Unions unite to call for US-EU trade deal to benefit workers
This week trade union confederations in Europe (ETUC) and the USA (AFL-CIO) officially kicked off a joint campaign to press for workers’ rights and progressive economic policies to be a core part US-EU trade deal (or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to use its marvellously uncatchy official title).
Now, just in case you don’t spend your days poring over financial news pages – the TTIP is a Big Deal of a deal. If it goes through, it will create the largest free trade area in the world and tie the economic policies of the USA and the EU together like never before.
Clearly Europe and the USA are different in many ways and unions in both Europe and the USA do not want the trade deal to lump them with certain policies found in each other’s regions.
Unions in Europe are wary of the fact the USA has not ratified a number of the most important ILO Conventions, including that on the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The US has also passed ‘Right to Work’ legislation in 24 states, most recently in the traditional union stronghold of Michigan, which clamp down on unions’ basic ability to exist. We certainly would not want European companies locating themselves in such states and taking advantage of un-unionised labour.
American unions are also concerned about its companies relocating to countries in Europe such as Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Slovakia where incomes are low and trade unions are weaker than in other parts of the EU.
Unions on both sides of the Atlantic also worry that closer economic coordination could mean Europe’s welfare states may be threatened by US-style free-marketeering whilst the USA might be forced to swallow a dose of Osborne-style austerity.
This is why it’s so important that unions in Europe and the USA have agreed to work together. By developing a joint campaign, the AFL-CIO and the ETUC hope to influence the TTIP to be mutually beneficial rather than destructive.
The AFL-CIO hopes that the TTIP will prompt the USA to sign up to ILO conventions and instigate European-style laws on worker protection and worker representation on company boards.
The ETUC, meanwhile, hopes the TTIP will strengthen progressive economic policies:
‘[creating] closer cooperation and a common effort in the fight against tax evasion and tax-dumping [which] could stabilise public revenues on both sides of the Atlantic.’
Talks on the TTIP are due to start in the summer and the European Commission has set itself an ambitious target of two years to conclude the deal.
It’s vital that negotiators in Washington and Brussels involve trade unions in the process to make sure this historic deal can bring progressive change to each other’s economies, working conditions and trade union rights. That’s the kind of trade deal that would break out of the financial news pages and make a positive difference in people’s lives.