suddenly the two parties of big business find common ground to get things done that benefit the ruling class. After all, this Congress is now the richest in history — with the median wealth of an individual member now over 1 million dollars according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The interests of the working people have no organized expression in this rigged setup.

The naked power of big business, the secrecy, duplicity of the two major parties and outrageous examples in these proposed trade proposals must be widely disseminated in a mass “boots on the ground” and media campaign by labor. The AFL-CIO and many individual unions are on record as opposed to these deals in their present form and are listed with numerous other organizations that are against these deals. But labor’s overall political strategy continues to rely on an ineffective top-down, inside-the-beltway lobbying approach rather than using its resources to educate and mobilize a real grassroots movement.

Mike Dolan of the Citizens Trade Campaign summed it up in the following quote: “Currently, the European movement against the TTIP is better organized in terms of protest than its U.S. counterpart, especially when it comes to turn-out, crowd-building, and militancy of messages and tactics. I was reminded of this during a TTIP demonstration in Brussels in March 2014 outside the European Commission headquarters, the windows of which ended up covered with milk. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the capital of the great trade hegemon and the headquarters of so many of the organizations that comprise the fair trade /coalitions, even the mobilization for a small protest during the negotiations in December 2014 was a challenge.”

Given the secrecy and extremely negative consequences that will occur upon passage, one has to ask where the outrage of labor is and who do they picture as villains? Can labor continue to defend a president, their “labor management partners,” and the two major political parties that all openly advocate the surrendering of their ability to negotiate, amend and/or alter a major piece of legislation? Why are the central labor councils and other union resources not mobilized with the other organizations to hold public town hall meetings across the country? Why not picket lines at Congressional and corporate offices? Where are the union and community phone banks that can be utilized to mobilize the membership and public into action and form the foundation of a real alternative grassroots movement against the corporate takeover of our society?

Because the U.S. labor leaders are beholden to the failed policy of “labor management cooperation” and a political strategy that is conditioned on supporting Democrats, their approach to defeating these deals is a weak and compromised approach from the start. It’s apparent that without organized pressure from below, they are either incapable or unwilling to mobilize labor’s membership and build an independent movement that is not only necessary but entirely possible given the clear class nature of these corporate attacks.

These deals are bad not only for working people but they also essentially destroy any pretense of democracy in the U.S. and replace it with the private rule of capitalists. Labor campaigned for and spent hundreds of millions of dollars of union money to elect President Obama, who returns the favor by openly campaigning for these secretive corporate takeovers — and labor’s only response is to send an email in protest? Labor spends untold time extolling the virtues of “labor management harmony” yet their erstwhile corporate “partners” who are the real forces behind the monstrous deals continue to escape unscathed.

It’s hard to gain credibility and win followers if your message is not clear. As long as the song of harmony between labor and capital is the foundation of labor’s strategy, its program to defend workers and defeat these trade deals will be inherently weakened. Recognizing the incompatibility of any partnership with these capitalist forces and their political allies is the starting point for developing a real people’s campaign to stop these trade deals and move labor to an offensive position.

Why not start with an honest dialogue with the rank-and-file membership about the real face of capital and its political allies who are bent on destroying their jobs, public services, and communities with unfettered capitalism.

A real commitment to building grassroots power is the only foundation that can win. The ugly proposals inside these trade deals can and should be used as examples to the rank and file of why labor needs a new approach grounded in education, mobilization, and independent politics. A labor movement that fights can win. A labor movement that partners with capital and a corrupt two-party political system is destined to lose.

— March 1, 2015

(Ed Grystar has over 40 years of experience in the labor, political, peace and healthcare movements. He has worked as a steelworker, teacher, and for a number of labor organizations. He served as president of the Butler County (PA) United Labor Council for 15 years. He can be reached at egrystar@aol.com.)


Endnotes:

[1] New information has surfaced since this article by Ed Grystar was written regarding public and Congressional access to the TPP agreement. Members of Congress are no longer prevented from reading the document (or parts of it), but they must travel to the basement of the Commerce Department Building in D.C. to find it — and they are still prevented from taking notes and bringing phones, cameras, recording devices, etc. It has been reported that only one senator, Alan Grayson (D-FL), has made an attempt to read the document. [click here to go back]

[2] Sources in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have reported that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee, is trying to slow down the “fast-track” authority, and there is talk about adding some labor and environmental protections. Slowing down the fast track, of course, is not good enough; the entire deal must be stopped in its tracks. Also, from NAFTA and similar “free trade” agreements in Europe, we have learned that the labor and environmental protections added to these fundamentally anti-labor and anti-environmental agreements are not worth the paper they are printed on. The reason for this is simple: The provisions that call for removing “barriers to free trade” (that is, existing labor and environmental laws, among others) always trump whatever “labor or environmental clauses” are inserted, be it through side agreements or in the body of the agreements themselves. [click here to go back]


Stop the TPP in Its Tracks! Repeal NAFTA!
By Al Rojas

A new "free trade" agreement — the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP — is steamrolling our way.

Many unions have issued strong statements against the TPP, as has the national leadership of the AFL-CIO — but the issue is not being given the attention it deserves from the labor movement. In Europe and Latin America they organize mass strikes, and general strikes, when attacks of this magnitude come down the pike.

It reminds me of the same overall passive response by labor back in 1992-1994, when the bosses and their paid representatives in the government rammed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) down our throats.

As I look back at those years, I am angered by labor's passive approach. There were some exceptions, mostly emanating from the rank-and-file and by some maverick locals and labor councils, such as the San Francisco Labor Council. Our LCLAA Chapter in Sacramento was among them. We took the lead, with a strong active participation of the rank-and-file, in organizing public forums and marches, and pushing resolutions for adoption by labor bodies locally and nationally. Many of these actions were initiated by SEIU Local 1000. We even organized labor delegations to Mexico to visit the major U.S. runaway shops that had moved to a country where they could hire low-wage workers at $4 per day.

As a rank-and-file, District Council president of my union, SEIU Local 1000, I worked hard with my union to help launch a national fightback against NAFTA. We predicted at the time that NAFTA would destroy jobs and the economy south of the border — not just good union jobs with benefits here at home. We predicted that NAFTA would increase the numbers of workers and youth fleeing their countries looking for a way to feed their families. We warned that the unstoppable corporate greed would fuel a massive destruction of jobs and would most especially hit indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America. All this happened.

But what we could not predict was the scope of the damage. What has taken place over these 20 years is worse than anything we could have imagined: Millions have fled to the United States, as their countries have been literally destroyed by NAFTA, CAFTA and the other "free trade" agreements.

Those were the days of Democrat President Bill Clinton. Not only did Clinton push and sign NAFTA, he initiated "Operation Gatekeeper" which was aimed at sealing U.S. borders to keep out the people fleeing for their survival and that of their families. It was forced migration “Made in the USA.”

The response of the politicians in Washington was to build a new electronic Wall of Shame on the border. But when the bosses needed cheap labor, they created a new, updated “Bracero” Program — the so-called "guest-worker" programs — where agricultural workers and other manual laborers were brought in on a temporary basis to toil in horrendous conditions, without labor rights, and with the threat of being deported if they protested their unacceptable conditions. So, as good jobs were being outsourced to Mexico, cheap workers were being brought in to work in near slave labor conditions.

Over the past 20 years this whole globalization agenda — what many people call a "neoliberal" agenda — has been expanded, with unions being attacked left and right, with "right to work" laws being extended to states like Michigan and Wisconsin, with the privatization of public services and all the rest. Much of this, it should be noted, occurred at a time when Democrats held majorities in both houses of Congress. And now we have come full circle with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement under Obama. The large corporations are having a field day at workers' expense.

Labor cannot sit back and let this assault on working families continue. A few speeches by labor officials denouncing the TPP and/or a timid lobbying campaign of elected officials will do nothing to stop these attacks. In fact, it will only fuel the greedy bosses' appetites for more, as they know they can get away with murder.

It's time to connect the dots. It's time to build alliances in the streets and at the workplaces to fight back. It's time to organize, including with our sisters and brothers south of the border and with their organizations. It’s time to mobilize in massive numbers.

Let's wake up and take action before it is too late. There is still time!

Stop the Fast-Tracking of TPP!
Repeal NAFTA, CAFTA and all other “Free Trade” Deals!

(Al Rojas is the president of the Frente de Mexicanos en el Exterior (FME), based in Sacramento, Calif. He is a founding member, along with César Chávez, of the United Farm Workers/UFW. He can be reached at nadm916@aol.com.)


What Lessons Can We Learn from Labor’s Defeats in Wisconsin in 2011 and 2015?

Now that Governor Walker has signed the “right-to-work” bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature, whose purpose is to severely weaken private-sector unions, it is high time for trade unionists to step back and ask ourselves how it is that we have come to this critical juncture.

After all, not so long ago Wisconsin was a solid “blue” state, a stronghold of union power, with a progressive tradition associated with Robert M. La Follette Sr. While the setbacks to the Wisconsin labor movement are part and parcel of the corporate class’s across-the-board assaults against unions, the state’s experience has some distinctive features that warrant special scrutiny.
Perhaps the best place to begin is to recall what happened in 2011 with the election of Governor Scott Walker and his cronies, who took over the state’s legislature. Once elected, Walker lost no time in unleashing his war against the state’s public-sector unions.

When Wisconsin workers occupied the Capitol and took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands in February and March 2011 to defend their unions and living standards, the effect was electrifying. Workers throughout the U.S. and the world were elated to see American workers taking such militant actions, reminiscent of the 1930s. Messages of solidarity poured in. “We are all Wisconsin!” was heard around the globe. The fight against the bosses’ union-busting and austerity offensive was at last being joined by masses of U.S. workers.

But fast forward now to the lead article of the June 7, 2012 Wall Street Journal, which notes in the wake of Walker’s victory:

“Organized labor, reeling from blows to government workers in Wisconsin and California elections, is grappling with the prospect of diminished political clout and fewer members in public-sector unions that have formed the core of the movement’s power in recent years.” The article goes on to point out that AFSCME’s membership in Wisconsin fell 45% after the Wisconsin legislature approved the law pushed through by Walker, which barred a union shop and made union membership optional.

So what went wrong in Wisconsin leading to the current crisis?

In the beginning of this struggle, labor leaders, with some significant dissenters, settled on a strategy of agreeing to Walker’s economic demands, which were that union workers in the public-sector pick up a significant part of the tab for their health care and pension benefits. These concessions were announced publicly — without a vote taken of the affected workers—and amounted to over $100 million. But Walker rebuffed the idea that this was a sufficient basis to bring about a settlement of his dispute with the unions involved. Walker’s appetite having been whetted, he continued to demand that the public-sector unions agree to having their members’ collective-bargaining rights stripped away, with police and firefighters excepted.

Dissenters strenuously argued that the state was flush with money and there was no justification whatever for cutting workers’ benefits. Indeed, Walker’s budget included tax breaks for corporations and the rich that would cost the state of Wisconsin taxpayers $2.3 billion over the next decade. What was needed was to increase taxes on the wealthy, not balance the budget or reduce any deficit on the backs of the workers.

But the other question raised by dissenters was this: In conducting negotiations with Walker, would it not have been infinitely better to begin by taking a firm stand against any givebacks? Why start off negotiations with Walker and his fellow reactionaries by conceding so much without giving a massive fightback movement a chance to get off the ground in support of a “No Cuts!” demand, along with building the campaign to prevent obliterating workers’ collective bargaining rights?

The reason this is so important is that it gave legitimacy to the utterly false notion that public-sector union workers are overly compensated. In this age of austerity, nothing pleases the corporate class more than to have union leaders say, “Yes, our members are willing to ‘share in the sacrifice’ and we agree that they must accept cuts in wages and benefits.” And of course the right wing in Wisconsin was happy to run with that kind of glowing endorsement of its position. It is particularly outrageous to target public workers because during the past three decades the wealth of the rich has risen astronomically, thanks in large part to their tax rates going down.

From Mass Action to an Electoral Strategy

With the occupation of the Capitol and the gigantic demonstrations reaching a showdown stage, something had to give. The South Central Federation of Labor in Wisconsin adopted a resolution calling for exploration of the idea of a general strike as a possible next step.

If the labor movement had united on a national basis at that point and called a truly massive Solidarity Day 3 “March on Madison!” it could well have spurred more far-reaching actions by the Wisconsin labor movement, including a generalized work stoppage and mass civil disobedience. In the absence of such national support, Walker‘s legislation was approved, and the struggle was then diverted to electoral channels by labor leaders and the Democratic Party.

First it was the failed effort to elect a more liberal justice to the Wisconsin Supreme Court; then the first efforts to recall Republican state senators; then labor’s losing campaign in the Democratic primary to elect Kathleen Falk as the party’s candidate for governor (who, by the way, would not agree to the goal of a full restoration of Walker’s public-service cuts or restoration of public workers’ benefits, and campaigned on her record of slashing $10 million from workers’ wages and benefits when she was Dane County Executive), and finally the attempt to recall Walker and elect Tom Barrett governor, which was decisively defeated.

Barrett is truly a piece of work. As Milwaukee mayor, he sought union concessions that went beyond those mandated by Walker’s collective-barraging law, according to an AFSCME statement. In a debate with Walker, he made clear he was not labor’s candidate. He also said that he would not increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy. During the outpouring of opposition to Walker’s budget, Barrett proposed an “alternative budget repair bill” that included Walker’s cuts to benefits and pensions, but extended them to police and fire fighters, whom Walker had spared.

The Wisconsin labor movement was deeply divided in the recall campaign. According to the exit polls, 38% of union households voted for Walker, as did 67% of male blue-collar workers.

As Bruce A. Dixon, managing editor of Black Agenda Report, wrote:

“Political campaigns are pretty much where movements go to die, get betrayed or are stillborn because turning a movement or near movement into a campaign robs it of the very specific features …  which make movements potent and often unpredictable political actors. When movements become campaigns, their participants lose their independence and initiative. Instead of being ready and willing to act outside the law, they become its most loyal supporters. And instead of looking to their own shared values, they look to political candidates and elected officials who must remain inside the elite-defined rules of political decorum and law to preserve their candidacies and/or careers.”

For the labor movement to shift its focus from independent mass action in the streets to supporting Democratic Party politicians was a sure recipe for defeat. The Wisconsin experience underscores again the need for the U.S. labor movement to establish independent labor/community coalitions and run candidates for public office, based on a program reflecting the needs and aspirations of the working class majority, and with candidates accountable to the base. Such an independent working class political movement could go a long way toward unifying the working class and cementing ties with the youth, students, communities of color, and other progressive sectors of the population.

The 2015 Defeat

According to the New York Times (2/27/15), “Similar to ‘right-to-work’ laws in 24 other states, the [Wisconsin] bill would prevent unions from requiring dues or other fees from workers they represent in collective bargaining, a crippling restraint.” The Times also notes that the bill is almost verbatim from a model provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is tied to the Koch brothers, who have announced they will spend $900 million in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Meanwhile the cancer continues to spread. Thirteen other states have pending “right-to-work” bills. “In addition, at the behest of the construction industry, legislation is pending in 18 states to repeal ‘prevailing wage’ laws, which require private sector bidders on taxpayer-financed construction projects to pay wages that are in line with those for comparable work in the locality.”  (New York Times, 2/27/15)

So What Is To Be Done?

The survival of the labor moment as an effective social force is today in serious jeopardy and needs to be addressed without delay. We urge that union meetings at the local, state and regional levels be organized to take a hard look at where we are at and what we need to do to counteract the corporate class’s offensive.

To be sure, the best course would be for the major unions on the national level to join together to convene an emergency Congress of Labor to get the ball rolling on an alternative strategy and an alternative program, one that recognizes the enormous power the labor movement still has at its command — especially when allied with community partners with complementary interests — if only it would use that power to mobilize millions to defend our rights, wages, benefits and working conditions, and rescind the repressive measures that have so severely weakened our movement.

The strategy being pursed at this time — depending on the politicians of the major political parties to make the needed changes and bail us out — is certainly not working! It’s time for a change!!

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