Is Big Labor going to sell out on Fast Track?

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AFL-CIO’s Shifting Line in the Sand on Fast Track and TPP
By Alan Benjamin / The Organizer
(June 19, 2015)

During the past several months, I have been pleasantly surprised by the hard line in the sand that the AFL-CIO leadership has drawn in opposition to Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade” agreement (TPP). The trade unions have stood firm against the many attempts to water down Fast Track and/or sell it to the public by adding side agreements or parallel bills to make the deal more palatable. Even the Big Business press — from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal — has credited the resolve and mass lobbying by the labor movement for the various failed attempts by Obama to secure passage of Fast Track.

When I received yesterday (June 18) a copy of the statement by Richard Trumka denouncing the stand-alone Fast Track bill just passed by the U.S. House by a vote of 218-108, I felt reassured that the labor movement was not going to cave in to the new pressures, or be misled by the latest maneuvers, by Obama and the Republicans. Trumka stated: “Workers’ resolve is firmer than ever. We will fight at every level and in every way to protect American workers and our economy by rejecting Fast Track and this corporate trade deal.”

Hence my astonishment to read this morning the “Accountability Alert to all State Federations, Area and Central Labor Councils” sent out by Geoff Wetrosky, the AFL-CIO’s national organizer of the Fast Track/TPP campaign. Instead of affirming that the labor federation must defeat Fast Track unconditionally, the Alert Memo reads as follows:
“This fight is not over.  Our focus now shifts back to the Senate where we expect votes as early as next week. We need a full-court press on the following 14 Senate Democrats [their names follow — AB] who voted wrong on Fast Track. We need to ask them to stand with us and ensure that Fast Track doesn’t get a vote until the customs bill passed by House Republicans is fixed and TAA [Trade Adjustment Assistance] is on the President’s desk ready for signing.”

The problem with this stance — and the overwhelming majority of anti-TPP activists understand this full well — is that the TPP, like all “free trade” agreements before it, cannot be improved. The very purpose of these agreements, their very nature, is to dismantle all the rights and gains won by working people in the name of “removing the barriers to trade and investment.” Moreover, to think you can kill Fast Track by making it a condition to get TAA and a fixed customs bill is equally misguided; a significant number of Republicans could easily reverse course and support TAA.

The notion of improving Fast Track by adding a “fixed” customs bill and TAA — i.e., providing funds for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of U.S. workers who will lose their jobs on account of TPP — is a notion that has been put forward by a wing of the corporate class, and most specifically by Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, both of whom have been straddling the fence on Fast Track and TPP. (Pelosi has been calling to “slow down” Fast Track in order to “improve” it. Clinton, whose silence on the issue has been deafening, rallied at the 11th hour to the view that Fast Track needed to be “improved,” albeit without giving any specifics on how to do this.)

So now we have the sorry spectacle — the typical shell game of mainstream politics in Washington — of Republicans pushing for Fast Track without TAA — while Democrats, claiming to be defenders of labor rights and democracy, are now supporting Fast Track . . . but only if it includes TAA. This clever maneuver by Obama and the Republicans would have us believe that the “bad guys” are the ones who want Fast Track without any compensation for workers’ displaced by this rotten trade deal, while the “good guys” are the ones urging Fast Track with this TAA.

It is understandable that officials in the Democratic Party, one of the two parties of the bosses, should take such a stand. But what is not acceptable, and must be reversed, is for labor to be calling for support to Fast Track with the so-called “fixes” of an amended customs bill and TAA.

As Ohio anti-TPP activist Greg Coleridge put it, “We will not be fooled, distracted or mesmerized.”

Labor must stick to its guns: No Fast Track! No TPP!

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