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Issue #1694      July 22, 2015

FTAs not in workers’ interests

CPA Secretariat statement

The Communist Party of Australia stands with workers and trade unions in voicing their concern at aspects of the proposed China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The CPA supports the just demands of workers in Australia for the protection of local jobs, rates of pay and conditions and action in support of those rights. We also support the right of Australian governments to legislate to protect Australian workers and the environment without being sued. The CPA opposes free trade agreements negotiated in secrecy that adversely affect local workers and the environment in the interest of rapacious local and multinational corporations.

Having made this position perfectly clear and with protests set to take place across the country in the coming days, some background to the current situation is necessary.

Firstly, workers would be wrong to hold ill-feeling towards the people or government of China. While some publicity material states that “racism is not welcome” at protests, other information being circulated is misleading and encouraging of xenophobic responses and is being used to attack China. It is the Abbott government that must take responsibility for selling out the interests of Australian workers in the interest of multinational profits.

Official ACTU statements have not been helpful: “Chinese companies will be able to sue Australian governments if they believe that an Australian law adversely impacts on their business. So while Abbott is trumpeting the benefits of the deal, the simple truth is it will destroy job opportunities and we will give up our right to make laws beneficial for working people,” says one statement. The converse is also true, Australian-based corporations (including US corporations) will be able to sue the Chinese government if it attempts to tighten its regulations.

Capitalist globalisation is not an invention of developing countries such as China. It has been imposed on much of the planet by the US and its allies, including Australia, to advance US monopoly interests. The process of trade “liberalisation” in Australia was begun by the Hawke and Keating Labor governments and advanced by every federal government since. The Chinese didn’t sabotage Australian manufacturing. Australian governments and the transnational corporations that control them did. The accusation that Chinese companies are “unfairly subsidised by their government” is a free trader’s criticism of exchange with China. It is not an appropriate position for a trade union organisation. After all, Australian trade unions have on many occasions called for government assistance.

The claim that China is “Not bound by fair labour laws that provide workers with decent wages and conditions” is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Australia doesn’t have “fair” labour laws. We have a construction industry Gestapo and a witch-hunt of a Royal Commission to prove it. China has good labour laws but very inadequate means of enforcement. Corruption is a widespread problem in China, too.

The claim that Chinese companies are “Able to ignore environmental standards and regulations” does not acknowledge Australia’s deplorable record. China’s environmental problems are an immense challenge to the government of the People’s Republic of China but its recent record of major improvement stands in contrast to the vandalism of the Abbott government.

That “Chinese companies will be able to sue Australian governments if they believe that an Australian law adversely impacts on their business” raises an important point. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) carries an even bigger threat to Australia in this regard but, it seems, the possibility becomes particularly objectionable when it comes to Chinese companies. Clauses that allow for the suing of sovereign governments as a result of legislation must be struck down and greater energies devoted to exposing the TPP. The key characteristics of recent Free Trade negotiations are their secrecy and the lack of environmental and labour rights. They do, however, advance the interests and profit making of multinational corporations, in particular US corporations.

The question of a potential attack on the interests of Australia ignores the current international situation in which the US is manoeuvring to isolate and attack China. Its military is conducting a re-focus to the Indo-Pacific region with the help of the Australian government. The Australian government has provided the US with extended military facilities in Darwin, vast expanses of territory for its training and exercises as well as other facilities. Australians pay $87 million a day for the military including the purchase of massively destructive war-fighting equipment with China as the “enemy”. Meanwhile, China has not taken a single aggressive step against the US or Australia. These matters should be kept in mind during upcoming protests so that we don’t forget who our real enemies are.

The CPA opposes the adoption of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement in its current form, which includes the totally unacceptable concept of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) that allows for corporations to sue sovereign states. The CPA supports the protests taking place across the country this week and encourages members and supporters to take other forms of action, also.

Next article – MUA and community rally to defend seafarers

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