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COMMENTFOUR

Trans-Pacific Partnership protests. (photo: Flickr)
Trans-Pacific Partnership protests. (photo: Flickr)


Free Trade Agreements Fail Workers at Home - And Workers Abroad

By Leo W. Gerard, United Steelworkers

05 June 15

 

t’s all the rage now for Republican presidential candidates to spurn the Royal Romney approach and, instead, to fawn over workers.

When former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum announced his presidential bid last week, he did it from a factory floor and called for increasing the minimum wage. Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who also launched his candidacy last week, named as his political inspiration Teddy Roosevelt, a corporate trust-buster and working class hero. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who entered the race in April, said that to win elections, “You’ve got to get the people who work for the people who own businesses.”

That is true – if the businesses are in America. There’s not much point in American candidates soliciting votes from workers at factories that U.S. corporations closed here and moved overseas with the help of free trade agreements (FTAs). Decade after decade of free trade, presidents promised workers that the deals set the highest standards for labor. And decade after decade, the federal government failed at enforcement, placing Americans in competition with child laborers, underpaid and overburdened foreign workers and victims of human trafficking.

On trade, Sen. Paul got it right for working people. He opposed Fast Tracking approval of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress. He was on the losing side of that vote, though. So the Fast Track plan for Congress to relinquish its responsibility to review and amend trade agreements awaits action this week in the U.S. House of Representatives. House Republicans who believe in supporting American workers, not just pandering to them, should join Sen. Paul in voting no on Fast Track.

From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic presidents have pledged to workers that some new free trade scheme would protect Americans from unfair and immoral foreign competition.

Clinton claimed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the first deal ever containing teeth to enforce labor standards. George W. Bush’s U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) contended the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) had the strongest labor provisions ever negotiated. Obama administration officials assured Americans that the Peru, Colombia and Panama agreements, and now the TPP, have the greatest worker protections of all time.

They all swore the standards would be strictly enforced. But none of it was true. The deals did not protect American workers. And they didn’t protect foreign workers either. 

Now American workers overwhelmingly oppose the free trade brand of globalization. They’ve seen its terrible results for them. They’ve suffered as corporations closed American factories, destroyed American jobs and communities, and shipped that work overseas.

Americans have found themselves competing with children coerced to work in foreign factories, trafficked and forced labor, and foreign workers so mistreated that they jump to their deaths from factory buildings. American consumers find themselves buying products made in unsafe buildings that collapse or burn, killing thousands of foreign workers.

The USTR, who is supposed to enforce the labor provisions of trade agreements, along with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of State, has failed. That’s according to two reviews by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). After a damning GAO report in 2009, the USTR promised action. A second GAO analysis in 2014 reported little change.

Here’s the bottom line from that report: “Since 2009, USTR and DOL, with State’s assistance, have taken steps intended to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of FTA partners’ compliance with FTA labor provisions, but their monitoring and enforcement remains limited.”

In other words, no matter what those agreements say about labor, it’s not being enforced.

For example, five years after Guatemala entered CAFTA, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) named Guatemala the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. That’s because of the large number of union activists murdered, tortured, kidnapped and threatened there.

This was a startling development because Colombia had a lock on the inglorious title of most dangerous for years. Colombia dropped from first place even while murders of trade unionists continued there.

Since Colombia finalized a free trade agreement with the U.S. in 2011, two dozen Colombians trying to improve the lives and wages of workers through collective bargaining have been murdered every year. And these murders are committed with impunity. There are virtually never arrests or convictions for killing trade unionists in Colombia. Colombia’s trade deal with the U.S. and its “enforcement” by the USTR, DOL and the State Department have done nothing to change that.

And as in Guatemala, trade union activists in Colombia continue to be threatened, tortured and kidnapped. The free trade agreement is no shield for them. For example, a paramilitary group threatened the daughters of Martha Cecilia Suarez, the president of the Santander public servants association.

In 2013, the paramilitary group Comando Urbano de los Rastrojos sent her two dolls marked with her daughters’ names. They were covered in red paint, one missing a leg, the other an arm.

The 14 free trade agreements that the United States has signed with 20 countries contain provisions allowing groups or individuals to file complaints about such violations of the labor standards. The 2014 evaluation by the GAO suggests that only a tiny number of complaints have been filed because the Labor Department has failed to inform stakeholders of this process and few within the foreign countries know about it.

The GAO also found that the Labor Department has failed to meet its own deadlines for investigating and resolving the complaints it has accepted. Serious allegations, including human trafficking and child labor, remain unsettled for years.

In addition to the critical 2014 GAO report, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren detailed the failure of the United States to implement FTA labor provisions in a report issued by her office late last month titled Broken Promises. It says, “the United States repeatedly fails to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards in free trade agreements.”

Admittedly, this is a titanic challenge. What the United States is trying to do is tell other countries, often ones far less wealthy, how their businesses should treat workers. The United States hardly would take kindly to Guatemala telling it that the U.S. minimum wage is so low that it amounts to forced labor.

But president after president has promised American workers that the United States will compel foreign nations to meet high labor standards established in FTAs.

They haven’t accomplished that. They probably can’t. They should stop saying it. And American workers and politicians should stop buying it. The United States can sign trade agreements with countries after they stop murdering trade unionists and countenancing child labor. Entering agreements with countries that permit these grotesque practices demeans American workers and consumers.

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+4 # RnR 2015-06-06 06:20
The only thing this is about is the implementation/ installation of fascism with no recourse.

Thank you so much Congress, you're such an inspiration to budding nazi's world wide.
 
 
-9 # WaaDoo 2015-06-06 06:45
TPP pushed through Congress by Democrats (led by PUTZUS) in betrayal of the very American voters who put them into office.

This is the pattern of the Admin and party....Kerry is the best historic example, betraying the American soldier in '74, then Israel in '14.

Dems are living example of the saying:
"Be careful of that for which you wish because it will surely be yours".

PUTZUS is product of your Marxist thinking.
 
 
+3 # jsluka 2015-06-06 18:16
The clueless "Waadoo" obviously doesn't have any idea of what "Marxist thinking" is. Its just an epithet he throws around in his ignorance. Idiot.
 
 
0 # tapsearcher 2016-01-01 20:27
Free Trade is not trade but is an economic system dividing investments from production and moves factories anywhere in th world for the sake of cheaper labor. It makes money for a few by manipulating the value of workers and labor degrading and deflating it for the sake of profits. Millions have lost their jobs and businesses due to the process.

Free trade has proved to be a failure from the start. In 1995, after getting the NAFTA trade agreement passed in 1994, President Clinton had to rush billions of dollars to Mexico to save the peso and the Mexican economy from going bankrupt. It happened even though more than 4,000 U.S. factories were moved to Mexico. It affected immigration too.
Mexican workers flocked to America seeking economic survival because they would not work in the factories as impoverished workers.

The bail out by Pres. Clinton turned out to be a prediction of things to come. In 2008, the American economy based on making money on money instead of making things failed. Pres. Obama had to bail out the failed system by borrowing trillions of dollars from the future to save our economy. However he only bailed out big money interests and ignored the suffering of the millions who lost their jobs and businesses. The deflation of workers, the terrible trade deficit and Obama bail out represents trillions of dollars lost forever. See more at Ray Tapajna sites. http://ray-tapajna-info.page.tl http://tapsearch.com/tapartnews http://tapsearchnews.filetap.com
 
 
0 # tapsearcher 2016-01-01 20:31
Search under Ray Tapajna free trade economics, Tapsearch economics, Tapart News, tapsearch art that talks for thousands of references and resources relating to the economic day and geopolitics being turned upside down by the horrors of free trade. Free trade is a structural sin against all of society http://ray-tapajna-tapsearcher.page.tl where workers are gladiators in a global economic arena fighting for their economic lives http://tapsearchworld.webnote.com
 

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