Law and Politics

Democrats Rip Unfair Trade Deals, But Won’t Oppose TPP

July 13, 2016 
By Steven Wishnia

Orlando, FL – The Democratic Party’s platform will include language criticizing trade deals that lead to “too many corporations outsourcing jobs,” but will not explicitly oppose the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, as supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders had urged.

By a 116-64 vote on July 9, the party’s platform committee adopted an amendment stating general principles on trade, sponsored by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders. “We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies that support jobs here in America,” it said. “While we believe that openness to the world economy is an important source of American leadership and dynamism, we will oppose trade agreements that do not support good American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security. We believe any new trade agreements must include strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards.”

It also states that trade deals “must not undermine democratic decision-making through special privileges and private courts for corporations” and that “Democrats’ priority is to significantly strengthen enforcement of existing trade rules.”

However, the committee rejected, by a 106-74 vote, former NAACP leader Ben Jealous’s attempt to add a closing line, “and that’s why we oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It also nixed Sanders supporter Jim Hightower’s proposal that the platform state “that the TPP must not get a vote in this Congress or in future sessions of Congress.”

“It’s an embarrassment and a humiliation that the Democratic Party would set forth a platform on an issue as crucial as trade scams that is weaker than what Donnie Trump is going to run on,” Hightower, a Texas author and activist, told LaborPress. Its failure to oppose the TPP, he added, will be “very dangerous” for Hillary Clinton as she tries to counter Trump’s appeals to working-class voters in the deindustrialization-battered states from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.

Several major union leaders praised the platform. “The Democratic Party made history today on the crucial issue of fair trade,” Saunders said in a July 9 statement joined by International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers President Bob Martinez and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “This amendment is a clear statement of where we stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and all other trade deals, past and future: We stand with American workers and against bad trade deals.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on July 12 called the platform “a major milestone for everyone who believes in the high standard that trade should raise wages and create good jobs in America.” But the Democratic Party’s “adoption of strong, pro-worker trade positions,” he added, “didn’t happen by itself. The voices of working people put the brakes on TPP and forced a real, vibrant debate about ending corporate trade.”

He cautioned that “the threat of unfair agreements, including TPP, remains. We will continue to point out TPP’s fundamental flaws and mobilize to defeat it, and any trade deals that don’t work for working people.”

The Sanders camp “succeeded in substantially Bernieizing the platform,” Hightower says. It “forced the party establishment to make some compromises,” particularly opposing investor-state dispute settlement, the TPP provision that lets foreign investors sue to overturn a country’s regulations in private courts, and deleting language that said “there are a diversity of views in the party” on the agreement. But ultimately, he says, the Clinton supporters “didn’t want to embarrass Barack Obama.”

The platform also explicitly endorses raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, a victory for Sanders supporters. Calling the current $7.25 minimum a “starvation wage,” it says “we should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it” and “give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work.” The phrase “over time” was added by Clinton supporters.

Sanders, in a June 12 message to supporters announcing his endorsement of Clinton, said “our movement is responsible for the most progressive Democratic platform in the history of our country.” He cited the $15 minimum wage and proposals to “expand Social Security, abolish the death penalty, put a price on carbon, establish a path toward the legalization of marijuana, enact major criminal justice reforms, pass comprehensive immigration reform, end for-profit prisons and detention facilities, break up too-big-to-fail banks” and more.

July 13, 2016

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