Labor ramps up fight against free trade deal

As a national campaign against new NAFTA-style trade deals picked up steam, the Oregon AFL-CIO led protesters into the streets of Portland with a March 9 Rally and March to Push Back Fast Track. Fast track is an agreement by Congress to give rush treatment to any trade agreement negotiated by the president. The rally, at downtown Portland’s Director Park, drew about 150 supporters, including Portland City Council member Steve Novick.
As a national campaign against new NAFTA-style trade deals picked up steam, the Oregon AFL-CIO led protesters into the streets of Portland with a March 9 Rally and March to Push Back Fast Track. Fast track is an agreement by Congress to give rush treatment to any trade agreement negotiated by the president. The rally, at downtown Portland’s Director Park, drew about 150 supporters, including Portland City Council member Steve Novick.

Union leaders and rank-and-file supporters have in recent weeks ramped up pressure on members of Congress to vote no on “fast track.” Fast track is a Congressional agreement that would make it easier for Congress to pass NAFTA-style international agreements like the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a deal being negotiated behind closed doors by representatives of 12 Pacific Rim nations.

On March 11, the national AFL-CIO announced that unions are freezing all political contributions to federal candidates until further notice in order to conserve resources for the historic legislative battle around fast track and the debate over the TPP. Defeat of fast track has been declared a top federation priority.

“Fast track has been used since the Nixon Administration to advance deals, like NAFTA, that are sold to the American people as job creation measures,” said a March 2 letter to Congress signed by more than 60 national labor officials. “But these deals, written largely by and for the world’s largest corporations, don’t create jobs: their main purpose isn’t even related to trade; it’s to enshrine rules that make it easier for firms to invest offshore and increase corporate influence over the global economy.”

On March 4, union leaders from more than 20 states gathered in Washington, D.C., to lobby members of Congress. And they’re putting the pressure on back home too. A labor-led March 9 protest moved into the streets of downtown Portland. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), was met by fast track opponents all around Oregon in a week of town hall meetings, and was trailed by a 30-foot protest blimp in Umatilla, La Grande, Baker City and Ontario.

“Ron Wyden: It’s up to you. Don’t betray us” said a large sign on the blimp, which was set up by the Internet freedom group Fight for the Future.

Wyden’s role is pivotal in the fast track debate, because he’s the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and his support is considered necessary to pass fast track. But Wyden hasn’t yet reached agreement with Finance Committee chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on the details of the fast track proposal. Wyden wants Congress to be able to reject fast track treatment for any agreement that doesn’t meet the goals it sets for such agreements, something Hatch disagrees with.

The TPP is opposed not just by labor but by environmental groups, consumer groups and Internet freedom activists. And the TPP negotiators themselves faced protests at their most recent meeting March 9-16 at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort in Hawaii, organized by MoveOn, Public Citizen, and other groups.

The Oregon AFL-CIO is calling on union members to join the fight by texting the word “FAIR” to 77948, for updates. The labor federation is also asking union members to call their members of Congress to say that Oregon can’t afford another bad trade deal.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Congressman Peter DeFazio are committed opponents of fast track and the TPP. But other Oregon members of Congress haven’t made it clear where they stand, and Wyden in particular is crucial.

“Until I hear them make a public statement against it, we have to assume they might vote for it,” said Oregon Fair Trade Campaign director Elizabeth Swager. “Their constituents have to contact them and urge them to publicly oppose it, because jobs, the environment, health, food safety, everything is on the line.”

  • Sen. Ron Wyden: 1-866-502-6055
  • Rep. Suzanne Bonamici: 202-225-0855
  • Rep. Greg Walden: 202-225-6730
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer: 202-225-4811
  • Rep. Kurt Schrader: 202-225-5711

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