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Issue #1720      February 24, 2016

TPP protests mount

Workers and their allies took their protests against the jobs-destroying pro-corporate Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade and investment pact to a meeting of Asian-Pacific leaders in Palm Springs, California, that President Obama hosted recently.

But while Obama and the other leaders vowed to continue pushing for the controversial treaty, a key “free trade” supporter, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, says the pact needs changes – but not in worker provisions – before Obama can send it to Capitol Hill. And the AFL-CIO released a comprehensive report on the huge holes in the TPP’s labour provisions.

The TPP, which would set trade and other pro-business rules for 12 nations around the rim of the Pacific Ocean, was signed earlier this year. The earliest that legislation’s implementation can come to Congress is April 3.

There, the TPP bill – not the pact itself – would be subject to one up-or-down vote in each house of Congress, and after limited debate and no amendments. Ryan says the TPP needs changes to get votes. Otherwise, he told Fox News on February 14, it won’t pass Congress.

The Palm Springs marchers, the AFL-CIO report and 2,600 comments workers filed with the US International Trade Commission, which is analysing the TPP at Congress’ request, say it doesn’t need changes. They say it must be scrapped and renegotiated.

“Governments should be seeking out ways to lift working standards and protect the environment, not how to pit working people against one another,” T Santora of Communications Workers of America Local 9003 told the crowd in Palm Springs on February 15.

“The TPP would force American employers into greater competition with companies exploiting workers paid less than 65 cents an hour in countries like Vietnam. A country could literally set its minimum wage at a dollar a day and still be in compliance with the TPP’s abysmally weak labour standards. It’s no wonder the TPP’s opposition is so strong,” he said.

The AFL-CIO report, issued February 16, backed his point, in detail.

“A number of important labour recommendations were wholly ignored,” the fed said. “Those proposals that were not wholly ignored were included in a weakened form that would undermine their effectiveness.”

As examples, the report notes the trade pact’s labour rights sections lack enforcement teeth or deadlines and treat complaints about labour rights far differently than the TPP treats corporate complaints about interference with potential profits. And that’s for starters.

“The TPP contains different dispute settlement mechanisms for foreign investors and working people,” it says. “Foreign investors can bring cases against TPP parties on their own, without having to petition their own government to do so. Working people must petition their governments, and then engage in years-long campaigns to attempt to move the cases through the arduous process.” And secret trade courts handle the corporate complaints, it notes.

“TPP bargainers” – trade ministers – “create effective dispute settlement mechanisms when they want to. Thus, the failure to equalise the dispute settlement procedures available to workers was purposeful,” the report says.

It also notes that while the TPP requires its 12 member nations to set minimum labour standards, it leaves the standards up to them, rather than requiring them to obey international criteria on such things as the minimum wage and the right to organise.

“The TPP explicitly provides these (labour) obligations will be satisfied ‘as determined by’ each country,” the pact’s 19th article says. “As a result, a TPP country can set a minimum wage of a penny an hour, or allow shifts of 20 hours per day with no overtime pay, or require workers to provide their own safety gear-and yet be fully compliant with the TPP.”

And the TPP is also vague on employment discrimination and does not address labour rights violations and repression in Mexico, Chile, Peru and Brunei, as well as anti-worker practices elsewhere, such as misclassification of workers in New Zealand, for example.

“As it currently stands, the TPP fails workers,” the report declares. “The AFL-CIO and global labour movement stand in opposition to the agreement. To be effective at creating shared prosperity and inclusive growth, the TPP must be renegotiated to include protections for workers, as well as the environment and other public interest issues, that are as strong as all other protections in the agreement-including those for investors.

“Other chapters must be renegotiated to include rules that promote rather than inhibit progressive economic policies that correct market failures, ensure adequate government investment in infrastructure and human development, and provide certainty for workers, not just global businesses,” the report concludes.

Communications Workers members were blunter in letters to the trade commission.

“Americans can’t get jobs if the jobs are being sent wholesale overseas. It is clear that for the American economy to thrive again, we have to bring jobs back home again and impose restrictions that put our working families ahead of international corporations that don’t even pay taxes here. Instead, the Trans Pacific Partnership represents a giant step in the wrong direction that will blow a hole in the American economy, which will have to struggle for decades to recover,” said Louis Kershner of Bothell, Washington

“This trade pact is a corporate grab for yet more power, which it will use to further deny American workers decent pay and benefits and protections. There is no justification that exists for this,” added Seattle CWAer Charles Pierce.

“The US will lose countless jobs by signing on and affirming the TPP,” said Kristin Brody of Chicago. “It’s the same model that resulted in the loss of 3.4 million jobs after NAFTA (North American Free trade Agreement), which now makes it almost impossible for me to buy American-made goods to support our economy and our workers here at home...

“It’s clearly all about businesses making money and ravaging the environment. Instead of going along with slave wages and ecological destruction in Asia, the US should pave the way for others to be treated fairly, care well for God’s beautiful creation all over the world, and protect workers and manufacturing here at home, which the TPP does not. No thank you!”

People’s World

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