Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen told members during a nationwide union hall meeting that defeating fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade treaty is now the union’s number one priority.
Cohen also said that it will take a broad-based coalition that includes Republicans to stop TPP.
Those listening in to union hall meeting held by teleconference also heard about the work local leaders are doing to mobilize members and allies to oppose the latest so-called free trade deal.
“(TPP) is not about free trade,” said Cohen. “It’s about protecting the profits of multi-national corporations.”
Thousands of good-paying jobs are at stake because TPP will make it easier for corporations to ship US jobs abroad, continued Cohen.
Trade representatives from the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries have been negotiating in secret the terms of the proposed TPP.
In addition to official government trade representatives, corporations also are involved in the negotiations.
“Six hundred corporate advisers have a seat at the table during negotiations,” said Robert Longer, executive vice-president of CWA Local 9421 during the union hall meeting.
The working class has no representatives at the table.
President Obama is urging Congress to grant itself fast track authority for ratifying TPP once the final version has been agreed upon by all parties involved in the negotiations.
If Congress votes for fast track authority, it will vote on TPP without reviewing the details of the treaty or being able to amend it.
President Obama wants Congress to vote on fast track authority for TPP early next year.
The purpose of the CWA union hall meeting was to share strategies for defeating TPP fast track authority.
Mahalia Corley, executive vice president of CWA Local 3680 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, described her local’s on-the-job work at an AT&T Mobility call center in Fayetteville.
“On the heels of our voter registration drive, we segued into educating our 400-person call center about the TPP,” said Corley. “Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for the last two weeks, CWA officers and stewards went up and down the call center aisles asking workers to talk to them about TPP during the workers’ breaks.”
We told them that if TPP passes, our jobs would become expendable because it would be cheaper for the company to outsource our jobs overseas, Corley said.
We also told them about the impact that TPP would have on our community, continued Corley. If the company lays us off, there will be less money for spending in our local stores and less tax money to support our schools, hospitals, and other public services.
As a result of Local 3680’s work, 217 call center workers signed postcards urging Congress to oppose TPP and fast track.
Corley also said that many workers said that they would talk to their friends and family about why they should oppose TPP and fast track.
In Northern California, CWA members who belong to Local 9421 in Sacramento are working with a coalition to urge Rep. Doris Matsui to oppose TPP.
Matsui, a Democrat, hasn’t taken a stand yet on TPP.
In addition to Local 9421, the coalition includes Citizens Trade Campaign, Food and Water Watch, Alliance for Democracy, Global Exchange, SEIU Local 1000, CWA District 9, and the Sacramento Central Labor Council.
The coalition held a town hall meeting and invited Rep. Matsui to attend. She didn’t attend, but and an aide did.
Those who spoke at the meeting said that TPP would endanger local water supplies, encourage corporations to send jobs abroad, and give corporations the right to sue governments in secret tribunals if a government passes laws or enact regulations that endanger future profits.
“As a result of another trade deal similar to TPP, Phillip Morris is suing the government of Australia for requiring tobacco companies to put health warnings on its cigarette packages,” said Longer.
There are 500 similar suits being pursed around the world thanks to language in trade deals like TPP, added Cohen. “Governments are being sued for passing minimum wage legislation and laws to protect the environment.”
Longer said that the Sacramento coalition will mobilize people to phone, email, and use social media to urge Rep. Matsui to meet face-to-face with coalition members and to oppose TPP.
Cohen ended the union hall meeting by saying that stopping TPP fast track will mean reaching out to Republicans.
He urged CWA members and leaders who know or have working relationships with Republican lawmakers to volunteer to contact them.
“We’re going to help our Republican leaders in CWA reach out to Republican lawmakers because we need them if we’re going to stop TPP,” said Cohen.
Cohen said that 170 Democrats have committed to opposing TPP, and 25 Republicans have done so.
“To get the number of votes needed to block fast track, we need about 25 more Republicans,” said Cohen.
By the end of the meeting, 45 CWA members and leaders had volunteered to contact Republican lawmakers and seek their support in opposing fast track for TPP.
“Building coalitions is key to stopping TPP and fast track,” said Cohen. “We’ve stopped fast track twice before and we can do it again, but we can’t do it by ourselves.”