Unions gear up for new fast track fight

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SAYING NO: Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol Building protesting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement and the use of “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) to push it through.  – Occupy.com photo
SAYING NO: Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol Building protesting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement and the use of “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) to push it through.
– Occupy.com photo

Washington (PAI) – Unions are gearing up for yet another fight over so-called “fast track,” also known as trade promotion authority (TPA), which would let Democratic President Barack Obama jam through trade treaties with European and Asian nations without worker rights or protections for citizens and consumers.

The calls to action came even before Obama included fast track in his State of the Union address Jan. 28.  That’s because the leaders of the two congressional trade committees, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) dropped fast track legislation in the hopper on Jan. 9.

Their legislation shuts workers and their allies out of either negotiating or approving trade treaties and gives them only one vote on laws to implement the pacts, regardless of what the treaties say.  That’s not kosher, workers and their allies respond.

“We need to have trade policies that give American workers a fair chance, and that create jobs, rather than lose jobs, as in the past,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told a telephone press conference on Jan. 14.

“America lost nearly 700,000 jobs because of NAFTA,” to choose a harmful pact negotiated under fast track, 20 years ago, Teamsters President James Hoffa added.  “Jobs have been shipped across borders, gutting the middle class.  We can’t make that same mistake again.  Corporate America loves to tout the growth in trade due to NAFTA.  But those dollars have largely gone into the pockets of top executives.”

Baucus, Camp and Obama want a fast track law to let the president’s trade representative negotiate trade pacts in secret. Congress would vote on the legislation, but would be barred from voting on the pacts themselves.

Fast track would grandfather in two trade pacts Obama’s negotiating right now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Asian nations, including Japan but not China, and a pact with the European Union, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s TradeWatch, said.

“Fast track allows transformation of trade treaties into a whole set of policies” on everything from workers’ rights to the environment to Buy American laws to regulating financial finagling, she said.  And it’s set up so that citizens, workers and consumers could not fight back against its pro-corporate rulings.

Steel Workers President Leo Gerard, Communications Workers President Larry Cohen and Hoffa are taking the lead in mobilizing members against fast track.

“This is the wrong proposal at the wrong time,” Gerard said.  “It is wrong for American workers and will only continue to take us further down the road in the wrong direction.  Why on earth would we want to simply continue doing things the old way, when it’s resulted in rising trade deficits, more manufacturing job losses and greater income inequality?

“It’s time for a new approach to trade.  Today’s trade policies have fueled historic trade deficits and left our trading partners with bags of U.S. dollars and millions of American jobs.  More of the same will only yield more outsourced and off-shored jobs and shattered dreams.”

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