A grassroots coalition of labor, environment, consumer rights, and other progressive groups won round one of the fight over fast track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal when a cloture motion that would have limited debate on the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill failed to pass in the US Senate.
Fast track authority would prevent Congress from thoroughly reviewing the final draft of the trade deal or offering amendments to it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had scheduled the cloture vote on May 12. It needed 60 votes to pass, but Sen. McConnell could muster only 52 votes. Forty-five senators voted to oppose his motion.
President Obama, who supports fast track authority, began meeting with senators who voted no in an attempt to salvage the legislation, and there is still the possibility that fast track in some form could be resurrected and brought before the Senate again for a vote.
But opponents of TPP, who had been written off by Washington DC pundits, were buoyed by the outcome of the vote.
“Just a few weeks ago, all of the pundits believed that fast track and the TPP were a lock to pass: they were wrong,” said Marc Perrone, international president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). “Our 1.3 million members, the entire labor movement, progressive Democrats, and conservative Republicans have all stood up and spoke out against this disastrous trade deal. More importantly, this is what is possible when we all stand together and fight for what is right for our families, our jobs, and our nation.”
“The failure of the Senate to advance fast track legislation is not only a stinging defeat for supporters of the Trans Pacific Partnership; it makes clear that the American people will not be fooled into supporting another bad trade deal,” said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW).
Labor unions played an important role in organizing grassroots opposition to fast track authority for TPP by educating their members about how similar trade deals had cost workers’ jobs and lowered their wages and by mobilizing members to demonstrate widespread opposition to TPP.
The work of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) is illustrative of the organizing and mobilizing work done by UCFW, USW, Teamsters, and several other labor unions that made the May 12 vote possible.
In November, CWA President Larry Cohen announced that defeating fast track authority for TPP would be CWA’s number one priority.
“Starting today (the day after the November elections ended), CWA activists are turning their attention to stopping the Trans Pacific Partnership, a dangerous trade deal that threatens our jobs, communities and the environment. It could potentially give big business new powers to undermine important laws and regulations created to protect us from them,” said Cohen in a message to members.
CWA subsequently mobilized its local leaders to educate and mobilize local members.
As a result, thousands of CWA members participated in efforts to oppose TPP fast track including attending town hall meetings with lawmakers, making constituent visits to lawmakers, making phone calls to lawmakers, and writing them letters and e-mails.
To make the public aware of the dangers that TPP posed for the working class, the environment, and consumer protection, CWA members hit the streets to leaflet, demonstrate, and rally against fast track for TPP.
Recognizing that labor unions alone couldn’t win the fight to stop TPP, CWA sought out alliances with environmentalists, consumer rights activists, immigrant support groups, and other progressive groups concerned about the damage that TPP could in their particular area of interest.
“Our broad coalition–workers, environmental activists, immigrant rights activists, students, public health and consumer groups and so many others–remains strongly opposed to fast track and the TPP that would be a disaster for US jobs, workers and communities,” said Cohen in a statement issued after the cloture motion failed.
The coalition opposing TPP was even broader than the one that Cohen talked about.
More than 2,000 groups signed an April 27 letter drafted by the Citizens Trade Campaign, a public interest group that has been leading the fight against TPP, urging lawmakers to reject fast track authority for TPP.
The letter concluded with these two paragraphs:
After decades of massive trade deficits, devastating job loss, downward pressure on Americans’ wages, 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.
Fast track is an abrogation of not only Congress’ constitutional authority, but of its responsibility to the American people. We oppose this bill, and urge you to do so as well.