Tony Burke, Unite Assistant General Secretary and Chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom, examines the dangers of unaccountable trade agreements
UNIONS IN BRITAIN AND THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU) have been campaigning against the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), the free trade deal between the EU and the US and the deal with Canada known as CETA. The main focus by European unions, including the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC), has been on the threat of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses which would allow companies to sue sovereign governments should they feel their interests and profits are being detrimentally affected. And of course the threat to the NHS has been paramount in the UK. Unions in the United States are now gearing up to oppose TTIP and other trade deals, starting with Fast Track, the US system used to push through trade agreements on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis – with no line-by-line scrutiny by elected politicians.
The US Congress has regularly created new trade authority mechanisms as international trade has developed. Fast Track first went into effect in modern times under Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Fast Track authority was last granted during the George W Bush administration, but that law expired on June 30, 2007.
President Obama wants to fast track TTIP and other trade deals currently under negotiation, but unions and some key Democrats oppose Fast Track, given the effect previous trade deals have had on US jobs – notably in manufacturing.
Under the North Atlantic Free Trade Area (NAFTA) deal, which opened up free trade in North America and was signed off by Bill Clinton, around 700,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the US and over 60,000 industrial businesses were closed as work and jobs flooded into cheap labour zones in Mexico and the southern states.
- there is no proof that the massive number of new jobs predicted will be created;
- the NHS or parts of it would be under threat of sell offs to US and Canadian multi-nationals;
- the ISDS clauses could mean that US and Canadian companies could sue a government if they felt their actions were detrimental to their interests – such as nationalising industries and utilities, raising minimum wages or improving employment rights;
- strong European employment rights such in Germany, France or Scandinavia would be undermined and workers would face a ‘race to the bottom’.
Unions leading the fight in the US include the United Steelworkers; the United Autoworkers; public service workers (AFSCME); the Machinists Union, (IAMAW); the communications workers union (CWA), as well as the AFL-CIO union umbrella body. They launched a major campaign against Fast Track centred on Washington DC.
Commencing with an advertising campaign which ran on the entirety of the Capitol South Metro station in Washington DC, they highlighted the dramatic impact trade deals such as TTIP hold for working people.
The AFL-CIO said that Fast Tracking trade agreements sets the US on a path to concluding any trade deal that would take policy making out of the hands of elected politicians and turn it over to trade arbitrators who favour corporate interests over the public interest.
Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees said: “Trade agreements should not be designed to limit the ability of governments to implement and enforce laws that regulate business and protect our food, our environment, worker safety and the public’s health”. Saunders highlighted TTIP: “TTIP would allow global corporations to challenge US laws through secret, unaccountable and undemocratic international trade tribunals that do not have to adhere to US law or even abide by the US Constitution when making decisions that impact US citizens or companies.”
» For regular blogs, updates and tweets on TTIP, CETA and Fast Track, check out the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom website www.unionfreedom.co.uk