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Leo W Gerard: NAFTA Negotiators Send Corporate Whiners Back to Swamp

Photo by Gerenme on Getty Images

Giant corporations, loyal to coin and faithless to country, staged a public display of blubbering in the run up to this week’s fourth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Whaa, whaaa, whaaaa, groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sniveled into the swamp from which they crawled to conduct their press conferences. President Trump isn’t doing what corporations want, they wailed.

The President’s trade priorities, which he repeatedly stated on the campaign trail, do not include groveling to the whims and whining of corporations or their toady, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. President Trump said he would create good, American jobs. To do that, he wants more stuff made in America and less stuff made in factories off-shored by greed-motivated American corporations.

“We’ve reached a critical moment,” Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue sobbed this week. “The Chamber has had no choice but to ring the alarm bells.”

He said it, by the way, from Mexico City, where the Chamber, which calls itself the U.S. Chamber, had gone to scheme with Mexican government officials to subvert the NAFTA negotiation goals of the U.S. government.

Chamber Vice President John G. Murphy, meanwhile, was carping from the place the President calls the swamp, “So we’re urging the administration to recalibrate its approach and stop and listen to the business community, the agriculture community, the people who actually engage in trade.”

That is the crux of it, right there. The president had failed to place corporate profits over American workers.

Really, what Murphy and Donohue were saying is that the President should ignore the hundreds of thousands of Americans who lost their jobs because of NAFTA and concentrate instead on the profits to be made by wealthy CEOs and shareholders. Those are the guys who uprooted American factories and transplanted them in Mexico, where corporations can more easily exploit both workers and the environment.

United Technologies (UT) is a good example. UT had two perfectly profitable factories in Indiana where American workers manufactured Carrier gas furnaces and electronic controls. UT decided, however, that it could make even more money if it moved the factories to Monterrey, Mexico.

After Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, handed UT $7 million of the state’s tax dollars, the corporation agreed to keep some of the Carrier jobs in the United States, but in the end, it moved all 700 electronic controls jobs to Mexico and 632 of the furnace jobs.

In Mexico, UT can pay its new workers a dime for every dollar in wages earned by its skilled American workers in Indiana. U.S. corporations like UT that transplant factories and kick their American workers to the curb pocket the difference in wages.

NAFTA, which encourages this kind of move, doesn’t benefit Mexican workers either. The poverty rate in Mexico is 52.3 percent, virtually the same as it was in 1994, when NAFTA took effect. Wages there rose just 2.3 percent. Economic development in Mexico has fallen behind that of most other Latin American countries.

But, whaa, whaaa, whaaaa, the Chamber of Commerce cries about the President’s intention to keep his campaign promise to build a trade wall to stop corporations from sneaking across the border.

Emily Davis, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, gave the Chamber a good smack upside the head after Donohue and Murphy told the President that he should stop listening to workers and do exactly what the Chamber and corporations tell him to do.

Here’s what Davis said: “The president has been clear that NAFTA has been a disaster for many Americans, and achieving his objectives requires substantial change. These changes, of course, will be opposed by entrenched Washington lobbyists and trade associations. We have always understood that draining the swamp would be controversial in Washington.”

The Wall Street Journal explained the problem for the likes of Donohue and Murphy. The newspaper quoted an outside trade adviser to the administration. He said that the administration wants to “create more uncertainty and reluctance for U.S. businesses to invest in Mexico. . . They want to change the decision making around outsourcing and the offshoring of investment.”

The U.S. negotiators, for example, want to weaken, or maybe even eliminate, the NAFTA-created Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. Corporations love this thing. It’s a secret court presided over by corporate lawyers where corporations can sue countries for passing laws that CEOs claim take a bite out of profits.

So, for example, a corporation could claim that a U.S. safety regulation prohibiting a cancer-causing chemical in plastic baby bottles diminishes expected future profits from its Mexican chemical factory. The corporate lawyers acting as judges in the secret NAFTA court can order the United States to compensate the corporation.  And, to top it off, the amount that the secret court can order taxpayers to hand over to corporations is unlimited.

The secret court reduces risk for corporations moving American factories to Mexico, where they might not have the same confidence that they would in American courts to protect their property rights.

Eliminating or curbing the secret court would reverse one of the NAFTA incentives for corporations to transfer manufacturing to Mexico. The administration wants to change several other aspects of NAFTA for the same result.

For example, it wants the government to be able to insist that more of what it buys be made in the United States. That would mean U.S. tax dollars would create more jobs in the United States. That discourages offshoring because the government is a super consumer.

The administration also wants a higher percentage of a product, such as a car, to be made in the United States, or at least in one of the three partner countries, for it to attain NAFTA duty-free status.  Right now, it’s 62.5 percent. The administration is talking about 85 percent, which would deter offshoring to Asian countries.

The administration is also demanding labor rights for Mexican workers. Enabling them to form real, worker-run labor unions would raise their wages, and, as a result, make transplanting U.S. factories in Mexico less profitable.

Murphy told the administration that it should do none of this. It should, he said, follow the administration’s own guidelines and “do no harm.”

Basically, big corporations and the Chamber want no change to NAFTA. They’re fine with all harm falling on U.S. workers’ shoulders ­ – 800,000 of whom lost their jobs because of NAFTA. And that doesn’t include the 1,600 lost at Rexnord and the two United Technologies factories in Indiana this year.

President Trump isn’t fine with that outcome, however. And that’s why his spokesperson at the Office of U.S. Trade Representative told the Chamber this week to waddle back down to the swamp and shut up.

International Labor Leaders, MOCs Call for Strong Labor Protections in NAFTA Renegotiation

(Washington, D.C.) — At a summit and press conference hosted by the AFL-CIO, labor leaders from the U.S., Mexico and Canada, as well as members of Congress discussed a tri-national strategy to influence the NAFTA ​ renegotiation process to ensure that effective, targeted rules to ​raise​ wages and improve​ labor standards in all three countries are included.

“I want to be clear: the enemy of American workers is not Mexican workers. It’s not Canadian workers, and it’s not even corporations,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. ”The enemy of American workers is a broken system of trade that rewards corporate greed at our expense. NAFTA is the single greatest example of this broken system. It’s an economic disaster that must be fixed.”

“It’s time for our political leaders to keep the promises that were made and not bow to the special interests and free trade ideologues,” said USW President Leo W. Gerard.

“Teamsters in the U.S. are mobilized against the spread of so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws in the states because they depress wages by undercutting union power,” said Teamsters Union General President James P. Hoffa. “I applaud the Canadians for making this a trade issue. We agree that these laws incentivize employers to relocate from Canadian provinces that don’t allow ‘free-riders’. I urge the Canadian negotiators to hold their ground on their progressive labor text and for the U.S. negotiators to take this issue seriously.”

“NAFTA’s biggest problem is Mexico’s industrial policy of suppressed wages through the lack of rights for workers,” said Rep. Sandy Levin (MI). “Ensuring labor rights in Mexico will help workers there climb out of poverty, while protecting American jobs from a race to the bottom. This effort to harmonize upwards, to the mutual benefit of workers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, must be the top priority for the renegotiation of NAFTA.”

“NAFTA continues to erode the incomes of working people and to drive the outsourcing of good paying jobs to Mexico, where corporations can more easily exploit workers,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT). “The greatest economic challenge of our times is that people are in jobs that do not pay them enough money to live on. Unless the new NAFTA includes fully enforceable rules that address the labor abuses in Mexico and levels the playing field, then workers across North America will continue to lose while corporations reap record profits.”

“President Trump campaigned for a trade agenda to benefit American workers. And the Canadian government continues to promote its ‘progressive’ trade agenda,” said USW National Director for Canada Ken Neumann. “But words are just that. What we need is real action to ensure that trade agreements benefit working people and not just corporate elites.”

“Canadian Teamsters, like our sisters and brothers in the United States, know that a renegotiated NAFTA must include an ambitious new labour chapter that will protect workers’ rights and act a model for future trade agreements,” said Teamsters Canada President François Laporte. “We support Canada’s labour proposal, and we want to emphasize that enforcement is essential. New rights under NAFTA won’t be worth much without trade sanctions to back them up.”

The fourth round of NAFTA talks are taking place in the DC Metro area through October 17.

Trinational Coalition Demands ISDS Be Removed From New NAFTA Proposal

As Battle Over NAFTA Investor Protections Heats Up, Trinational Coalition Delivers 400,000 Petitions Demanding Elimination of Corporate Rights and Tribunals

Investor-State Dispute Settlement Becomes Key Measure of Whether NAFTA Renegotiations Will Benefit Working People or Expand Corporate Power 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Growing public opposition to the expansive corporate privileges at the heart of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took center stage as the fourth round of NAFTA talks began today in Washington, D.C. U.S., Mexican and Canadian civil society organizations delivered more than 400,000 petitions demanding that NAFTA’s expansive corporate rights and protections and Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) be eliminated during renegotiations.

“If you want to know how trade deals like NAFTA have been rigged against working people and our communities, all you need to do is to look at the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process,” said Chris Shelton, president, Communications Workers of America.

“Americans want trade deals that will add new protections for our environment, create American jobs and raising wages, not another corporate giveaway by a phony populist like Trump, said CREDO political director Murshed Zaheed. “If Trump doesn’t use NAFTA renegotiation to eliminate the Investor State Dispute Settlement provision it will further expose his administration as craven crony capitalists masquerading as faux populists.”

“The Teamsters are North America’s supply chain union. With members in long-haul trucking and freight rail, air, at ports and in warehouses, as well as members in manufacturing and food processing, this union has a big stake in trade policy reform,” said Jim Hoffa, general president, Teamsters. “We will be monitoring the modernization of a flawed and failed NAFTA, and fighting to make sure that the new NAFTA works for working families.”

U.S. officials are expected to table a proposal on the controversial NAFTA investment chapter during this week’s negotiations. NAFTA’s investor protections and ISDS make it less risky and expensive for corporations to outsource jobs and empower them to attack domestic policies that protect public health and the environment by going before tribunals of three corporate lawyers who can order unlimited compensation to be paid to the corporations by taxpayers.

Last month, more than 100 small business leaders sent a letter calling for elimination of ISDS in NAFTA. Organizations representing U.S. state legislatures and state attorneys general and hundreds of prominent economics and law professors also have declared opposition to ISDS, as has a group of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has warned about the threat of ISDS. But corporate interests are scrambling to defend the controversial regime they use to attack domestic laws and raid taxpayer funds.

While just 50 known ISDS cases were launched in the first three decades of this shadow legal system, corporations have launched more than 50 claims in each of the past six years. More than $392 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations to date after NAFTA ISDS attacks on oil, gas, water and timber policies, toxics bans, health and safety measures, and more. More than $36 billion in NAFTA ISDS attacks are pending.

“People from the Yukon to the Yucatan are united in demanding an end to NAFTA’s corporate privileges that promote job outsourcing, lower wages and attacks on health safeguards,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “A NAFTA replacement deal that benefits people and the planet cannot grant corporations powers to skirt our laws and courts and demand unlimited taxpayer compensation from tribunals of corporate lawyers.”

“NAFTA is strewn with handouts to corporate polluters that must be eliminated, starting with the free pass for chronic job offshorers to attack air, water, and climate protections in tribunals of corporate lawyers,” said Ben Beachy, director of Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program. “Any NAFTA replacement must stop protecting multinational corporations and start protecting the workers and communities across North America who have endured decades of damage under this raw deal.”

“ISDS makes big corporations feel safer moving jobs around the globe to wherever workers are the most exploited and environmental regulations are the weakest, and it also puts democratically-enacted public interest laws in jeopardy both at home and abroad,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign. “While many changes are needed to make a NAFTA replacement deal work for working families and the planet, if trade negotiators maintain ISDS, we’ll know the NAFTA renegotiation has been hijacked by special interests intent on preserving corporate power.”

“ISDS effectively usurps democratic governance, and makes it impossible for elected governments to create policy that benefits ordinary citizens without the threat of a corporate lawsuit,” said Carli Stevenson, campaigner, Demand Progress. “As we fight to preserve the free and open internet in the United States, we stand with activists worldwide against attempts by any corporation to use trade agreements to make their profits sacrosanct and act against the interests of citizens, workers, and consumers. ISDS should not be a part of any trade agreement.”

“ISDS empowers mega-corporations to attack democratic values, human rights, and environmental protections and force governments to award their corruption and greed with unlimited payments of our tax dollars,” said Matt Nelson, Executive Director of Presente Action. “The reality is clear, forces pushing the ISDS have no loyalty to their governments or the people, only to their pipedreams to rule our public institutions like their own private castles.”

“Investor-State Dispute Settlement puts power in the hands of international tribunal that do not have the best interests of workers, public health, and the environment, but rather benefit corporations looking to make a profit or gain more power,” said Patrick Carolan, executive director, Franciscan Action Network. “This is not in line with Catholic Social Teaching and Franciscan values which emphasizes the need for just and fair laws for all people.”

“Big Pharma is already demanding more extensive provisions on intellectual property in NAFTA to extend their market monopolies on medicines even longer. At the same time, it’s also pushing to expand NAFTA’s investment chapter to include intellectual property claims. This would mean pharmaceutical giants could use the system of closed-door tribunals to try to overturn important, long-standing features of a country’s laws on patents or other aspects of intellectual property, in pursuit of yet more profits for the one of the most profitable industries in the world, said Richard Elliott, executive director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

What Do We Know About The New NAFTA Proposal???

The Trump administration’s renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has just completed its third round of negotiations.

So what do we know about the newly proposed agreement? Pretty much nothing.

The negotiations are still being conducted in secret.  Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the agreement is being negotiated by corporations without the input from labor.

Bits and pieces of the agreement have leaked out, like the Canadian proposal to strengthen workers rights to organize, but when it comes to the major portions of the agreement, mum is the word.

We need to ensure that the new NAFTA agreement: protects workers rights to organize, ensures fair pay for workers around the world, protects climate and environmental protections, eliminates the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) that allows corporations to circumvent a countries ability to create laws, and stops the incentive program that encourages corporations to offshore American jobs.

Celeste Drake, Trade Policy Specialist for the AFL-CIO just posted this video, explaining what we have learned from the third round of negotiations.

 

Leo W Gerard: Canadian Mounties to the Rescue of American Workers

The Canadian Royal Mounties have offered to ride to the rescue of beleaguered American workers.

It doesn’t sound right. Americans perceive themselves to be the heroes. They are, after all, the country whose intervention won World War II, the country whose symbol, the Statue of Liberty, lifts her lamp to light the way, as the poem at the statue’s base says, for the yearning masses and wretched refuse, for the homeless and tempest-tossed.

America loves the underdog and champions the little guy. The United States is doing that, for example, by demanding in the negotiations to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Mexico raise its miserable work standards and wages. Now, though, here comes Canada, the third party in the NAFTA triad, insisting that the United States fortify its workers’ collective bargaining rights. That’s the Mounties to the rescue of downtrodden U.S. workers.

This NAFTA demand from the Great White North arrives amid relentless attacks on labor rights in the United States, declining union membership and stagnant wages. To prevent Mexico’s poverty wages from sucking U.S. factories south of the border, the United States is insisting that Mexico eliminate company-controlled fake labor unions. Similarly, to prevent the United States and Mexico from luring Canadian companies away, Canada is stipulating that the United States eliminate laws that empower corporations and weaken workers.

The most infamous of these laws is referred to, bogusly, as right-to-work. Really, it’s right-to-bankrupt labor unions and right-to-cut workers’ pay. These laws forbid corporations and labor unions from negotiating collective bargaining agreements that require payments in lieu of dues from workers who choose not to join the union. These payments, which are typically less than full dues, cover the costs that unions incur to bargain contracts and pursue worker grievances.

Lawmakers that pass right-to-bankrupt legislation know that federal law requires labor unions to represent everyone in their unit at a workplace, even if those employees don’t join the union and don’t make any payments. These dues-shirkers still get the higher wages and better benefits guaranteed in the labor contract. And they still get the labor union to advocate for them, even hire lawyers for them, if they want to file grievances against the company.

The allure of getting something for nothing, a sham created by right-wing politicians who prostrate themselves to corporations, ultimately can bankrupt unions forced to serve freeloaders. Which is exactly what the right-wingers and corporations want. It’s much easier for corporations to ignore the feeble pleas of individual workers for better pay and safer working conditions than to negotiate with unions that wield the power of concerted action.

Canada is particularly sensitive about America’s right-to-bankrupt laws because they’ve now crept up to the border. Among the handful of states that in recent years joined the right-to-bankrupt gang are Wisconsin and Michigan, both at the doorstep of a highly industrial region in Ontario, Canada.

So now, the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan can whisper in the ears of CEOs, “Come south, and we’ll help you break the unions. Instead of paying union wages, you can take all that money as profit and get yourself even fatter pay packages and bonuses!”

Then those governors will make American workers pay for the move with shocking tax breaks for corporations, like the $3 billion Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker promised electronics manufacturer Foxconn to locate a factory there. That’s $1 million in tax money for each of the 3,000 jobs that Foxconn said would be the minimum it would create with the $10 billion project.

Right-wing lawmakers like Walker and U.S. CEOs have been union busting for decades. And it’s been successful.  In the heyday of unions in the 1950s and 1960s, nearly 30 percent of all U.S. workers belonged. Wage rates rose as productivity did. And they climbed consistently. Then, one wage-earner could support a middle-class family.

That’s not true anymore. For decades now, as union membership waned, wages stagnated for the middle class and poor, and compensation for CEOs skyrocketed. And this occurred even while productivity rose. By January of 2016, the most recent date for which the statistics are available, union membership had declined to 10.7 percent. The number of workers in unions dropped by nearly a quarter million from the previous year.

This is despite the fact that union workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and employer-paid health insurance. The median weekly earnings for non-union workers in 2016 was $802. For union members, it was $1,004.

It’s not that labor unions don’t work. It’s that right-wing U.S. politicians are working against them. They pass legislation and regulations that make it hard for unions to represent workers.

It’s very different for unions in Canada. For example, union membership in Canada is growing, not dwindling like in the United States. In Canada, 31.8 percent of workers were represented by union in 2015, up 0.3 percentage points from 2014. That is higher than the all-time peak in the United States.

And it’s because Canadian legislation encourages unionization to counterbalance powerful corporations. In some Canadian provinces, for example, corporations are prohibited from hiring replacements when workers strike; striking workers are permitted to picket the companies that sell to and buy from their employer; labor agreements must contain “successorship” rights requiring a corporation that buys the employer to recognize the union and abide by its labor agreement; and employers must submit to binding arbitration if they fail to come to a first labor agreement with a newly formed union within a specific amount of time.

The second round of negotiations to rewrite NAFTA ended in Mexico this week. The third is scheduled for later this month in Canada. That’s a good opportunity for the northernmost member of the NAFTA triad to showcase its labor laws and explain why they are crucial to defending worker rights and raising wages.

Getting language protecting workers’ union rights into NAFTA is not enough, however. The trade deal must also contain penalties for countries that fail to meet the standards. This could be, for example, border adjustment taxes on exports from recalcitrant countries.

Canada’s nearly 20,000 Royal Canadian Mounted Police only recently filed papers to unionize. That occurred after the Canadian Supreme Court overturned a 1960s era federal law that barred them from organizing.

Canada’s Supreme Court said the law violated the Mounties’ freedom of association, a right guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution. Now, Canada is riding to the rescue of U.S. and Mexican workers’ freedom of association by demanding the new NAFTA include specific protections for collective bargaining.

Leo W Gerard: No More Trickle-Down Trade Deals

Free trade be damned.

People don’t need any more free trade. They need jobs. And not just any jobs. They need good jobs with living wages and decent benefits.

That’s what negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico must prioritize as they begin talks this week to rewrite the reviled and failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Negotiators must focus on improving the lives of people, not boosting the profits of corporations.

NAFTA betrayed the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico because it was based on the same servility to the rich that trickle-down economics was. Under trickle-down, the wealthy and corporations got the biggest, fattest tax cuts. Everyone else supposedly was to benefit somehow someday.  A microscopic pinch of the immense monetary gift granted to the high and mighty was supposed to magically appear in everyone else’s pockets. It never did.

And that’s the problem with NAFTA. Its negotiators placed corporations on a pedestal, awarding them rights and privileges that no human, no labor organization, no environmental group got. Again, the wrong-headed idea was that if corporations made big bucks, some of the benefits would trickle down to workers. That never happened.

NAFTA was great for corporations. It provided incentives for them to move to the lowest-wage, lowest-environmental regulation location – that being Mexico. Profits, dividends and CEO pay all rose as corporations like United Technologies uprooted profitable American factories – like its Carrier plant in Indiana – and moved them to Mexico. There, dirt-poor wages and lack of environmental regulation provide even higher profits, dividends and CEO pay.

Workers in none of the three NAFTA signatory countries saw any benefits. Wages in the United Statesand Canada stagnated.  In Mexico, wages are actually lower than before NAFTA. The poverty rate in Mexico is almost exactly the same as it was in the mid-1990s, before NAFTA took effect.

NAFTA ensured there was no wall between the United States and Mexico for corporations to scale. Humans get stopped at the border, but not corporations. United Technologies faced no barriers this year when shipped manufacturing from Indiana to Mexico. It was the same for Rexnord, which closed its ball bearing plant in Indianapolis this year and sent it across the border to Mexico, no problem.

As the United States’ trade deficit with both Canada and Mexico skyrocketed in the 20 years after NAFTA took effect in 1994, the United States lost 881,700 jobs. That figure is three years old, so it does not include United Technologies and Rexnord moving 1,600 Indiana jobs to Mexico. Since NAFTA, more than 60,000 factories closed in the United States.

Clearly part of the lure is wages. While a manufacturer may pay $20 an hour in the United States, it’ll only pay $20 a day in Mexico, where the average manufacturing wage is $2.49 an  hour. Labor organizations there are almost always completely controlled by corporate employers, rather than by the workers. So securing raises is nearly impossible.

And while many formerly American manufacturers moved just across the border to special industrial areas, overall job growth in Mexico was not significant. That is because subsidized corn exported from the United States bankrupted huge numbers of small Mexican farmers and many corporations have moved their factories again, this time from Mexico to even lower-wage China and other south Asian countries.

That’s just great for rich investors and fat cat CEOs. It’s been horrible for workers in Mexico, Canada and the United States. What has trickled down has been toxic – lost jobs, stagnant wages and worry.

The difference in the way NAFTA treats corporations and workers is stark. Corporations get special perks in the main NAFTA document. The rights of workers are dealt with in an addendum. They’re an afterthought.

NAFTA gives corporations an extraordinary privilege. They can sue governments for what they contend are “lost profits” if they don’t like regulations or legislation. They don’t have to present their cases to real judges in open court, either. They get to go before a tribunal of corporate lawyers whose decision cannot be appealed by the governments ordered to pay unlimited billions of tax dollars to the corporations. Corporations can force governments to pay if lawmakers protect citizens by, for example, banning a neurotoxin or limiting sale of dangerous products.

There’s no counterpart for workers. NAFTA provides no way for the Carrier workers laid off in Indianapolis by United Technologies to sue. The workers can’t ask three hand-picked worker-jurists in a secret court for income lost because the corporation moved to Mexico to make even bigger profits on the backs of underpaid workers there. There’s no way for Mexican workers to sue when a corporation endangers worker health with pollution or when a company-controlled labor organization pushes down wages.

In fact, NAFTA’s labor addendum bows to corporations before even mentioning workers. The addendum’s preamble says the NAFTA signatories resolved to expand markets for goods and services and to enhance corporate competitiveness globally. Then, after that, the preamble says a goal is to create new jobs, improve working conditions and living standards, and protect “basic” workers’ rights.

Trump Re-Opens NAFTA, Activists Fear It Is The TPP In Disguise

Like a steady drumbeat, candidate for President, Donald Trump, said he would “renegotiate NAFTA,” the North American Free Trade Agreement that has cost millions of American jobs.   As talks begin this week to make changes to NAFTA some fear that this “new NAFTA” will just be another “grab bag of corporate handouts.”

“NAFTA was a radical experiment,” said Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “NAFTA subsidized offshoring, making it easier for corporations to move American jobs overseas.”

Working people across the country blamed NAFTA for destroying our manufacturing base. “910,000 jobs have been lost due to NAFTA and we have seen our trade surplus with Canada and Mexico shift to a trade deficit,” Wallach added.

“NAFTA went far beyond what we think of as trade,” said Ben Beachy of the Sierra Club. “NAFTA is a grab bag of corporate handouts.”

Beachy explained how this new NAFTA negotiations are being conducted in the same way the Trans-Pacific Partnership was conducted, in complete secret by corporations. There are no representatives for labor or the environment allowed to be a part of the negotiations.

The Sierra Club has been fighting the harmful pollution policies laid out in NAFTA. Due to weak environmental protections in Mexico, NAFTA allowed corporations to export their hazardous waste. The number of toxic waste facilities in Mexico, owned by foreign corporations, grew by over 40% in the last 25 years.

“Underweight babies are being born with elevated levels of lead in their blood because of led battery exports,” said Beachy.

The Sierra Club also opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s poor environmental protections and fears that Trump’s new NAFTA will fail to raise environmental protections.

When a country does try to fight back against these corporations they take their case to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). The ISDS has been incorporated into more than 3,000 trade agreements worldwide 50 of which the United States is included in.

The ISDS is a corporate court, where three corporate lawyers decide the outcome of the dispute. Murshed Zaheed, the Executive Director of Credo Mobile said, “The ISDS puts corporations over people.”

If the corporation wins their case in the ISDS, the taxpayers of the State (i.e. the country being challenged) are forced to pay for the “damages.” The United States alone has already paid out over $400 million in ISDS disputes.

“The ISDS circumvents American sovereignty,” said Rep Keith Ellison (D-MN). He explained who Phillip Reynolds won their ISDS dispute with the country of Uruguay over the labeling of their cigarettes. Uruguay wanted to put a warning label on all cigarette packages, however they were shut down by the ISDS.

(Watch this video from Credo Mobile featuring Senator Elizabeth Warren, explain how the ISDS works in her opposition to the TPP.)

 

The prior history of NAFTA is well known. It crushed our manufacturing and cost millions of people their jobs. But every story has two sides.

Erika Andiola, an immigration activist and a director in Our Revolution, talked about how NAFTA “decimated the Mexican economy” which forced a massive Mexican migration

“Local farmers lost their farms due to the influx of cheap American corn,” Andiola said. After they lost their farms, these farmers were forced to move into the cities to find work. “The economy shifted as local shops and markets were replaced with Wal-Mart and Costco.”

Ultimately, when they could not find work in Mexico, some headed north to the United States in search of work.

Andiola added, “We must talk to our members of Congress to ensure that NAFTA will help American workers but raise the living standards for the workers in ALL countries.“

Yesterday, the Trump administration began the first round on negotiation on NAFTA. Beachy said, “Trump wants to begin by copying the Labor and Environmental protections from the TPP into the new NAFTA.”

We beat the Trans-Pacific Partnership and if we use our collective voices we can make our demands for a better NAFTA heard.

“As renegotiations begin today, there is an incredible opportunity to replace this fundamentally flawed trade deal with new rules that work for working families,” said AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka in a statement. “But how we do it matters. The administration can choose to use this opportunity to benefit working families, or it can further rig the rules to favor corporations and CEOs.”

Rep Ellison said “we must demand”:

  • No ISDS
  • Labor standards are lifted instead of dropped.
  • Environmental standards are lifted instead of dropped.
  • Food standards are lifted instead of dropped.

“We are setting the bar high. We will only accept a deal that is renegotiated the right way. That means having a transparent process in which working families have a seat at the table, and ensuring that our freedom to stand together is protected and that all of us can receive a fair return on our hard work. We need to replace benefits for the few with a fair deal that raises wages, stops outsourcing and provides a path to the middle class, no matter where working families live or what their background is. America’s working people have earned this. We deserve nothing less,” Trumka concluded.


This story compiled from speeches by Rep Keith Ellison, Lori Wallach, Murshed Zaheed, Ben Beachy, and Erika Andiola at Netroots Nation 2017.

Full video of panel here or below.

Leo W Gerard: Workers Need Better Trade Deals, Not More Talk

President Donald Trump, author of “The Art of the Deal,” said this week that China is giving American workers and companies a crummy one. He promised to do something about it.

This occurred within days of his Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, demanding “fair, free and reciprocal” trade in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, Congressional Democrats offered a seven-point plan to give workers what they called “A Better Deal on Trade and Jobs.”

American workers want all of these proposals achieved. They’ve heard this stuff before and supported it then.  That includes ending tax breaks for corporations that offshore jobs – something that never happened. It includes the promise to confront China over its steel and aluminum overcapacity – a pledge followed by delay. Talk is cheap. Jobs are not. The factory anchoring a community’s tax base is not. America’s industrial strength in times of uncertainty is not. All the talk is useless unless workers get some action.

President Trump is expected to announce within days the launch of an investigation into China forcing American corporations to transfer technology to the Asian giant’s companies as a price of doing business there. The technology transfer boosts China’s goal of becoming the leading manufacturer within a decade in high-tech areas such as semiconductors, robots, and artificial intelligence. In addition to seizing American research and know-how, Beijing advantages its technology companies by granting them government cash.

This is the kind of unfair competition that Secretary Ross talks about in his Wall Street Journal op-ed.Under so-called free trade rules, governments aren’t supposed to subsidize industry or demand that foreign investors fork over research.

These kinds of violations, not just with China but with other trading partners as well, have occurred for decades now. And the upshot for American workers is lost jobs and stagnant wages.

More than 5 million American manufacturing jobs disappeared between 1997 and 2014. Most of these vanished, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), because of growing U.S. trade deficits with countries like Mexico and China that had negotiated trade and investment deals with the United States.

The United States’ massive trade deficit with China alone accounted for 3.4 million jobs lost between 2001 and 2015, with 2.6 million of those in manufacturing, according to EPI research.

While offshoring manufacturing has often padded corporate profits, it has suppressed wages in the United States and in trading partner countries like Mexico. United Technologies (UT) is a good example.

UT moved to Mexico this year its Electronic Controls unit, which manufactures microprocessors for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. UT did this even though its 700 American workers had produced consistent profits for UT at a factory in Huntington, Ind. UT also moved a big chunk of its profitable Carrier HVAC manufacturing from Indianapolis to Mexico this year. UT’s stock price rose, so the already-rich who have cash to invest, made out.

They did it on the backs of workers in the United States and Mexico, however. The move to Mexico rendered jobless more than 1,000 skilled American workers. Studies show that if they’re lucky enough to land new employment, the pay will be substantially less.

Mexican workers gained the jobs, but the pay they’re getting is little better than before NAFTA. More than half of Mexicans still live below the poverty line, a figure no different than before NAFTA. The New York Times cited this case: “For 10 years, Jorge Augustín Martínez has driven a forklift for Prolec, a joint venture with General Electric that makes transformers. A father of two, he earns about $100 for a six-day workweek.”

Mexican wages have remained stagnant for a decade.

In the United States, wages have been flat for longer – several decades.

This as corporate profits rise, the stock market skyrockets and CEO pay surges limitlessly.

Trade deals worked great for the already-rich, CEOs and corporations. They’ve crushed workers.

So it’s encouraging that both President Trump and the Democrats are talking about solutions.

The president is right. American corporations shouldn’t have to transfer technology to China to operate there. The United States doesn’t require that of Chinese companies manufacturing here. No such demand was made of Foxconn when it agreed to build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin last week – though it is true that Wisconsin Republicans plan to force the state’s taxpayers to contribute $3 billion toward the plant, nearly a third of the total cost.

And the Democrats are right about every point in their “Better Deal” plan. Workers need an independent trade cop they can turn to for quick results to combat trade violations before they cost Americans jobs. Corporations like UT and Rexnord should be penalized when they offshore and when they seek government contracts. Corporations that restore jobs to the United States should be rewarded.

So do it. And don’t procrastinate like the administration is doing on its investigation of the national security threat posed to the United States by steel and aluminum overproduction in China. The report in that case originally promised for June 30 now has been indefinitely delayed. Each day’s wait means more American workers without jobs as illegally subsidized, grossly underpriced Chinese steel and aluminum floods the international market.

America’s highly skilled, dedicated steel and aluminum workers perform their jobs faithfully every day with the expectation that their government will enforce international trade regulations. They also expect their government to support their right to join together and collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. As right-wingers have eroded workers’ bargaining rights over the past half century, unions have declined, and with them, workers’ ability to secure raises. This is true in Mexico too, where there are virtually no legitimate, worker-run unions.

Timothy A. Wise, a research fellow at Tufts University, put it this way to the New York Times: “Mexico is seeing exactly the same phenomenon as in the United States. Workers have declining bargaining power on both sides of the border.”

To ensure there are no more crummy trade deals, workers must be at the table when these pacts are negotiated. To get better wages, workers in all the countries involved in these deals – from China to Mexico to the United States – must be able to form real, worker-controlled labor organizations to bargain with corporations.

Praise And Concern Over Democrats “Better Deal”

Communication Workers of America: Working People Need Protections for U.S. Call Center Jobs and a “Better Deal”

Today the Democrats released the details of their “Better Deal” that will focus on three goals:

Raise the wages and incomes of American workers and create millions of good-paying jobs: Our plan for A Better Deal starts by creating millions of good-paying, full-time jobs by directly investing in our crumbling infrastructure and prioritizing small business and entrepreneurs, instead of giving tax breaks to special interests. We will aggressively crack down on unfair foreign trade and fight back against corporations that outsource American jobs.  We will fight to ensure a living wage for all Americans and keep our promise to millions of workers who earned a pension, Social Security and Medicare, so seniors can retire with dignity.

Lower the costs of living for families: We will offer A Better Deal that will lower the crippling cost of prescription drugs and the cost of a college or technical education that leads to a good job. We will fight for families struggling with high monthly bills like childcare, credit card fees, and cable bills. We will crack down on monopolies and the concentration of economic power that has led to higher prices for consumers, workers, and small business – and make sure Wall Street never endangers Main Street again.

Build an economy that gives working Americans the tools to succeed in the 21st Century: Americans deserve the chance to get the skills, tools, and knowledge to find a good-paying job or to move up in their career to earn a better living. We will commit to A Better Deal that provides new tax incentives to employers that invest in workforce training and education and make sure the rules of the economy support companies that focus on long-term growth, rather than short-term profits. We will make it a national priority to bring high-speed Internet to every corner of America and offer an apprenticeship to millions of new workers. We will encourage innovation, invest in advanced research and ensure start-ups and small business can compete and prosper.

(Video of Better Jobs announcement at bottom of post)

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO praised today’s announcement.

“We applaud Sen. Chuck Schumer’s leadership and the Senate Democrats for committing to better trade deals and creating the good jobs that working people deserve. Particularly notable in this agenda are the demands for increased public input and transparency in trade negotiations—including the call for town hall meetings across the country—as well as the continued commitment to long-needed action on currency and trade enforcement. This blueprint provides a good start but also must ensure that working people across North America are free to join together to negotiate a fair return on our work. We look forward to working with the Senate to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement’s corporate-driven rules and enact other innovative trade reforms beneficial to working families.”

After the details of the Democratic Party’s “better deal” were released the Communications Workers of America issued a statement highlighting the need to protect call center jobs from offshoring.  

The Democratic Party’s plan for a better deal on trade and jobs outlines real policies to help working families fight back against corporations that want to shift more jobs overseas and cut wages and benefits for working Americans.

For the first time, lawmakers are recognizing the impact of the tens of thousands of U.S. customer service jobs that have disappeared over past years, as corporations ship good call center jobs to Mexico, India, the Philippines and other countries.

CWA has been pressing Congress to stop this flood of jobs overseas. Corporations are boosting their profits and enriching their investors at the expense of working Americans, and communities are devastated when these good service jobs disappear. And as more jobs are sent offshore, more pressure is brought to bear on U.S. workers to accept lower wages and benefits as the price for keeping any job at all.

The Democratic “Better Deal” plan includes crucial legislation introduced by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) that would help restrict call center offshoring and reverse the loss of thousands of good customer service jobs in the U.S.  It also would provide important consumer safeguards.

Overall, the “Better Deal” plan will give working people a long overdue voice in what happens to their jobs and their communities. It ends the tax incentives and other rewards that corporations now get for sending  jobs overseas; encourages companies to bring jobs back to the U.S. with financial incentives; fully restores “Buy America” requirements for all taxpayer-funded projects, and makes improving U.S. wages and good jobs a key objective of our trade policy.

The Better Deal plan would require companies that handle sensitive U.S. consumer data abroad, including call centers, to disclose to customers what country they are physically located in and the level of data protection in that country.

U.S. trade deals should benefit working families, consumers and communities, not just investors and big corporations. The Better Deal plan provides real solutions to do just that.

AFL-CIO Executive Council: Working People Need Real Trade Reform, Not Just Rhetoric

 (Silver Spring, Md., Wednesday, July 26, 2017) – For decades, America’s trade agenda has failed working people. Last year, voters in both parties called for change. In the early days of the Trump administration, actions have been initiated on existing trade policies, from assessing the national security impact of steel and aluminum imports to considering reform of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Updating our nation’s trade deals is vital, but only if the focus is on how to increase and improve the quality of jobs. Much work lies ahead, and the direction and effectiveness of President Trump’s efforts still is unknown.

No task is more pressing than ensuring the administration’s renegotiation of NAFTA results in new rules that reflect the needs and interests of working families, not global corporations. NAFTA has failed working people in Canada, Mexico and the United States. Since NAFTA’s inception in 1994, corporate profits are up, but wages in all three countries are stagnant. Despite increased productivity, workers are not receiving a fair return on their work. There is more trade between the three NAFTA countries, but that trade is unbalanced, with the United States running consistent deficits with Mexico and Canada. The freedom to negotiate together is under attack in all three countries, diminishing the voices of working people and increasing inequality. As with other policy failures, broken trade deals disproportionately have harmed communities of color.

We can do better. NAFTA is not a failure of trade itself, but the result of trade rules rigged to favor global corporations and the wealthy elites in all three countries. Trade should be a cooperative endeavor that benefits us all. For that to happen, NAFTA must change dramatically.

NAFTA and its inequities can’t be fixed with mere tweaks or by substituting language from the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Nor should the United States adopt a strategy that pits the working people of North America against each other. We must end the race to the bottom that hurts working families, as it impoverishes our democracy and starves investment in our public infrastructure. We must replace NAFTA’s vicious cycle with a virtuous one—with a set of rules that promote shared prosperity for workers in all three nations.

We must incorporate the lessons learned from NAFTA’s failures into its new rules. This means NAFTA’s labor provisions must be substantially strengthened to improve protections for all working people, regardless of immigration status. NAFTA’s labor rules must meet international standards. Swift and certain monitoring and enforcement tools must replace the current convoluted, ineffective process. This will require effective labor inspections and explicit protections for workers who migrate, including a ban on recruitment fees, accountability for abusive practices by employers and labor recruiters, transparency regarding wages and terms of employment, and real access to justice and legal assistance. Only when all workers share these protections will we be able to effectively join together to negotiate for a better life.

A new NAFTA, with rules that working people help write, is an opportunity to begin constructing a Global New Deal for working families. The critical elements of a new NAFTA are:

  • A democratized renegotiation process
  • Strong labor rules with swift and certain enforcement that prevent the commodification of workers
  • Elimination of corporate courts
  • Enforceable currency rules
  • Stronger rules of origin
  • Protection for responsible government purchasing and Buy American policies
  • Improved screening for foreign domestic investment
  • Improved trade enforcement as part of a robust manufacturing policy
  • Elimination of obstacles to effective trade enforcement
  • New rules to prevent tax dodging
  • Removal of rules that undermine protections for workers, consumers and the environment
  • Commitments to invest in infrastructure
  • Consumer protections that ensure financial stability
  • Prohibition of unsafe and unfair cross-border transportation services
  • Protection for intellectual property while ensuring the right to affordable medicines
  • Prohibition on global corporations from using NAFTA to capture public services for profit
  • Strong environmental rules with swift and certain enforcement

Working people and our unions are united and will mobilize with the same level of intensity as our campaign to defeat the TPP. We will work to advance a set of positive and forward-looking trade rules through a comprehensive public campaign on the ground, online and over the air. The elements of the campaign will include the follow action points:

  • Educate elected officials, policy makers, opinion leaders and all workers about the causes and effects of NAFTA and other U.S. trade policies, showing there is another way, and that we need to act collectively to achieve a higher standard of living;
  • Report and publicize the impact of NAFTA on the quality of life for North America’s working people, including the effect on jobs, wages and negotiating power;
  • Demand greater democracy, transparency and participation in the NAFTA renegotiation process—and publicize any failure to open up the process;
  • Mobilize our members, community allies and all workers to demand a better NAFTA, with rules centered on working people’s policy choices—not those of the corporate class;
  • Develop and execute joint strategies with labor movements and allies in Mexico and Canada to ensure that meaningful and effective protections for working people and higher standards are at the core of any changes to NAFTA; and
  • Utilize all available strategies, including public and social media, to broaden the base of popular engagement and advance our vision of a worker-centered NAFTA.
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