The Trans-Pacific Partnership was officially signed by the negotiating countries in Auckland a couple of days ago. This received almost no news coverage, although it will when it goes up for ratification in Congress. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka reminds us why the TPP is so awful and something that we must demand our politicians vote against:
From the outset, the AFL-CIO provided detailed and substantive suggestions for improving this agreement and evidence to support our positions. On everything from labor enforcement to investment rules, we offered a path forward. Unfortunately, our policy recommendations were ignored, as were those from the environmental, consumer, public health, global development and manufacturing sectors. That’s what you get from secret negotiations driven by corporate and investor interests.
There are countless ways the TPP would be disastrous for working people. Here are a few of the most egregious.
After much talk about labor standards, the TPP falls woefully short. It retains the totally discretionary nature of enforcement and does nothing to streamline the process so labor cases will be addressed without delay, leaving workers with no assurance of improved conditions. The “consistency” agreements negotiated with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei don’t add any responsibilities beyond the current labor chapter and give Vietnam five years to come fully into compliance, even though it will receive the benefits of the TPP immediately. There is no deal to address longstanding labor problems in Mexico that have not been remedied despite 20 years of efforts to enforce NAFTA.
The TPP would take a sledgehammer to American manufacturing. The auto rules of origin are so weak that a car or truck made primarily in China or another non-TPP country would still qualify for trade benefits. Popular “Buy American” rules are watered down, requiring the U.S. government to treat bidders from every TPP country as if they were American. Finally, the lack of any enforceable currency manipulation rules means foreign nations can continue to cheat U.S. companies and workers. These features make the TPP an outsourcing deal, not a trade deal.
To add insult to injury, more than 9,000 new foreign companies will be empowered to bypass U.S. courts and access a private justice system — investor-state dispute settlement — that allows them to hold U.S. federal, state and local government decisions ransom. Let that soak in for a minute. Wal-Mart’s Japan subsidiary could sue Seattle for denying a building permit. ExxonMobil’s Vietnamese affiliate could come after the United States for rules and regulations that protect our air and water.
The TPP is also a giveaway to Big Pharma, expanding monopoly rights that will allow drug companies to further drive up costs for patients. These rules are far worse than the ones in the Peru, Colombia and Panama deals negotiated by former President George W. Bush. Doctors Without Borders says the TPP would “jeopardize people’s access to affordable medicines.”
We’ve been down this road before. The Wall Street and Washington elite always tell us that this time will be different. The truth is these trade deals have ripped apart the fabric of our nation. We see the shuttered factories. We visit towns that look like they are stuck in the past. We talk to the workers who lost everything, only to be told they should retrain in another field — but Congress has been slow to fund and authorize those programs. From NAFTA to CAFTA to Korea and now the TPP, these agreements have continually put profits over people. By driving down our wages, they make our economy weaker, not stronger.
There is almost nothing good in this agreement for working people. It’s also worth noting that the labor movement in nations like Vietnam oppose the TPP as well, fearing it will make it much harder to improve conditions in their factories and sweatshops. The TPP is great if you are an elite of any of these nations or a corporate head, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. For the rest of us, such as those who want to protect our environment or labor conditions and don’t want those protections thrown away in an extra-legal court system or those of us who think that American workers who don’t have access to college educations should be able to have a good job that allows them to live a decent life or those of us who believe that Vietnamese and Malaysian workers need to have their rights expanded, the TPP is a complete disaster.
Unfortunately, because of President Obama’s support that is combined with key Democrats in west coast states with large ports that send and receive products to Asia, the TPP is almost certain to past. It would be nice if pressure was placed on relevant senators to make them fear for their political lives if they vote for the TPP, but between the 6-year election cycle for them and the lack of primary options from the left, there’s really little hope here. It was fast-track where the real decision was made. We will be living with the consequences for a long time.
Finally, the TPP is another in a seven decade series of defeats on major bills for organized labor. On everything from Taft-Hartley in 1947 to overturning parts of T-H in 1966 to the failure of a meaningful Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill in 1978 to NAFTA to the TPP to many other labor bills, the reality is that organized labor has never had the political power to win or defeat bills that were inimical to its most dear interests. Even when labor had more power than it does today, the combination of Republicans and conservative (or pro-business, which is not always the same thing) Democrats was always enough to beat it, at least since 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was the last comprehensive labor bill to become law in the United States. That’s a very long time.