By Paul Garver
Throughout the spring, liberal Democrats and some Tea Party Republicans, aided by a coalition of labor, environmental, and progressive groups, joined forces against a massive corporate power grab known as “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) only to see it narrowly pass the House by a 218-208 vote in early June. TPA and the accompanying Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bills were signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 29.
Polls show that a majority of American voters oppose “trade deals” that endanger workers’ jobs and environmental regulations. But the political game is rigged. Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority, which allows U.S. trade representatives to negotiate agreements in secret (retroactively in the TPP case), is not really about “free trade.” Such authority would cement the current inequitable structure of the global economy by enacting three sweeping investor protection treaties (Trans Pacific Partnership [TPP], Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP], and the Trade in Services Agreement [TISA]). Together these treaties would make it almost impossible for any political authority in any nation to enforce serious protections for workers, communities, or the environment.
Capital plans to ensure perpetual corporate dominance through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism for enforcing these treaties. Corporations that claim losses in their expected profits as a result of any governmental action that protects a country’s citizens can sue for monetary damages by taking it to a private and secretive panel of corporate lawyers. However, labor, environmental, or consumer organizations have no direct access to ISDS. The rulings of ISDS panels cannot be challenged in any court. Corporate ISDS claims under previous trade treaties are already threatening governments with massive damages for environmental and consumer protection regulations. For instance, Philip Morris has sued the governments of Uruguay, Australia, and the United Kingdom because those countries require very clear warnings on cigarette packages.
The struggle against these treaties has led to a massive and coordinated global resistance. The “Alliance of Teamsters and Turtles,” prefigured in the 1999 Seattle demonstrations, is becoming an organized coalition capable of driving a deep wedge into the current U.S. two-party system. A key leader of this coalition, former CWA president Larry Cohen, citing Hillary Clinton’s belated and equivocal comments on Fast Track and the TPP, endorsed and will work for Bernie Sanders, a fierce opponent of these corporate-driven trade deals.
Top-secret TPP treaty provisions will become accessible to congressional scrutiny two months before the accelerated debate under Fast Track can begin in Congress. This minor but useful delay is the single concrete achievement of the opposition to date.
Movements in Europe are gaining traction against the TTIP. The struggles in the streets for racial justice, campaigns for improving the lot of low-income workers, for rescuing democracy from the stranglehold of money, for divesting universities from fossil fuel investments are rising...and converging. The comprehensive political revolution advocated by democratic socialist Bernie Sanders may not result in his winning the presidency, but its strong appeal to many activists reveals the deep hunger for genuine political change.
|Paul Garver, a retired international union organizer, is a member of DSA’s National Political Committee and co-editor of Talking Union, DSA’s labor network blog (talkingunion.wordpress.com), where you can follow trade issues as they unfold.|
This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.
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