Unions, Allies Conduct Week-Long Anti-Fast Track Drive; Obama Ignores It

Unions and their allies, led by the Communications Workers and the Teamsters, mobilized the week of November 8-14 to stop Congress and Democratic President Barack Obama from greasing the skids on Capitol Hill to quickly push through so-called “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority, plus three anti-worker “free trade” treaties that TPA would permit.


And they started their drive by delivering 663,674 letters, petition signatures and e-mails to congressional leaders opposing fast-track and the trade pacts.


Obama, gallivanting around Asia for summit meetings, ignored the workers, despite polls showing majorities opposing fast-track.  But there are indications lawmakers are listening.


Obama wants fast-track so he can jam through the three “free trade” pacts.  One is particularly dangerous: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). TPP would open the U.S. market to 11 other Pacific Rim nations, several of whom – such as Brunei and Vietnam – are known for rock-bottom wages and worker oppression.


As a result, TPP would cost U.S. workers jobs since those nations could export cheap goods to the U.S., undercutting home production.  TPP also would give corporations free rein to sue in secret courts to override federal, state and local laws – from environmental statutes to Buy America laws – if those measures even allegedly threaten future corporate profits.


TPP would not include enforceable worker rights, but fast-track would let Obama push all three pacts through Congress unchanged, with no worker rights.  The second pact is with Europe.  The third covers trade in services, including government services and procurement.  That pact would let governments outsource jobs – such as handling aid to the poor – overseas.


Faced with those threats, on the eve of Obama’s trek, the coalition delivered the 663,674 signatures and letters to key congressional leaders opposing fast-track.


“Activists are focusing all our efforts on stopping fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Communications Workers President Larry Cohen.  “Millions of labor, environmental, community and human rights activists are fighting back and demanding the White House and Congress put U.S. citizens ahead of the corporate and financial interests that already define and dominate the global economy.”


“We’re calling on Congress to affirm opposition to fast-track now and into the future,” said Teamsters’ legislative representative Mike Dolan.  “Fast-track legislation introduced in January didn’t go anywhere this year, and won’t go anywhere during the ‘Lame Duck’ or the new session, because policymakers and the public alike rightly view it as an abdication of Congress’ authority and responsibility when it comes to shaping trade policy for the benefit of working families.   This isn’t something minor ‘tweaks’ are able to fix.”


Organizers particularly urged action in November and December, warning that Obama and GOP leaders, who agree on fast-track – but little else – could try to jam it through the lame-duck session of Congress when the rest of the U.S. takes a break from politics.


“Fast Track is as dead in the water post-election as it was before it,” predicted Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC) in a statement after the petitions were delivered.  “After all the secrecy and back-room deal-making surrounding the TPP negotiations, there’s no way the public, civil society or responsible policymakers will allow the pact to be rushed through Congress.”


The Obama administration has kept the Trans-Pacific Partnership under wraps.  But bargaining sessions over that controversial pact include “observers” from 600 corporations and their lobbies, while labor, citizens and lawmakers are shut out.


“The White House and various corporate lobbies are calling for to TPP be approved under fast-track, an expired, Nixon-era policy-making process that would allow the pact to circumvent ordinary Congressional review, amendment and debate procedures,” CTC said.


The Communications Workers, the Teamsters and CTC led the anti-fast-track drive.  Other backers include the Steelworkers, the Bakery Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, the AFL-CIO, the Denver Area Labor Federation, the Machinists, the Service Employees, Public Citizen and Democracy for America.


They followed their initial drive with the “#StopFastTrack Week of Action” to produce more calls, e-mails and rallies.  Details are atStopFastTrack.com.


Besides the letters, e-mails and petitions, the anti-fast-track campaign hosted a community forum in Sacramento, demonstrations outside lawmakers’ offices in Chicago, Elgin, Ill., Portland, Ore., Boston, Allentown, Pa., San Diego, Seattle and Olympia, Wash., Denver and elsewhere and a phone bank in Chicago.


Tweets against fast-track multiplied, too.


“Fast track will bring more trade deals that increase corporate power & CEO bonuses while pushing down wages for the rest of us,” one said.  “We oppose Fast Track because Congress needs to ensure trade deals work for everyone, not just giant corporations.  Tell Congress: Say NO to fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” another read.  A third called fast-track “a tool of corporate colonialism, harming local economies and worker rights everywhere. Communities across the world are resisting trade that puts profit over people and the planet.  Join the North America Day of Action on Jan. 31st!”


Obama ignored all of that.   “We are seeing momentum building around a Trans-Pacific Partnership that can spur greater economic growth, spur greater jobs growth, set high standards for trade and investment throughout the Asia-Pacific,” he said on November 10 in Beijing.  “During the past few weeks, our teams have made good progress in resolving several outstanding issues regarding a potential agreement.”