Now We Build a Fair Trade Movement

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This post first appeared at Campaign for America’s Future.

Fast track trade authority passed last week. So many of us fought so hard but The Money won again – this time. What do we do now?

We take this awareness and energy into the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And then, win or lose, we build a fair trade movement that will eventually rewrite all of our trade agreements and policies so that they work for We the People instead of just a few people.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

On the one hand, Wall Street and the big corporations again pushed through a rigged process called “fast track” that keeps us and our Congress from “meddling” with corporate-written agreements setting down the “rules for trade in the 21st century.” And those rules are, of course, going to be very good for the plutocrats who write them and very bad for the rest of us. Fast track seriously greases the skids to get TPP and other trade deals through so it will be a very tough fight.

On the other hand, more and more people “get” that, and more and more people are fired up to do something about it. So we are strong. In spite of a virtual media blackout, millions of people signed petitions, tens and hundreds of thousands called or wrote Congress and thousands of organizations came out in opposition. And this is before most of the public is even aware that another “trade” deal is in the works.

Still to come is the public fight over the TPP itself. Even our corporate-controlled media won’t be able to keep that fight under wraps. This is clearly an opportunity to build a public movement to fix our bad trade policies.

Wall Street and The Money do not give up easily. By driving policies that keep people hurting, keep a reserve army of unemployed, desperate people ready to take the job of anyone who mouths off and asks for a decent life, they can always claim that their trade policies (and tax cuts and low wages and deregulation) “create jobs.” This extortion is effective, but eventually people tire of it and resist.

Our Bad Trade Policies

Elites say globalization is a force of nature, inevitable. But nature does not conspire to drive inequality; the effects of globalization we are experiencing are the results of policies designed by a few to benefit a few. Our rigged “trade” policies are one root of the decline of our middle class, the devastation of cities and entire regions, the decline of unions and the rising inequality. (If you can even call closing a factory here and moving it to a low-rights, low-wage country that doesn’t protect its people or the environment “trade.”)

When Steve Jobs famously said, “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he was talking about how China lets companies exploit workers, paying very little, making them live in on-site dorms where they could be awakened at midnight to finish a rush job, exposing them to unsafe chemicals and making them stand for hours, treating them as disposable. Having bypassed the borders of our democracy to locate a source of near-slave labor to exploit, they fight to keep this as it is as a source of their own wealth, no matter the consequences to the people doing the work – and to the Americans losing their livelihoods. Of course, billionaire plutocrats want their companies to be able to do that. But letting companies do that turns our democracy into a competitive disadvantage.

A lot of elites didn’t get the point, that Jobs’ statement demonstrated the arrogance of the billionaires and their contempt for democracy and human rights, instead seeing it as a roadmap for a new system that Americans had better get used to. But a strong democracy wouldn’t let that happen.

Simply put, these policies have allowed The Money to escape the borders of our democracy, its fair wages, its health and safety regulations, its environmental protections, its ability to tax and invest in our infrastructure, education, research and the rest of what democratic government does to make our lives and economy better. These trade policies shift power from government to corporations and billionaires, enabling companies to extort concessions under threat of removing the job and revenue base.

“Free market” policies have resulted in enormous, humongous trade deficits – the metric for lost jobs, devastated communities, drained wealth that trades assets for commodities. More than $500 billion was lost just last year and this draining of our economy has gone on every year since the ascendance of “free market” “free trade” neoliberalism in the late 1970s. Note that this is also the time period marking the draining of our wages and our middle class, coupled with the rise of the extreme wealth at the top.

Let’s Fix This

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says, “we need a new trade policy” and explained the problem:

American workers deserve a trade policy that works for them and not only for the CEOs of major multi-national corporations. We cannot continue trade policies which outsource good jobs to low-wage countries overseas and lead us into a race to the bottom.

First, of course, we will continue to fight the TPP. Then we will fight the coming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). These agreements are being negotiated using the rigged, plutocrat/corporate-dominated process that has gotten our economy and our democracy into the unequal downward-spiral mess they are in.

In these fights we will be joined by people in all of the countries they will apply to (at least in countries where the government doesn’t block and punish such dissent.) Thanks to our efforts so far TPP will be a 2016 presidential campaign issue. It will be an issue of whether candidates are on the side of Wall Street and the giant multinational corporations or on the side of 99 percent of the rest of us. Public awareness and energy can only grow.

With the energy and awareness these fights build we will begin the effort to replace trade policies like NAFTA, permanent normal trade relations for China and other harmful agreements that allow The Money to escape the borders of democracy, public and worker safety, taxes to fund government and the things government does, environmental protections and the other benefits citizens receive from self-government.

Then we must fight to put in place fair trade policies for the 21st century that lift widespread prosperity (not just for a few) on all sides of trade borders, promote democratic self-government and especially respect the environment and respect humanity. We must engineer upward spirals and stop downward spirals.

A fair trade movement should strive for balance and inclusion in future trade negotiations – two basic things we don’t have now.

Balance. Recently in the must-read piece, “Why trade deals hurt Americans,” John Komlos wrote:

The famous investor Warren Buffett warned us more than a decade ago to ‘halt this trading of assets for consumables.’ He proposed an ingenious way to fix the problem without raising tariffs and without singling out China or any other nation. Buffet argued that the U.S. government should issue import certificates to all exporters in amounts equal to the value of their exported goods. In turn, the exporters could sell these certificates to importers who would not be allowed to import goods without them. By establishing a market for import certificates, firms would have powerful incentives to bring the trade deficit into balance. Importers would have to buy the certificates in appropriate amounts from our exporters and a market in certificates would make our trade deficit disappear.

Transparency and inclusion. Currently these “trade” policies are negotiated between the plutocrats and their giant corporations. We must insist that representatives of labor, environmental, consumer, health and safety, democracy, faith and every other stakeholder group join business groups in such negotiations. The result can only be better than the rigged process we have now.

Ideas For Fair Trade

A lot of thought and work has gone into the intellectual foundations for a fair trade movement. Campaign for America’s Future helped write the Populism2015 Platform, with a section on trade policy,

Forge a Global Strategy that Works for Working People.

Our global trade and tax policies are rigged by multinational companies to drive down pay and worker protections while harming the environment. We need more but balanced trade, global standards that protect the rights of workers, consumers and the environment. That requires a crackdown on tax havens, currency manipulation, and deals that allow corporation to trample basic labor rights here and abroad.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has released its “Trade Principles that Put Workers First in Trade Agreements,” writing,

America’s current trade policy fails working families while increasing profits for the world’s largest corporations. Trade agreements should create a net increase of good American jobs, spur more balanced trade between partners, and improve governance, public health, and environmental protections around the world. The Congressional Progressive Caucus believes the following principles can ensure fairer trade agreements by prioritizing middle class families and removing special protections and privileges for corporations:

● Protect Congress’ Authority to Set Trade Policy
● Restore Balanced trade
● Put Workers First
● Stop Currency Manipulation
● Expand Buy America Procurement Practices
● Protect the Environment for Future Generations
● Prioritize Consumers above Profits
● Protect Nationhood Rights
● Secure Affordable Access to Essential Medicines and Services
● Respect Human Rights
● Provide a Safety Net for Vulnerable Workers

In 2013 the AFL-CIO convention passed Resolution 12: America and the World Need a New Approach to Trade and Globalization calling for a “people-centered trade policy” that will:

● Create shared gains for the workers whose labor creates society’s wealth.
● Strengthen protections for the environment. Companies must not use trade rules to pit one country’s environmental rules against another, as they seek the lowest-cost place to produce.
● Protect the freedom to regulate in the public interest.
● Set rules for fair competition. Workers of a nation must not be unduly disadvantaged by unfair economic competition resulting from choices about how to organize their economies.
● Include strong rules of origin so that trade agreements are not merely a conduit to ease the global corporation’s race to the bottom.
● Not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors.
● Effectively address currency manipulation.
● Retain the ability for all nations to stimulate their economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs.
● Protect the right of governments to choose the scope and level of public services to provide.
● Protect intellectual property (IP) in a fair and balanced manner.
● Protect the unique US transportation regulatory and legal structure.
● Protect the right of governments to secure the integrity and stability of their financial systems.
● Be negotiated in an open, democratic and accountable manner.
● Be flexible and responsive.

A Revolutionary Moment

Trade policies are just a piece of the economic puzzle. There are many ways that the system has become increasingly rigged against 99 percent of us – worldwide. But as I said above, people get that, and there is widespread readiness to do something about it.

Chris Hedges writes that we are in a revolutionary moment, a “period where the ideas that buttress the old ruling elite no longer hold sway, but we haven’t articulated something to take its place.”

…the facade of power — both the physical facade of power and the ideological facade of power — appears to remain intact. But it has less and less credibility.

There are all sorts of neutral indicators that show that. Low voter turnout, the fact that Congress has an approval rating of 7 percent, that polls continually reflect a kind of pessimism about where we are going, that many of the major systems that have been set in place — especially in terms of internal security — have no popularity at all.

All of these are indicators that something is seriously wrong, that the government is no longer responding to the most basic concerns, needs, and rights of the citizenry. That is [true for the] left and right. But what’s going to take its place, that has not been articulated. Yes, we are in a revolutionary moment; but maybe it’s a better way to describe it as a revolutionary process.

(Please listen on YouTube to the podcast “Is Revolution Coming?” with Chris Hedges, interviewed by Richard Eskow, on The Zero Hour.)

It is a revolutionary moment as things come to a head on trade policy, on inequality, on climate policy, on labor rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, foreign policy. The old, rigged systems are being exposed and are breaking down. Our movement for democracy, shared prosperity, transparency, honesty, dignity, respect and humanity can only grow.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

dave johnson
Dave Johnson is a fellow with Campaign for America’s Future and a senior fellow with Renew California.
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