workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

More “free trade”

“Free trade” is increasingly like “free time”; they’re still stealing from you, but now it’s on your dime (or your time).

They’ve finally released the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, and it’s every bit as bad as expected. As Human Rights Watch says, it’s a “win-win” — unless you care about the environment, labor rights, growing inequality, human rights, access to life-saving medicines, and similar minor issues.

The Obama administration points to “protections” such as provisions “guaranteeing” Vietnamese workers the right to form independent unions, strike, and work with labor organizations around the world. But while corporations have the right to bring legal claims if environmental or labor (or health, human rights, and other measures) negatively impact their profits under the deal, workers have no enforcement mechanisms available to them under the agreement. Corporations have equal status with the governments that signed this deal on their behalf. Both can bring complaints to the TPP disputes panel (comprised of corporate attorneys and their ilk); workers have only those rights they are able to enforce through our own direct action — through strikes, boycotts, refusal to handle scabby goods and the like. Most such actions are severely restricted by existing legislation, and since any improvements to labor rights are certain to negatively impact profits the bosses are likely to bring TPP complaints should any effective protections be implemented.

“Are trade unionists who actually produce all the capital that we’re talking about here allowed to bring compalints against a country for violations?” asked John Sifton, Asian advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “No, of course not.” Instead we are asked to trust the U.S. government (an implacable foe of workers in this country) to protect the rights of our fellow workers abroad. Similar provisions exist under the Central American Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, and we can see how those have turned out.

The Obama administrations touts TPP’s strong environmental protections; the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council — both solidly mainstream organizations that would never dream of opposing capitalist exploitation — say the provisions are even weaker that those negotiated by the George W. Bush administration’s trade deals.

Candidate Obama talked quite a bit about the devastating effects of NAFTA back when he was trying to get votes. Now that he’s angling for his “legacy” (read high-paid corporate boards, lectures, and the other accoutrements of loyal service to the bosses), “free trade” deals rain down from the sky like a plague of locusts. When she was secretary of state, Ms. Clinton never saw a free trade deal she didn’t like; now that she’s out campaigning she has suddenly seen the light. But when she returns to the White House, or to the Clinton Foundation, we’ll see just how long this sudden concern for the plight of the working class and the devastation of the environment lasts.

The AFL-CIO and kindred organizations will fuss and moan, some Republicans will object to the TPP’s rhetorical restraints on the “freedoms” of corporations to despoil and exploit, and a few Democrats needing votes (but not enough to block the treaty) will speechify about environmental protections and workers rights. But all this is in the realm of shadow puppetry. Only direct action and organized action can create and enforce real protections for our planet or for the workers who create all the world’s wealth.

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