Every Saturday and Sunday, Linda and Tom Nelson set up a table at the Vancouver farmers market at Esther Short Park, but they’re not there to sell blueberries. The married couple are members of United Association of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290. She’s retired. He’s still working, out at Intel. Both are passionate about stopping new job-killing trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. At their table, they collect signatures on petitions they made themselves, demanding that members of Congress oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership — and vote “no” if and when it comes up for a vote.
So far, they’ve collected over 300 signatures. At some point, they’ll present the petitions to Washington senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray — both of whom voted for the 2014 “fast track” legislation that makes it easier for Congress to pass deals like the TPP, with limited debate and no amendments allowed.
Unions have made defeating the TPP a top priority. At the Nelsons’ suggestion, Local 290 paid for “Stop the TPP” hardhat stickers. Union reps distributed the stickers to members at Intel and other job sites.
The TPP would bind the United States to a bloc of 11 other Pacific Rim nations, including Japan and New Zealand, but also human rights abusers like Malaysia, the Sultanate of Brunei, and Vietnam. But don’t call it free trade. Farmers markets like the one at Esther Short Park are free trade. Deals like the TPP are the opposite: They’re really about getting other countries to give corporations longer government-enforced monopolies on drug patents, copyrights and trademarks. And they’re about giving investors special rights, like the right of foreign investors to sue governments in special trade tribunals if new laws reduce their expected profits.
The TPP was negotiated in secret, and its backers would like to ratify it in secret as well — in the lame duck session of Congress after this November’s election. But the TPP has become politically toxic. With both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump opposed to it, the agreement will be considered dead on arrival if it’s not passed before January.
The Nelsons blame NAFTA-style trade agreements for sending good jobs overseas, and they say the TPP — NAFTA times four — will only make it worse. The United States hasn’t had a trade surplus in over 40 years — since 1975. Last year, the United States trade deficit was just over $500 billion. That means the United States imported $500 billion more in goods and services than it exported.
“The TPP is the further destruction of this country,” says Linda Nelson. “To me it’s like the nail in the coffin.”