Demonstrations around the world are being held on January 31 to protest a bill before the US Congress that would expedite passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal being negotiated in secret, by granting it Trade Promotion (Fast Track) Authority.
(One of those January 31 demonstrations will be held in Austin at 5:30 P.M. at the south gate of the Capitol on 11th Street.)
Supporters of TPP, including President Obama, are hoping that Congress will soon take action on granting fast track authority for TPP.
The US is negotiating the TPP with 11 other Pacific Rim countries.
It’s the latest in a series of international trade agreements negotiated by the US government. These trade deals have cost workers jobs, stagnated wages, degraded the environment, eroded local economies, and hurt small businesses.
TPP has been negotiated in secret, but leaked excerpts of the agreement suggest that if the trade deal goes through, domestic regulations affecting labor relations, banking, consumer protection, and the environment would be undermined.
“Trade agreements (like TPP) are no longer just about tariffs and quotas,” said Larry Cohen, president of CWA. “They are about the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the jobs we hold. We cannot abdicate this process to non-elected representatives. We cannot let foreign policy objectives trump domestic concerns and in the process unravel our own democracy instead of strengthening others.”
But Congress will abdicate its authority, if it passes the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus(D-Montana); Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan).
This so-called fast track bill would limit congressional debate and review of the TPP treaty once it is finalized.
During a January 23 nationwide CWA union hall meeting, Cohen described some of the actions that CWA members in conjunction other union, environment, consumer, and progressive activists have taken to stop fast track authority for TPP.
Since the fast track bill was introduced, union members and their partners have flooded congressional offices with letters and visited dozens of local and Washington DC congressional offices to express their opposition to the bill.
During the union hall meeting, Cohen called on CWA locals to continue pressuring elected representatives to oppose fast track, and he told members that this fight can’t be won without building alliances with groups outside the labor movement.
He pointed to the coalition that CWA is working with to build a grassroots campaign against fast track. The coalition includes other labor unions, environmental, consumer protection, and public interest groups.
More recently, more than 550 organizations have signed a letter from the Citizens Trade Campaign opposing the fast track bill.
The letter concludes by saying,
After decades of devastating job loss, attacks on environmental and health laws, and floods of unsafe imported food under our past trade agreements, America must chart a new course on trade policy. To accomplish this, a new form of trade authority is needed that ensures that Congress and the public play a much more meaningful role in determining the contents of U.S. trade agreements. Critically, such a new procedure must ensure that Congress is satisfied with a trade agreement’s contents before a pact can be signed and subjected to any expedited procedures.
Back in November, 151 Democratic Members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to President Obama stating their opposition to fast track authority. Twenty-one Republicans did the same.
President Obama had hoped that a fast track vote and the passage of TPP would take place sometime in 2014, but those plans received a setback on January 29 when Senate Leader Harry Reid announced that he was opposed to TPP fast track authority.
“I’m against fast track,” said Reid to reporters. “I think everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now.”
Friday’s demonstrations will attempt to keep the pressure on Congress to vote against fast tracking TPP by emphasizing the damage that has been done by trade agreements since NAFTA was approved 20 years ago.
According to David Bacon writing in Truthout, NAFTA’s impact on the working class in Mexico, Canada, and the US has been devastating.
Twenty years (after the passage of NAFTA), workers have a scorecard,” writes Bacon. “The promises of profits from increased investment and freer markets were kept. But the promises of jobs and benefits for working people were not. . . NAFTA (led) to increasing unemployment, displacement, and poverty. Workers in all three countries are still living with these devastating consequences, while the predicted long-range benefits never materialized.