The late writer Kurt Vonnegut once said, “A step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”
The debate over whether to give the Obama administration fast track trade authority to negotiate a new trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is heating up in Congress. And some senators are warning their peers to take a step backward rather than making another wrong turn similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement, negotiated in 1994.
On Feb. 26, several leading U.S. Senators spoke out on the Senate floor on the need for a U.S. trade policy that puts the needs of workers and communities first – a policy that will level the playing field between nations, not lead to a global race to the bottom in wages, benefits and worker protections.
“The talent and tenacity of American workers hasn’t changed—but our leaders’ commitment to them has,” says Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “And nowhere is that abandonment more clear than the free trade agreements we now approve with little oversight and minimal debate. We know that trade done right creates prosperity, and as a progressive, I want trade that strengthens the middle class here at home and lifts workers from poverty in America and around the world—not another NAFTA.”
“I have heard from too many constituents who are rightly skeptical of the promises that this new generation of trade agreements offer,” says Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). “After seeing decades of jobs going overseas while the ones that are left pay less, who can blame them? Until it is clear to me that the gains from these agreements will go to the middle class, and not corporations, millionaires, and billionaires, then I will continue to oppose them.”
Other senators speaking out included Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Following the U.S. signing of NAFTA in 1994, more than 1 million jobs were lost. More than 60,000 factories were shut down. A 2008 Gallup Poll showed that a majority of Americans felt that NAFTA damaged workers and the economy.
Today, 21 years after NAFTA, some members of Congress are once again rushing to give the president “fast track” authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that is being negotiated in secret. Fast track, which was also authorized before NAFTA, would establish a process that allows no amendments and limited debate on the TPP when it is brought before Congress.
Details about the TPP have only come from drafts leaked by the website Wikileaks. They reveal that TPP would allow investors to sue nations over child-labor and safety laws and ban “Buy America” policies that prioritize the use of domestically-manufactured goods on government-funded projects.
The agreement would also weaken American manufacturing by giving nations that engage in currency manipulation to make their exports cheaper even greater access to U.S. markets. A large coalition comprising unions (including IBEW), farmers, manufacturers, environmentalists and faith-based organizations is opposing fast track and the TPP.
And polls once again show that many citizens want Congress to take a step back on fast track and the TPP.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the leading Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is deeply involved in congressional negotiations over whether to grant the Obama administration fast track trade authority.
A poll conducted in Oregon by Public Policy Polling reveals that half of all voters in the state would be less likely to vote for Wyden in his 2016 reelection if he voted for fast track authority. Sixty-three percent of voters oppose the TPP and 73 percent oppose giving the president authority to push trade deals through Congress without broad public debate or amendments.
“The IBEW thanks our friends in the Senate for opposing fast track, pushing for greater transparency in TPP negotiations and powerfully speaking up for trade relationships that are fair to workers here and abroad,” says International President Edwin D. Hill.
IBEW members, says Hill, are fully engaged in several states, including Connecticut, Colorado and California, lobbying members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans—and rallying alongside all coalition partners to win the battle against fast track.
Hill urges all members to sign the online petition saying no to fast track.
(Photo Credit: Wendy Colucci of the CNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO)