Union members chose Labor Day to stage a rally in downtown Chicago, opposing a proposed new Pacific Rim free-trade agreement.
Several hundred activists called for “a fair deal or no deal,” asserting a simple multi-party agreement to reduce trade barriers could “jeopardize jobs, health and the environment,” the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
The rally took place as negotiators for Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States prepared to gather at the Hilton Chicago for the eighth round of talks on the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
“Hundreds of thousands of workers here in Chicago and all over the Midwest are out of jobs because of bad trade agreements like NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) that did so much to push down the value of people’s labor in this country … ” Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Illinois State Council, told the gathering.
But American factories paid higher wages than the rest of the world for decades because America led in capital formation and technical innovation, meaning each hour of American labor was really worth more. America’s economic power also came from the lack of tariff barriers between the 50 states — “free trade” on steroids, dating back centuries.
As the rest of the world adopts those methods — even as Washington’s taxmen and regulators pile new costs on American businesses — isolating this nation behind tariff walls can’t help. Protectionism is a two-way street; no nation can long expect to “protect” inefficiencies and unrealistic wages without seeing its own products frozen out, overseas.
The Obama administration contends it’s pushing the trade pact, saying it’s committed to increasing those exports and — thus — creating more domestic jobs.
Great. But why then has the administration failed to send to Congress final legislation on three other pending free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — deals that were signed more than four years ago by George W. Bush, but went nowhere in a Democrat-controlled Congress?
Together, those three trade agreements could account for another $3 billion in U.S. agricultural exports.
Even some Democrats now favor the three stalled free-trade pacts, agreeing that opening more markets to U.S. goods will bring long-term economic benefits.
“It’s becoming absolutely excruciating for the business community,” John Murphy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Associated Press.
The Obama administration has already added to the agreements a sop to organized labor via more spending on “job training” for workers who, according to the unions, lose their jobs because of free trade.
So what’s left to debate? As President Obama returns this week to his on-again, off-again “laser-like focus on jobs,” the White House should make these deals a top priority, delivering them to Congress for quick approval.