Labor made the front page of the New York Times in mid-June for its stand against President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, and it isn’t the first time the union movement has taken on big trade agreements.
“Labor opposition helped derail a measure necessary to clear a path for an up-or-down vote on a sweeping trade deal that the White House is negotiating with 11 other nations bordering the Pacific Ocean,” the Times reported on June 14.
From the early 19th century, when political economist David Ricardo proposed free trade, working people have seen the disadvantages. Ricardo also proposed the “Iron Law of Wages” that advocated workers be held at subsistence wage levels. As Ralph Nader argues in The Case Against Free Trade, today’s free trade proponents don’t seem to have advanced much from Ricardo’s thinking. They simply “ignore altogether the issue of wages and working conditions.”
In the 1980s, unions in Canada and the United States fought hard to stop the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries. Soon it was fighting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Unions declared that both deals would be bad for workers and they have been proven right. But they lost both those battles. Now, however, it looks like they might have succeeded in at least stalling the TPP.
Working in coalition with “liberal activists,” Labor beat back the President’s deal, claiming that “whatever the overall benefits to the economy, the emerging deal would accelerate the loss of jobs for blue-collar workers that pay well.”
Observers credit the success with “movement’s unusual cohesion,” and with good reason. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, visiting Oregon in mid-May, bolstered the statewide movement’s resolve to oppose the TPP, saying that it would “affect the lives of working people more than any other piece of legislation out there right now.”