USW President Leo Gerard Warns Lawmakers Against Voting for TPP

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard has a blunt message for lawmakers, especially Democrats, who vote for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership so-called “free trade” treaty next year: Vote for it, and we’ll vote you out.

And Communications Workers President Chris Shelton agreed, in a Nov. 10 telephone press conference of leading TPP foes.

The two union presidents, top AFL-CIO trade analyst Celeste Drake and two leading environmentalists discussed the TPP in detail for the first time since President Barack Obama (D) signed and released its 6,000-page text on Nov. 5.

The trade pact, they said, not only is anti-worker and anti-environment, but has such lax enforcement provisions – for non-business categories, such as worker rights – as to be virtually meaningless in that regard.

By contrast, they all said, TPP establishes a secret trade court, the Investor-State Dispute System, where firms have unfettered rights to challenge federal, state and local laws and policies – including worker rights, Buy America and job safety and health laws – that might endanger future corporate profits.

“Its objective is to rearrange the global economy so that corporations can do what they can where they can,” Gerard said. ”Based on our past experience” with enforcement, or lack of it, of other trade pacts “we can expect workers’ rights to get worse,” Drake warned.

The AFL-CIO has already started its anti-TPP campaign, kicking it off in the first-in-the-nation primary state, New Hampshire. Gerard said workers will remember next November, too.

“The level of disappointment, frustration and anger is palpable” among workers, Gerard said, after talking with 10 different Steelworker groups who, coincidentally, were at union headquarters in Pittsburgh for meetings last week when Obama announced the pact.

“They’ll work to talk to members of Congress – especially in the House – and have a direct discussion about what the TPP” and prior trade pacts “means to them and their futures.

The Obama administration spent six years negotiating the trade pact with 11 other Pacific Rim nations, including notorious oppressors of workers such as Vietnam – which bans independent unions and has a 65-cents-a-day minimum wage – Brunei and Malaysia.

Obama and congressional GOP leaders then shoved presidential trade promotion authority (TPA) through the GOP-run House by three votes, letting the administration to finish negotiating the TPP. It will submit legislation implementing the TPP to Congress, at a time it

chooses, for up-or-down single simple majority votes, after little debate and with no changes.

“This is a prescription for disaster,” Gerard declared about the trade pact.

Other unions have similarly weighed in against the TPP. So have the three Democrats seeking to succeed him in the Oval Office: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., who has voted and campaigned against every so-called “free trade” pact in his 24 years in Congress, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leader in the polls.

Shelton said his members would send the message to lawmakers that the TPP “makes it easier to ship jobs overseas.”  He also listed some key bullet points workers would make:

“A deal that takes Vietnam off the hook for five years for protecting its own workers” – by promising to obey weak international labor standards, but with no penalties if it does not – “is not a good deal for American workers.

“A deal that provides corporations a sovereign right to sue governments” over worker rights, environmental protection, job safety and even the minimum wage, “while not providing unions the same rights is not a good deal for American workers.

“A deal that doesn’t protect women and gay workers in Brunei” – where women suffer bad discrimination and gays often face death – “is not a good deal for American workers.

“A deal that does not outlaw currency manipulation” which TPP nations, notably Japan, use to boost exports to the U.S. and take away U.S. jobs “is not a good deal for American workers,” Shelton declared. And it has other bad provisions, the speakers said:

• It “undermines the manufacturing sector” by lowering U.S. domestic content requirements for imported vehicles, Drake and Gerard said. Since Steelworkers make the metal, plastics, tires and other vehicle components, that costs U.S. jobs, too. He cited Wall Street Journal calculations the TPP would cost U.S. heavy manufacturing and U.S. light manufacturing $55 billion in annual trade deficits and 30,000 jobs, each, by 2025.

• It orders the federal Energy Department to “automatically approve all exports of U.S. natural gas” overseas, said Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. Increasing natural gas and oil production have now made the U.S. the world’s leader in those two fields.

• By leaving U.S. firms open to the low-wage no-benefit competition from Asian nations, the TPP drives down U.S. wages and salaries, Gerard said. Every contract negotiation his union, the nation’s largest industrial union, undertakes features company threats to move to Asia unless the U.S. workers sacrifice wages and benefits to “compete” with low-paid workers.

“It’s a corporate rights agreement,” Drake concluded. “There has been a failure to implement labor standards” in past trade pacts with Mexico, Latin America and elsewhere “and nothing in this (TPP) text would change that.”  

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