‘Fast track’ defeated – for now! US unions at forefront of campaign
UPDATE (Sunday 14 June): US unions defeat ‘fast track’: where to next? The United Steelworkers has issued a bulletin to its Rapid Response network which sets out the procedure used in the House of Representatives and what to expect next from the pro-TPP lobby and the Obama Administration.
The legislation President Obama needs so that he can drive through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement being negotiated by the US and twelve Pacific Rim countries is stalled – largely because of a campaign led by US unions.
The legislation, known as ‘Fast Track’, would have enabled Obama to push through the trade deal on a straight ‘yes or no’ vote in US legislature. It stops US lawmakers scrutinising trade deals line by line and being able to make amendments to parts of a deal they don’t like. ‘Fast Track’ is considered essential to get through all trade agreements over the next six years – it would also have to be used in the USA to push through the proposed deal between the EU and the USA known as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership).
Unions, led by the umbrella organisation the AFL-CIO, and backed by the Steelworkers, Autoworkers, Communications Workers, Teamsters and others, built a broad coalition of environmental groups, faith groups, human rights campaigners and community groups. This is part of the AFL-CIO’s policy of building alliances across different campaigning groups, rather than relying on unions’ own traditional political and lobbying muscle. Groups such as the powerful environmental group the Sierra Club were enraged by provisions to reject environmental action.
US unions were badly stung by previous trade deals notably the North American treaty known as NAFTA which unions such as the Steelworkers say cost 600,000 decent manufacturing jobs – as companies and the supply chain moved south to ‘low cost’ regions in Mexico. Even the Ford Motor Company said that TPP would not stop ‘currency manipulation’ by countries seeking to make their own exports cost less.
As with opposition by unions in Europe to TTIP and the Canada – EU deal known as CETA, employment rights and the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) are also at the heart of US union opposition.
The US is unlikely to sign key ILO employment conventions on issues such as the right to form unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike, but on the other hand, US unions are demanding that countries in the Pacific Rim deal such as Vietnam must be required to allow workers to form unions before the USA allows unfettered market access for their products.
US unions also focused on ISDS clauses which would allow multi-national corporations to appeal to a secret and special court if they felt a country had discriminated against them by passing pro-worker legislation or taking into public ownership utilities and services.
The AFL-CIO ran a sophisticated campaign against ‘Fast Track’, using social media lobbying; adverts in the main Washington DC rail terminals to focus on law makers; targeting Democrats who were in favour of TPP; lobbying local politicians; and local and state-wide rallies that countered the pro-trade deal groups and media.
But the battle is not yet won and unions know that – so they have kept their powder dry as ‘Fast Track’ could be opened up again next week.
This will give time for pro-TPP campaigners to re-group. It also means that Democratic Leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, who kept quiet on ‘Fast Track’ until she spoke on this week’s vote (and came out strongly against) can marshal more Democrats to oppose the deal. Pelosi stated of the defeat this week: “It doesn’t mean that path can’t be repaired. It just means it must be lengthened.”
There is speculation that Obama may make an offer to unions which promises job creation to replace those lost to overseas competition. Judging by the previous remarks of key US union leaders, especially those in manufacturing, that alone may not be enough.