Bad Trade Policies Destroyed My Hometown; Now TPP is Coming for Yours

J. David Cox

J. David Cox AFGE President

Watching the discussion around the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) gives me a nasty sense of déjà vu.  

Long before joining AFGE, I worked as a food service worker, licensed practical nurse, and registered nurse in my hometown of Kannapolis, North Carolina. In those days, Kannapolis was just another Southern mill town full of honest, working class people just trying to get by. Working at the textile mill was hard, but it was honest work that supported hundreds of families, and that was enough for generations of us to buy homes and support our families. That was, until the cheap imports started arriving from overseas.  

It didn't take long for things to unravel after that. The vacancies came first, then the pink slips, then delinquency notices, then the foreclosure notices. Men and women who had been working in the mills their whole lives – my family members included – were now out of work, and whole communities were left without a means to put food on the table.

After the textile mills closed, so did the clothing factories, then the lunch counters and convenience stores.  Soon there was nothing left but low-paying, no-benefit service jobs, forcing many to supplement their meager earnings with government assistance just to get by. It was like we were trapped in quicksand, and every time we tried to pull ourselves out, we sank further and further into the darkness.  

I was proud to work with the brave men and women in this community as they organized a last-ditch effort to maintain their livelihoods by forming a union. But in the end, the multinational outsourcers were stronger and more powerful than the opposition of a loose group of small-town citizens. Once the unemployment checks ran out, Kannapolis fell into the all-too-familiar path of American post-industrial decline, and has struggled to recover since.  

In the intervening years, we've seen free trade policies wreak havoc on small communities like mine all across America. Remember when we were promised that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would bring millions of new, good-paying jobs to the United States? And how it would build a stronger economy in this country through trade with others?  

It didn’t. NAFTA gave wealthy corporations free license to send millions of manufacturing jobs out of the country, where workers aren’t paid fairly, have few rights, and have little to no representation. NAFTA killed jobs, lowered wages, and devastated communities all in the name of higher corporate profits.  

Now, wealthy corporations are pushing hard on Congress and the Administration to deliver their next meal ticket - you guessed it, the TPP.  

The TPP is called “NAFTA on steroids” for good reason. It threatens to ship even more jobs to countries like Vietnam, where workers earn poverty wages and are forbidden from unionizing; where some of my best friends lost their lives. It would deregulate big business even further, endangering our communities and our environment. It would allow big pharmaceuticals to drive up the prices of life saving medications. And by fast tracking the TPP, big corporations are stopping our democratically-elected lawmakers from even making changes to the deal.  

I want to be clear about this: Not only do TPP's corporate backers have the gall to write and push this terrible trade deal, they want to do it behind closed doors, without even letting members of Congress read it. This deal is undemocratic, it is wrong, and it is a wrecking ball to the American Dream as we know it.  

Everyone knows that the first law of business is to maximize profits and minimize costs. Do not let supporters delude you into thinking that this trade deal will lead to new jobs; it will lead to smaller paychecks and fewer jobs while maximizing returns for the large multi-national corporations who are negotiating it.

I've been there before, and I know how this story ends. That is, if we don't stand up and speak out.

We need to stop Fast Track and we need to stop it NOW. All of our futures are at stake, and no one can afford to sit on the sidelines. Tell your elected leaders to do the right thing and negotiate trade deals that put people ahead of profits, and communities over corporations. If we don’t, TPP will be coming to your town sooner than you think.

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This has been reposted from the Daily Kos.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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