By Steven Weiner for Unions Matters
As a union member who cares for the rights of working people, both here in the USA and abroad, I deplore the fact that the so-called “fast-track” bill was signed into law paving the way for approval of a new trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). I was proud to join the many thousands of union members all across the nation who fought hard to defeat this anti-worker, anti-democratic legislation. Despite an initial victory, corporations that will profit massively from TPP spent millions to insure that the votes were there for the “fast-track” bill’s final passage.
This is an agreement that was negotiated in secrecy; few of its details were released to unions and to others who made repeated requests to review the documents. A statement by the AFL-CIO explains succinctly why there was such concealment:
“TPP…is about increasing opportunities for U.S. companies to invest offshore and then export back to the United States with favorable tariff rates. This model enriches global companies, but does little for the workers in the U.S. who were laid off or foreign workers who toil in sweatshop conditions, denied fundamental rights.”
Teamster General President James Hoffa said that TPP, like an earlier trade agreement NAFTA, “will only ship jobs overseas and lower wages in the U.S. Yet again, workers have been tossed aside by some lawmakers who are more interested in pleasing their corporate cronies than doing what’s best for their constituents.”
Meanwhile, in the struggle to defeat TPP something happened in the labor movement that I believe is new and has big meaning for the future of organized labor in America. There was a huge coming together of many unions and thousands of workers to defeat this terrible bill. Said Mark MacKenzie, NH AFL-CIO President: “This fight demonstrated that when we unite in a common purpose anything is possible.” I’ve learned from Aesthetic Realism, founded by educator and critic Eli Siegel, that the one purpose that strengthens us is impelled by ethics, by the conviction that: “Justice to all people is the same as justice to oneself. ”
An example of this “common purpose” is in the fact that private sector unions whose members are likely to be badly impacted—including by huge job losses—were joined by public sector unions, whose members’ jobs would not be at stake. In a New York Times article (6/13/15) entitled “Labor’s Might Seen in Failure of Trade Deal as Unions Allied to Thwart It,” Noam Scheiber writes:
“While a broad coalition of unions and liberal activists can claim credit for beating back the…legislation, the key to labor’s display of force in Congress, according to supporters and opponents of the trade deal, was the movement’s unusual cohesion across various sectors of the economy—including public employees and service workers not directly affected by foreign competition.”
As the article points out, unions not seemingly directly affected by TPP, saw its defeat as their fight. John Murphy, senior VP for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was quoted as saying “None of these workers are in any way negatively affected by competition with imports. Yet [they] will be there, showing solidarity.”
I am very encouraged that individual unions are seeing clearly that when one union is under attack and weakened, it’s easier to attack and weaken the next. I believe there’s a reinvigorated belief in the motto of the IWW: “An injury to one is an injury to all,” and it’s a cause for celebration!
Why There Are Increasing Attacks on Unions
In an important issue of the periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, describes what has gone on as to unions in these last years, resulting in incalculable harm to millions of Americans. She writes:
“In 1970 Eli Siegel explained that the profit system had reached the point at which it was no longer able to succeed. Though it might struggle on for a while, it would do so with increasing pain to humanity. And that is what has occurred. As production has been taking place in more and more nations, it has become harder and harder for US companies to haul in big profits for stockholders. They can do so now only by making the people who actually do the work become poorer and poorer—be paid less and less. That means crushing unions, because it is unions that have enabled working people to earn a dignified wage and be treated with respect.
“… As big a fight as any going on in the world—indeed, as big a fight as any in the history of humanity—is the fight now taking place between the profit system and unions….The fight is really a sheer one: For the profit system to continue, unions must be defeated.”
At this pivotal time in America’s history, unions need to see clearly what they stand for and are fightingagainst so that the justice they represent as a united force will prevail! The means to this will be powerfully and delightfully shown on Sunday, July 12th in an upcoming production by the esteemed Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company “Ethics Is a Force–2015! Songs about Labor.”
Steven Weiner is a Ret. Executive Board member and Shop Steward of Local 2627, DC-37, AFSCME.