The ‘Movement of Movements’ Against Fast-Tracking the TPP Can Win

Leland Pan
Leland Pan Named February 2015 Patriot Award Winner
February 1, 2015
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FOIA Reform Bills Introduced in Congress
February 4, 2015

Since President Barack Obama announced his plan to push corporate trade agreements in his State of the Union message Jan. 20, the movement against the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and giving the President “fast-track” authority to push it through Congress has escalated its mobilization. Indications are that we are winning, and if we mobilize enough over the next two months we will win. Mobilization There was already a large movement across the political spectrum to oppose fast-tracking and stop the TPP and other corporate trade agreements before the State of the Union address. So when we took action on Capitol Hill Jan. 27, disrupting U.S. Trade Representative’s testimony before House and Senate hearings on fast-tracking, we did so knowing it was not a standalone action. It was essential to confront Froman because he has consistently misled the Congress and the American people. There are multiple false statements to dissect, but his latest is the claim that fast-tracking will give Congress the power to shape the trade negotiations. This is a laughable lie, since the trade negotiations have been carried on in secret for Obama’s entire presidency. How can Congress shape negotiations that Froman claims are near completion? The truth is the opposite: Fast-tracking removes Congress from the equation. It allows the President to sign the trade agreements and then send them to Congress for a brief review of documents that will be over 1,000 pages long. There are no committee hearings, only brief debate on the floor of the House and Senate. Then the Congress has an up or down vote, with no amendments allowed. Fast-tracking is a tremendous grant of power to the President: Congress gives up its power under the Constitution and abandons its responsibilities under the Commerce Clause to regulate trade. Also, since the president’s speech we have seen a protest at a town hall meeting with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. Wyden is a key player, as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. He has played both sides of the debate, and the movement needs to monitor him closely and hold him accountable. If he cannot reach agreement with committee chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), it is possible that fast-tracking will not pass the Senate. At a hearing this week, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley said that there are not currently 60 votes in the Senate in support of it, and therefore it could not survive a filibuster. If Wyden stays strong in demanding transparency, enforceable labor and environmental standards, and true congressional involvement in the process, then he and Hatch will not reach agreement, and the Republicans will have to go it alone. When the TPP negotiators met in New York City Jan. 26, people showed up to protest despite predictions of a blizzard. The protests were organized by Trade Justice New York and included the Teamsters, NY, Fight for the Future, Food and Water Watch, Veterans for Peace, Citizens for Safe Energy, Popular Resistance, and a host of other organizations. Despite the snow, the crowd was too large to stay in front of the Sheraton Hotel, and police forced them to cross the street. They then crossed Manhattan to protest outside the offices of Senator Chuck Schumer, a member of the Finance Committee and the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate. In the first week after the president’s speech there were 10,000 phone calls opposing the TPP made to Congress, according to Arthur Stamoulis of Citizens Trade Campaign. These phone calls will continue to escalate if the Congress continues to move forward on fast-tracking. We urge people to call. An easy way to do so is to use the tool on which will contact your legislator for you and provide you with talking points. Phone calls make a difference when tied to a campaign that includes on-the-ground protests, meetings with congressional representatives, and media work. We know that this movement can generate tens of thousands of calls and are confident it will do so again. NAFTA Has Changed the Politics of Trade There are many differences between the debate over trade today and the debate in 1993, when the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed. The major difference is that now people have the experience to know that corporate trade agreements favor transnational corporations but undermine the people and environment in the U.S. and other countries. At the same time, politicians know they are risking their political careers by supporting corporate trade agreements. In Trade and Consequences: Dems Forget Political Impact of NAFTA, a Daily Kos blogger reminded people of the political impact: From the get-go, the pursuit of NAFTA was damaging to Democrats in general and President Clinton in particular. With pro-labor and pro-environment congressional Democrats lined up against business oriented New Democrats in their own caucus and the White House . . . when the elections came around, Clinton’s advocacy of NAFTA seriously hurt the Democrats.” The political fallout from NAFTA was severe for Bill Clinton. In the 1994 election, the Republicans won a majority in the House for the first time since 1952. The Democrats have still not recovered from this electoral slaughter. But Republicans are also aware of the impact on trade, and should realize if they go it alone on fast-tracking, the Democrats will reap the political benefit from opposing trade agreements that always lose jobs and increase trade deficits. The political winds on corporate trade agreements have been blowing strongly negative in recent years. In a 2008 Gallup Poll, 53% of Americans said that NAFTA has had a primarily negative effect on the economy; only 37% said the effect had been positive. Barack Obama took an anti-NAFTA stance in that year’s presidential campaign, saying the trade deal and its potential were “oversold to the American people” and promising to “fix” it so it “works for American workers.” He claimed he would seek to renegotiate NAFTA to include more rigorous labor and environmental stipulations. Now, he is negotiating even worse deals, in the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific partnerships. By December 2012, Economy in Crisis wrote, polling indicated “that U.S. public opinion has intensified from broad opposition to overwhelming opposition to NAFTA-style trade deals”: “A May 2012 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found that U.S. respondents who believe that the United States should ‘renegotiate’ or “leave” NAFTA outnumbered by nearly 4-to-1 those that say the country should ‘continue to be a member’ (53 vs.15 percent). Support for the ‘leave’ or ‘renegotiate’ positions dominated among Republicans, Independents, and Democrats alike. Just 1 in 3 U.S. respondents thought that NAFTA benefitted the overall U.S. economy, and only 1 in 4 saw the pact as having benefitted U.S. workers.” The 2012 presidential campaign played on these views; the “presidential campaigns spent an unprecedented $68 million—about $34 million each—in ads attacking more-of-the-same trade policies. Trade-themed presidential ads aired an estimated 83,000 times in 2012, more than twice the number of trade-related airings in 2008.” Perhaps more important for the current debate in Congress, it was also evident in the 2012 congressional elections, where 57% of candidates in competitive races campaigned against trade deals. In fact, “Out of more than 125 paid ads used by congressional candidates across 30 U.S. states, only one indicated support for any trade deals modeled on NAFTA. (It was from GOP candidate Linda Lingle, who lost her bid for Hawaii’s Senate seat.) The same was seen in the Senate where “candidates who employed ads against status quo trade won seats in Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.” “The public gets it that our NAFTA-style trade agreements have sucked jobs out of the country,” Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America’s Future wrote last August. “They get it that we need a national plan to restore our manufacturing ecosystem. They get it that we need to invest in maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure.” Even politicians who have supported trade in the past are expressing concerns and doubts. The Teamsters reported that Sen. Schumer had told Michael Froman at the Jan. 27 hearings, “If trade agreements can’t show they’re going to help the middle class…I’ve got some real problems with them.” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, “criticized the TPP talks because members of Congress are severely constrained from reviewing the text. He also grilled Froman on the failure of the South Korea trade deal to create the jobs promised.” Huffington Post reports that another area of bipartisan opposition came from Senators Grassley, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Rob Portman (D-Ohio), who pressed Froman on the issue of currency manipulation—an economic strategy in which a nation devalues its own currency in order to attract jobs from abroad without reducing its workers’ standard of living.  Grassley asked Froman twice if currency manipulation had been raised in the TPP talks, without getting an answer.” The Movement Against Corporate Trade Has Grown Deeper, Broader and Stronger One reason why the movement has broadened is because these trade agreements cover much more than trade. Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers writes: “Supersized trade agreements now intrude on every area of life, from food safety to generic drugs to national sovereignty. They can extend patents that make life-saving drugs unaffordable. They can forbid country-of-origin labeling on food. They can outlaw requirements that American taxpayer-financed road and bridge projects use materials made in America. They can allow multinational corporations to sue governments for damages if a law to protect the public reduces profits. They can commit the United States to pay fines or revise laws if an international tribunal orders it. “That’s stuff to slow down, not fast track.” Another is people’s experience with NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. Teamster Mike Dolan writes: “The NAFTA and WTO and their progeny have cost the U.S. millions of jobs lost through outsourcing and cheap imports, and it is the definition of insanity to continue the same trade model and expect different outcomes. The new crop of trade talks, these alleged high-end, 21st century agreements, are so big and complex, and intrude on so much of the substantive jurisdiction of law-makers and regulators, that the old-fashioned Fast Track is a completely inappropriate delegation—an abdication even—of Congressional Authority.” The NAFTA experience has also changed the environmental movement.  During the debate on it, Mike Dolan reports, seven “Big Green” environmental groups provided Clinton cover: the World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, and Audubon Society. Now the environmental damage is evident. Fresh green groups have taken a more aggressive stand and this prevents the Big Greens from providing Obama with cover. Their demand now, echoed by many in Congress, is for enforcement of environmental standards, but in fact, the agreements negotiated by Obama have less environmental protection than those negotiated by George W. Bush—indeed, leaks show they have no environmental protection. Dolan also points out that consumer groups have joined the movement against corporate trade agreements because food and water, health care and medicines, and data and privacy are all adversely affected. Other groups involved range from the American Association of Retired Persons, Breast Cancer Action, AllergyKids Foundation and the Alliance for Natural Health U.S.A., to the Council for Responsible Genetics, Food Democracy Now, and Moms Across America. Because the Obama trade agreements are so broad, they also threaten the future of the Internet. This has brought groups like Fight For the Future, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and Free Press into the battle against fast-tracking. While NAFTA is good for agribusiness, it is not good for traditional farmers. Dolan writes “three great farmer groups…. the National Farmers Union (NFU), founded 1902, representing farmers and ranchers in all states; the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), founded 1986, and its 24 constituent grassroots groups in 32 states; and the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy (IATP), the preeminent progressive think-tank at the intersection of globalization and farming” oppose corporate trade agreements because of the experience with NAFTA. So does the Organic Consumers Association, which has an Internet following of over one million people. Another area of large growth has been faith-based groups. The Vatican has spoken out against the mode of trade that undermines developing countries, facilitates corporate tax evasion, and exploits workers and natural resources. The Unitarian Universalists and the Quakers have been longtime activists against the NAFTA trade model, and other opponents include the United Methodists, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ.  The Sisters of Mercy oppose it because of its impact on immigration, non-violence, anti-racism, women, and the Earth. Conservative religious groups oppose the trade agreements because they include countries that are hostile to Christianity. Of course, one of the backbones of the opposition is labor.  Mike Dolan works with one of the stalwarts, the Teamsters Union, and lists other key players as the “United Auto Workers, The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, United Steelworkers of America, the Communication Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and the Union of Needletrades and Industrial Textile Employees, affiliates of Public Services International, including AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union.” How We Win The movement opposed to corporate trade agreements has gotten larger, representing tens of millions of Americans. It’s broader, representing people concerned about food, water, healthcare, the Internet, workers’ rights, the environment, banking regulation, and more. It’s more committed, because people have seen the degradation of the economy and their concerns made worse by NAFTA and similar deals. The key is for this movement to mobilize now. The next two months will decide whether corporate trade is finished for the remainder of President Obama’s term in office. If people take action (go to and watch for opportunities for action in the coming months we will win. This is a battle between mass people power against transnational corporate power. It is a battle the people can win. Photo Credit: Ellen Davidson Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are co-directors of Popular Resistance. Both were arrested for protesting Fast Track in the US Senate.