Monthly Archives: January 2019

What happened to Foxconn’s plan to build a $10bn factory in Wisconsin?

The Taiwanese company was offered $4bn in tax credits for a factory that might never materialize

man riding a yellow forklift with boxes

Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

In 2017, Donald Trump and Wisconsin’s then governor, Scott Walker, broke out the champagne and announced that they had lured the Taiwanese company Foxconn into building a $10bn factory in Wisconsin. It was supposed to be proof that the Trump administration was revitalizing America’s manufacturing industry. The catch was that the people of Wisconsin had to give Foxconn $4bn in tax credits – losing revenue that could have gone to fixing roads, funding schools, or fighting the opioid crisis.

Wisconsinites knew this was a boondoggle, the outcome of state government leadership captured by corporate interests. At the time of the agreement, I was campaigning to take on the then House speaker, Paul Ryan, for his congressional seat. I was knocking doors every day, talking to people throughout the south-eastern Wisconsin district; few believed that tossing taxpayer dollars at Foxconn would create family-sustaining manufacturing jobs and lead to a more prosperous future. It turns out they were right to be suspicious. They voted Scott Walker out of office and two years later, Foxconn is set to renege on its deal – and could leave Wisconsinites on the hook for much of the bill.

This isn’t the first time Foxconn has made big promises and not delivered. In 2013, Foxconn announced a $30 million high-tech factory in Pennsylvania that would create 500 jobs, but it never happened. Similar plans in China and Brazil never materialized.

But it’s not just about Foxconn. The Foxconn debacle in Wisconsin is part of a growing trend of massive giveaways by federal, state and local governments to large, multinational corporations without any guarantee of payoff. In New York, elected leaders are throwing $1.5bn at Amazon to build a new campus in Queens. The giveaway has been broadly condemned by workers and community leaders. In New Jersey, a recent audit of the state’s Economic Development Authority found that the state had given away $11bn to big business with no provable economic benefit to show for it.

In Wisconsin, Walker claimed we couldn’t afford to fix our roads and bridges for our families’ use, but had money to expand the expressway from the airport to Mt Pleasant in order to accommodate Foxconn’s automated trucks that may now never come. Foxconn and their enabler Walker promised 13,000 jobs; fewer than 260 people were hired in 2018.

I’m an ironworker who dedicated years to building my community. I ran for office because I could see that people like me are working hard but have less and less to show as a result of our labor. Meanwhile, corporations like Foxconn and Amazon are getting huge taxpayer subsidies for the promise of jobs that often never materialize. We need to invest in a Green New Deal to create millions of good-paying green jobs and bring our infrastructure into the 21st century.

The 2018 election showed the hunger American voters have for leaders who work on behalf of their constituents, not their deep-pocketed donors. This new class of leaders are advocating for real investment in both remediating America’s infrastructure needs as well as promoting innovative programs like the Green New Deal to create good jobs to improve our country while addressing global warming and climate change. My organization, the Working Families party, and members of our movement across the country are demanding that kind of leadership, and are working in communities across the county to hold elected officials accountable and working for the people first.

Taken From https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/31/what-happened-to-foxconns-plan-to-build-a-10bn-factory-in-wisconsin?link_id=3&can_id=f68f35b07af01759aae4a64dc2cbea0e&source=email-the-foxconn-scam-2&email_referrer=email_487321&email_subject=the-foxconn-scam

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“E-commerce” push at WTO threatens to undermine labour standards

At the Davos World Economic Forum today, a number of governments, predominantly from advanced economies, have announced their intention to launch trade negotiations on e-commerce.

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Through these negotiations, they would aim to consolidate market access for digital companies. Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, and other online multi-national corporations stand to gain the most.

Data governance issues are central to the proposed WTO expansion. By guaranteeing the uninhibited flow of data across borders, they place major limitations on countries’ data sovereignty and on governments’ space for addressing abuses. The proposed changes would introduce direct disciplines on public regulation-making and bar governments from requiring companies to open local offices and to host servers on their territory. Without a local presence of companies, there is no entity to sue and the ability of domestic courts to enforce labour standards, as well as other rights, is fundamentally challenged.

“The issues being discussed are not limited to the practicalities of trade, they are workers’ rights issues, data governance issues and they are privacy issues. Algorithmic bias, workplace surveillance, electronic union blacklisting are realities and workers need their governments to protect them. We must not allow for a future in which working people’s ability to hold the giants of the digital economy accountable is limited by trade agreements. Our governments must have full power to regulate.

“We have seen how the Ubers and the Amazons of this world exploit current loopholes to deteriorate the conditions of working people. Rather than facilitating this type of irresponsible behaviour, governments should redouble their efforts to close down these loopholes. The only answer is a new social contract with a universal labour guarantee,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC.

The ITUC has warned that until solutions are found to existing problems, governments must not limit their scope of action. The WTO has a track-record of focussing too narrowly on economic operators in trade and failing to consider wider concerns, including on labour standards. As such, the WTO is not the right place to negotiate binding rules on these issues.

“The question is: what is our vision for the future? Digital and technological developments have had huge impacts on our lives, but so much is yet to come. Do we want this future to be shaped by people’s interests, or by the interests of profit and big business?” concluded Ms Burrow.

Taken From: https://www.ituc-csi.org/e-commerce-push-at-wto-undermines-workers

Enough “Free Trade.” We Need Solidarity Economies and Reparations.

Free trade” is the modern form that imperialism takes: It is a system that protects and expands inequalities of power both between and within countries.

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Photo by Julius Silver on Pexels.com

“Free trade” empowers global North multinational corporations to continue — with minimal interference and tacit approval from global South governments — the unequal trade they developed with the global South during colonialism. Further, it allows global North multinationals (with their junior partners, global South multinationals) to increase inequality around the world by pitting working class people in the global North and global South against one another.

Another way is possible. In order to build a progressive international political economy that produces material dignity and freedom for all the world’s people, we need to engage three distinct yet interrelated projects. We can build each project, piece by piece, advancing all three at the same time. The vision for what the three projects become can help us continue to build popular support as we advance each of the projects toward creating a transformed and democratic world economy.

First, we need trade agreements that include strong labor, environmental and antitrust regulation in all countries, and agreements that end offshore tax havens for the wealthy and create fair access to markets for global South producers. These agreements can allow us to rapidly address some of the worst multinational corporate abuses. They can also create space for us to continue to build the other two projects, especially the solidarity economy institutions that can become the base for popular progressive power that we will need in order to organize to create a transformed world economy.

Second, we need democratic international institutions that transfer technology and productive wealth from the global North to the global South so that we can begin to undo the ongoing violence of centuries of colonialism and imperialism. We can also use these institutions to coordinate investment in a just transition — led by Indigenous people and the mostly Black and Brown people who are on the front lines of the climate crisis — to a renewable energy economy, a program that can become an international version of a Green New Deal.

Third, we need to build local and democratically controlled solidarity economies, which can become the means for popular democratic control of the economy. National and sub-national democratic solidarity economies can become the building block for creating bottom-up and democratic international institutions. Only by creating democratic control of the economy can we make the economy accountable to democratic governments.

As progressives in the US begin to imagine and to build this kind of international economic system, we can look to movements who are leading the way on building local, democratic economies that prioritize production for human need over profit, including the Zapatistas in Mexico; democratic municipalists in cities like Jackson, Mississippi, and Barcelona, Spain; and the democratic confederalists of the Rojava region in Syria. Through coordination between place-based solidarity economies around the world, we can build a bottom-up democratic international economic system.

Project One: Better Trade Agreements

The first project for building alternatives to free trade is creating better trade agreements. Free trade agreements allow multinationals to invest their capital with very little restriction anywhere in the world. To resist the worst multinational corporate abuses, we need trade agreements through which the people of the world act together to regulate multinational corporate activity. If progressives can take leadership over the Democratic Party, negotiating better such agreements is something we can act on in the short term.

Building on the models for better trade agreements proposed by Public Citizen and the Institute for Policy Studies, we can create agreements that establish an international living wage, safe working and housing conditions, and environmental restrictions that curb (and ideally eliminate completely) environmental pollution and the extraction of unrenewable and finite natural resources from the planet. We can also coordinate taxing multinationals at the international level so that they cannot pit countries against one another to evade taxation.

Improved trade agreements can also include international-level antitrust regulation, so that we can limit the size and power of individual multinationals, and bans on financial derivatives that facilitate currency speculation, which serve no economic purpose and can send national economies into crisis. We can also use trade agreements to provide access to markets for global South producers; as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) acknowledged in the 1960s, global South producers need preferential access to buyers of their manufactured and high-tech goods if they are ever to gain and equitable share of the production of such goods. Further, trade agreements could limit the power of landlords along the lines of the Zapatista’s Urban Land Reform Laws, which cap rent payments at 10 percent of a renter’s income and could be the basis of international rent control, as well as the Zapatista’s Revolutionary Agrarian Law, which could provide people with rights to confiscate land owned by absentee landlords.

Though we can create better trade agreements in the relative short term, trade agreements are a relatively weak tool for transforming the international political economy. Trade agreements regulate multinational corporate activity, yet they leave multinationals in control of the world’s productive capital. Multinationals are accountable for producing profit for their shareholders, a privileged few; they are not accountable to producing for human needs. To create an economy that is accountable for producing for the material dignity and freedom of everyone, we need to displace the corporate economy with solidarity economy institutions that are owned and controlled by everyone.

Project Two: Democratic International Institutions and Global North Reparations

The second project to create alternatives to free trade is to create new democratic international institutions that transfer wealth from global North multinationals to the global South. We can conceive of this as part of global North reparations owed from centuries of colonialism and ongoing free trade imperialism. To create these institutions, we will need to also create local solidarity economies, the third project discussed below.

Today’s international institutions are not democratic in the sense that they don’t provide equal input for all countries, let alone for all people around the world. The United Nations Security Council is controlled by the world’s most powerful countries, which have permanent seats. Voting within the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is proportional to the money that a country contributed, which, obviously, favors the wealthy countries. Voting to create new World Trade Organization (WTO) policies normally require consensus from each member government, which is why powerful countries bypass the WTO and create free trade agreements with multiple countries at a time that build on already-existing WTO policies.

Nonetheless, to create an international political economy that is accountable to and produces for all people in the world, we need democratic institutions to control the international political economy. We can create these by creating solidarity economy institutions at the national and sub-national level. These institutions can then coordinate to build bottom-up democratic international institutions, an international version of the confederation of decentralized and local democratic institutions that the Kurds are building in the Rojava region of Syria, for instance.

Democratic international political economy institutions that transfer wealth and technology from the global North to the global South can be based on the 1960s UNCTAD vision. These institutions should perform at least five key functions.

  • One function can be to provide grants from the global North to global South so that global South producers — preferably solidarity economy institutions — can develop the capacity to make the most profitable advanced goods.
  • Another key function can be to transfer technical knowledge from the global North to the global South. Under the status quo, multinationals are allowed to keep private any technological advancements. This new system would facilitate use of technological advancements for the benefit of everyone.
  • A third purpose of these democratic international institutions can be to fairly coordinate access to markets. Colonial-era international trade was the first instance in human history in which people entered into mass trade in necessities across vast distances. This means that people started consuming every-day necessities that were produced very far away. Previously, international trade had only involved luxury goods consumed by elites in different parts of the world. Mass trade in necessities is a component of the international political economy developed by and for capital owners; it is a key aspect of the commodification of everything and the basis for the capitalist economic system that capital owners use to render democracy ineffectual. We need an international institution to coordinate production that is far more resource-efficient and ecologically sustainable. Groups of producers throughout the world can use this institution to coordinate where goods will be made and sold in a way that prioritizes the consumption of goods close to their site of production.
  • A fourth function that democratic international institutions can serve is to coordinate the huge capital investment required for a just transition to an international renewable energy economy. We can conceive of this kind of coordinated investment as a Green New Deal for the world economy. This investment should be financed primarily, if not exclusively, by global North multinationals and governments, as these global North multinationals are responsible for overwhelming percentages of humanity’s historical carbon emissions. Coordinating this investment should be closely related to the third function of coordinating production of goods and market access across the world.
  • A fifth function is to enforce capital controls along the lines of economists John Maynard Keynes and E.F. Schumacher’s vision for an International Clearing Union and economist Yanis Varoufakis’ plan for a New International Clearing Union based on the Keynes- Schumacher vision, both of which I discussed in a previous Truthout article. The key role of this institution would be to set a narrowly allowed range of capital extraction from global South countries, to tax global north countries with the largest trade surpluses, and to then recirculate those taxes to people in the global South. This institution would advance international economic stability more than it would advance international economic equity. It would become less and less important as people throughout the world coordinate production and market access plans that prioritize local production for local consumption.

We can finance these institutions in multiple ways. One way is through an international tax on multinationals, with a higher rate for global North multinationals. Another way is through internationally coordinated public spending. Today’s banks, after all, have privatized the public good of money production. Governments, which possess no limits on the amount of currency they can create, can directly take control of the money production system and use it to support the production of everything that everyone needs. A democratic money creation system could entail public banks at the national and sub-national level coordinate the amount of currency they will produce. Some of this money can be used to finance all of the previously mentioned institutions.

Some, though definitely not all, of the above-discussed functions for democratic international institutions can be created through policy in already existing international institutions.

In certain circumstances, the WTO’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) allows global North countries to violate the free trade principle of “non-discrimination” by allowing a limited number of imports from eligible global South countries on preferable terms — lower tariffs or duties than are applied to imports from other countries. The GSP could be significantly expanded to facilitate global South producers attaining more equitable market access.

Next, the WTO free trade framework bans dumping, the practice of a corporation, often benefiting from government subsidies, selling their goods abroad at lower prices than they do in their domestic market. The WTO framework could be reformed to allow for dumping more often by global South producers and to bar global North governments from using anti-dumping measures. This could facilitate global South producers gaining greater access to global North markets, which the unequal terms of trade developed during colonialism have historically denied to them.

The WTO could repeal Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which would eliminate the international intellectual property rights that global North multinationals enjoy, and facilitate much more equitable sharing of technology around the world.

Lastly, the WTO could reform Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs), to allow governments to favor local producers through their own procurement practices and by creating standards that require foreign corporations producing in their country to use certain levels of locally produced inputs.

Creating new international institutions and reforming existing international institutions will both require enormous amounts of political organizing. Given this, it makes more sense to create new institutions that are intended to perform new functions, as opposed to reforming existing institutions, which were created to facilitate continued global North multinational control of the world economy, with many highly technical changes similar to those described above.

Project Three: Solidarity Economies Around the World

The third project to create alternatives to free trade is to build local and democratic solidarity economies in the US and around the world. By working with solidarity economies throughout the world — including the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, the municipalists in Spain and the democratic confederalists in the mostly-Kurdish and autonomous region of Rojava in Syria — we can shift wealth and political power to the grassroots masses and away from multinationals, and we can begin to build bottom-up democratic international institutions.

Government policy can help expand cooperatives in many ways. We can pressure governments to shift their purchasing power to cooperatives and away from the small number of large corporations that currently receive most public contracts. Currently, doing so might violate the TRIMs agreement within the WTO free trade framework.

Governments at any level could take more aggressive measures and cease recognizing investor-owned corporations, which are not democratic institutions. Instead, governments could require businesses that want the privileges that come with incorporation — including limited liability protections — to operate as cooperatives with rights for workers, and perhaps surrounding communities, to decision-making and profits.

As explored in more depth in a previous article, we can use land, labor and money solidarity economy institutions to deliberately displace multinational corporate political and economic power and move toward democratic control of the world economy. Locally rooted solidarity economies throughout the world can work together to build the bottom-up democratic international institutions through which we can finance solutions to collective problems and through which we can coordinate the production of all the goods and services that everyone needs to live dignified and free lives.

Negotiating better trade agreements, which we can work on as soon as progressives can gain leadership within the Democratic Party, can help us resist multinational corporate power and create space to build solidarity economy institutions and bottom-up democratic international institutions. Solidarity economy institutions — which are themselves democratic and independent from traditional political institutions, including political parties — can become the base for popular progressive power that we will need in order to organize to create a transformed world economy.

Taken From: https://truthout.org/articles/enough-free-trade-we-need-solidarity-economies-and-reparations/

 

Democrats’ Pick For Top Trade Post Leaves Labor In The Lurch

Unions were pushing to make Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) chairman of the House’s Subcommittee on Trade.

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Democrats rejected a stalwart union ally’s bid to chair the House panel charged with overseeing international trade, in favor of a more business-friendly choice.

 

Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday elected Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) as chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on Trade, defying organized labor and left-leaning trade critics who had pushed for Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) to get the top spot in conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats.

 

In particular, Blumenauer drew ire among critics of corporate influence in trade agreements for his key role in enabling passage of trade promotion authority in 2015. Known as fast-track authority, it assures presidents an up-or-down vote in Congress on international trade deals, precluding a lengthy debate and amendment process. At the time, it was widely viewed as a prerequisite for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial 12-nation trade pact negotiated by then-President Barack Obama but opposed by a majority of House Democrats.

 

Referring to the subcommittee vote, a House Democratic aide who requested anonymity for professional reasons said, “They threw labor under the bus and gave them the middle finger.”

 

Unions are taking a more pragmatic approach, shifting their focus to keeping pressure on Blumenauer.

 

“This chairman, though he was not our preferred choice — you play the hand you get dealt, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said a union official involved in lobbying for Pascrell who requested anonymity to speak freely.

As if to validate unions’ concerns, the pro-business conservative Club for Growth praised Blumenauer’s selection.

Pascrell’s backers were particularly peeved that Ways and Means members did not give precedence to his recent experience as a trade policy leader.

 

Blumenauer has a year of seniority over Pascrell in Congress, having arrived in 1996.

But in the last Congress, when Democrats were in the minority, Pascrell served as the ranking Democrat on the trade subcommittee. Blumenauer declined the top job, which requires hard work without the perks and power of a chairmanship. (Blumenauer told

HuffPost in an interview this month that he had simply wanted to focus on defending the Affordable Care Act, which was then under attack.)

And while defying party leadership is often grounds for political exile in Congress,

Blumenauer has advanced despite a very public act of insubordination. He not only supported fast-track approval for trade deals in 2015 but also defied Democratic leaders in voting for a rule that enabled it to come up for a vote.

 

“It seems completely illogical,” the aide said.

The committee’s rejection of Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a dyed-in-the-wool advocate of pro-business free trade agreements far more anathema to unions than Blumenauer, might have provided some solace to progressive trade hawks. But most Congress watchers never considered Kind a real contender, thanks to his vote against the election of California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker this month.

 

Pascrell may have been hampered by the failure of left-wing activists to land spots on the Ways and Means Committee for some of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ most outspoken stars. A grassroots campaign to seat Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.) ― a co-chair and vice chair of the CPC, respectively ― as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) on Ways and Means fell short last week.

The influential panel, which has broad authority over tax and trade policy, now has 25 Democratic members, of whom 11 are new. Eight of those 11 are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but since there are no ideological prerequisites for membership in the nominally left-leaning CPC, few of them are reliably populist firebrands.

Although trade policy is often the province of a small coterie of interest groups and experts, it could be an area of enormous influence for Democrats in the new Congress. President Donald Trump needs approval from both houses of Congress to enact a revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

 

Trade policy has divided the Democratic Party in recent decades, with Obama and Bill Clinton signing major international trade agreements against the wishes of organized labor and many congressional Democrats.

Advocates for free trade agreements argue that they provide cheaper goods for American consumers and new markets for American exporters, as well as magnify soft U.S. power on the global stage.

 

Critics in organized labor have charged that lowering trade barriers with lower-wage countries costs the United States middle-class jobs and encourages a global race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards. Other opponents of trade deals focus on their protection of prescription drug patent monopolies and corporate sops like the international arbitration system, through which companies can challenge signatories’ domestic laws.

 

Trump broke with his recent Democratic and Republican predecessors by running as an unabashed opponent of international trade agreements. Dissatisfaction with those accords likely helped him win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania ― industry-heavy states that Obama won twice.

 

A dirty secret of the present political moment is that unions and other left-leaning critics of past trade policy see Trump’s aggressive enforcement of trade rules in general and get-tough approach with China in particular as an improvement on the status quo.

“It’s the one area where Trump has kinda, sorta delivered,” said Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, which studies corporate consolidation and power.

The union official put it more bluntly: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

The only question for organized labor, Stoller and other trade hawks is whether Democrats will counter Trump’s efforts to reconfigure American trade relations with their own, more progressive form of trade populism or return to the more corporate-friendly, Clinton-Obama paradigm.

 

“There has to be a reimagining of what our global order looks like ― and it isn’t going to look like America being a sucker all the time anymore,” Stoller said.

 

In his interview this month, Blumenauer strongly disputed any notion that he was a down-the-line free trade proponent, noting his opposition to the Central American and Colombian trade agreements.

 

He also insisted that he has a long record of supporting tougher enforcement of trade rules, including but not limited to the issue of illegal logging ― a key concern in Oregon.

Blumenauer wins top trade spot on Ways and Means

Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) was elected Tuesday to lead the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee.

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The Oregon lawmaker won the spot over Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who was the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat for the last two years and made a major push to sway committee members to support his bid for the gavel.

Blumenauer was the most senior Ways and Means member with an interest in the trade spot, which meant he was granted the first up-or-down vote from other committee members on the position.

The trade subcommittee chairman will be central to oversight of President Donald Trump’s trade agenda, which includes getting a revamped NAFTA deal passed in Congress this year. Pascrell had promised to bring new transparency to the White House‘s trade policy.

“We’ll think about it,” Pascrell said when asked if he would appeal the selection to the Democratic House Steering and Policy Committee.

He added that “the committee is more important than any individual person. I keep that in mind all the time. But there were certain things in the process that I absolutely did not like, so I’ll think about that.”

Blumenauer has been supportive of certain trade deals and voted in 2015 to grant the White House authority to expedite passage of trade agreements through Congress. His position on the so-called trade promotion authority bill drew major rebuke from labor unions, which actively worked in past weeks to get panel members to support Pascrell.

In addition to playing a key role as Congress considers the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in coming months, Blumenauer will be in a position to influence upcoming trade negotiations with Japan, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a Democrat who was added to the subcommittee for the 116th Congress, said the panel’s focus should be defending Congress’ constitutional authority over trade and not being “in a position of seeing trade deals negotiated [and] determine the guideposts after the deals are negotiated.” He did not say who he supported for the subcommittee leadership post.

Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) also announced full Democratic membership of the trade subcommittee. In addition to Blumenauer and Pascrell, the panel will include: Reps. Ron Kind (Wis.), Danny Davis (Ill.), and Brian Higgins (N.Y.), along with new members Terri Sewell (Ala.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Don Beyer (Va.), Jimmy Panetta (Calif.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.) and Kildee.

“With these members at the helm of our subcommittees, the American people can rest assured their priorities will receive much-needed attention and care,” Neal said in a statement.

Taken From: https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/16/blumenauer-trade-ways-and-means-2507376

 

A New Day for Mexican Workers

The Lopez Obrador administration is changing the law so that workers can actually choose a union and vote on their contracts.

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NAFTA had been in effect for just a few months when Ruben Ruiz got a job at the Itapsa factory in Mexico City in the summer of 1994. Itapsa made auto brakes for Echlin, a U.S. manufacturer later bought out by the huge Dana Aftermarket Group.  In the factory, asbestos dust from brake parts coated machines and people alike. Ruiz had hardly begun his first shift when a machine malfunctioned, cutting four fingers from the hand of the man operating it.

It seemed clear to Ruiz that things were very wrong, so he went to a meeting to talk about organizing a union. When Itapsa managers got wind of the effort, they began firing the organizers. Nevertheless, many of the workers joined STIMAHCS, an independent democratic union of metalworkers.

Itapsa workers filed a petition for an election, but then discovered that they already a had “union”—a unit of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). They’d never seen the union contract—in essence, a “protection contract,” which insulates the company from labor unrest.

The plant’s HR manager told Ruiz that Echlin management in the U.S. said any worker organizing an independent union should be immediately fired. “He told me my name was on a list of those people,” Ruiz recounted, “and I was discharged right there.”

Nevertheless, there was a vote, in September 1997, to decide which union workers wanted. But before the election, a state police agent drove a car filled with rifles into the plant. Two busloads of strangers arrived, armed with clubs and copper rods.

During the voting, workers were escorted by CTM functionaries past the club and rifle-wielding strangers. Some workers were forcibly kept in a part of the factory to keep them from voting. At the polling station, employees were asked aloud which union they favored, in front of management and CTM representatives.

STIMAHCS tried to get the election canceled. But the government body administering it, the Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JCA), went ahead, even after thugs roughed up one of the independent union’s organizers. Predictably, STIMAHCS lost.

For 20 years the Itapsa election has been a symbol of all that’s gone wrong with Mexico’s labor law, which provides protection on paper for workers seeking to organize but which has been routinely undermined by a succession of governments bent on using a low-wage workforce to attract foreign investment. Dana Corporation was just one beneficiary—Itapsa has been the norm, not the exception.

In 2015 thousands of farm workers struck U.S. growers in Baja California. Instead of recognizing their new independent union, however, growers signed protection contracts with the CTM, which were certified by the local JCA. Strikers were blacklisted. Later that year workers tried to register an independent union in four Juarez factories. Some 120 workers making ink cartridges for Lexmark were fired, as were another 170 at ADC Commscope, and many more at Foxconn and Eaton.

The labor board declined to reinstate the fired workers in Juarez and Baja—following the pattern it had set at Itapsa two decades earlier. Indeed, the JNCs have been key to the defeat of workers’ attempts to form democratic unions, invariably protecting employers and corporate-friendly unions.

The new Mexican government, headed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), says that’s all over. Deputy Secretary of Labor in the new administration, Alfredo Dominguez Marrufo, promises that, “after all these struggles, we can finally get rid of the protection contract system. We can make our unions democratic, choose our own leaders and negotiate our own contracts. This government will defend the freedom of workers to organize. That right has existed in theory, but we’ve had a structure making it impossible. This will change.”

That could have a big impact on political life in Mexico, where corporate union leaders have had an inside track to political power and corruption. It could change the dominating role U.S. corporations have played in the Mexican economy, and affect relations between workers in both countries. Most of all, it would raise a standard of living for workers that Lopez Obrador has called “among the lowest on the planet.” In his speech to the Mexican Congress during his December 1 inauguration, the new president charged that 36 years of neoliberal economic reforms had lowered the purchasing power of Mexico’s minimum wage by 60 percent. Today, on the border, that wage comes to a little above $4 per day.

According to University of California Professor Harley Shaiken, “The Mexican government created an investment climate that depends on a vast number of low wage-earners. This climate gets all the government’s attention, while the consumer climate—the ability of people to buy what they produce—is sacrificed.”

Protecting corporations from demands for higher wages has made Mexico a profitable place to do business. Big auto companies, the world’s major garment manufacturers, the global high tech electronic assemblers—all built huge plants to take advantage of Mexico’s neoliberal economic policies, starting more than two decades before the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

That wild-west climate for investors produced more than low wages, however. Be­tween 1988 and 1992, 163 Juarez children were born with anencephaly—without brains—an extremely rare disorder. Health critics charged that the defects were due to exposure to toxic chemicals in the factories or their toxic discharges. The Chilpancingo colonia below the mesa in Tijuana where the battery plant of Metales y Derivados was located experienced the same plague.

As the companies came south, the people came north. “During the neoliberal period [which he defines as the last 36 years, or six Mexican presidencies] we became the second country in the world with the highest migration,” Lopez Obrador charged. “They live and work in the United States, 24 million Mexicans [Mexico’s population in 2017 was 129.2 million] … They are sending $30 billion a year to their families … the greatest social benefit we receive from abroad.”

In his six-year campaign for office, in which he spoke in practically every sizeable town in the country, Lopez Obrador repeated what he later told the Congress—that only development “to combat poverty and marginalization as has never been done in history” would provide an alternative to migration.

“We will put aside the neoliberal hypocrisy,” he announced. “Those born poor will not be condemned to die poor. … We want migration to be optional, not mandatory, [to make Mexicans] happy where they were born, where their family members, their customs and their cultures are.”

In his speech, Lopez Obrador criticized two other neoliberal articles of faith—that privatization of the state-owned section of the Mexican economy would lead to economic growth, and that pro-corporate changes in its labor law would create jobs and higher incomes.

Starting before NAFTA was passed, Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari rammed through the Congress changes in the Constitution’s guarantees of land reform, to make private land ownership easier. Many of the communal ejidos, created in previous decades, were dissolved and their lands sold to investors. Farmers became wage workers on land they’d previously owned. Subsequent land reforms led to granting foreign mining companies concessions on over a third of Mexico’s territory, allowing them to develop operations even in the face of local opposition.

Prices on basic goods were decontrolled, and government subsidies on food were cut back or ended altogether. In 1998, the government dissolved CONASUPO, a system of state-run stores selling basic foodstuffs like tortillas and milk at subsidized low prices. At the same time, price supports for small corn growers were also ended. As NAFTA allowed U.S. corporations to flood the Mexican market with cheap subsidized imported corn, millions of farmers were displaced, no longer able to sell their corn at a price that paid for growing it.

“Mexico is the origin of corn, that blessed plant,” Lopez Obrador noted bitterly, “and now we are the nation that imports the most corn in the world.” He announced that a CONASUPO-like subsidized food production and distribution system would be reestablished.

Privatization marked a 180-degree change in the direction of Mexican economic policy. After its 1910-20 Revolution, nationalists believed that to be truly independent Mexico had to ensure its resources were controlled by Mexicans and used for their benefit. The route to this control was nationalization, to stop the transfer of wealth out of the country and to set up an internal market, in which what was produced in Mexico would be sold there as well.

Mexico therefore guaranteed rights to workers that U.S. unions and workers could only dream of. Severance pay was mandatory and workers had a right to profit-sharing. During legal strikes, companies had to shut their doors until the dispute was resolved. On paper, the government acknowledged the right of all people to education and housing.

In return, however, Mexican unions gave up autonomy and control of their own affairs. The government registered unions, and oversaw their internal processes and choice of leaders. It never tolerated independent action by workers and unions outside its political structure. When the government changed its basic economic policy, using low wages to attract foreign investment, and producing for the US market instead of for Mexico, the government could and did punish resistance severely.

Under Presidents Salinas de Gortari and Ernesto Zedillo (1988-2000) privatization reforms became a whirlwind. Among the companies and industries affected were the Aeromexico airline, the telephone company, the petrochemical industry dependent on the state-run oil company, the Sicartsa steel mill, the railroad network, many Mexican mines, and the operation of the country’s ports.

The leader of the union at Aeromexico was imprisoned after he refused to accept the company’s privatization and the layoff of thousands of workers. The head of one of the largest sections of the union for employees of the social security system, IMSS, also spent months in jail in 1995 for denouncing government plans to privatize the enormous federal pension and health-care agency.

In 1991, the Mexican army took over the port of Veracruz, disbanded the longshore union, and installed three private contractors to load and unload ships. Hourly wages of Veracruz longshoremen fell from about $7.00 to $1.00, even as productivity rose from 18 to over 40 shipping containers handled per hour.

When the Sicartsa steel mill was privatized in 1992, wages were cut in half, and 1500 of the mill’s 5000 workers were laid off. They were then rehired as temporary labor under 28-day contracts.

The Mexican government sold the Cananea and Nacozari copper mines, among the world’s largest, to German Larrea’s Grupo Mexico at a fraction of their book value.  In 1997 Larrea bought the 4052-mile Pacific North railroad, in partnership with Pennsylvania-based Union Pacific. Workers throughout northern Mexico mounted a series of rolling wildcat strikes over cuts in its workforce of 13,000 by more than half. They lost.

Thirteen Mexican financiers became billionaires during the Salinas administration, and Larrea was one of them. Grupo Mexico forced Cananea’s miners’ union to go on strike in 2009, a conflict that is still unresolved. After 65 miners were entombed by an explosion in Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos coal mine in 2006, the union’s president Napoleon Gomez Urrutia was forced into exile in Canada. He’d accused Larrea of “industrial homicide” for giving up rescue efforts after only three days.

This October Gomez Urrutia was elected senator in Sonora on the Morena ticket (Lopez Obrador’s party-in-formation), and finally returned from Canada to take office.

The harshest privatization came in 2009, when President Felipe Calderon dissolved the state-owned Power and Light Company of central Mexico. In firing all its 44,000 workers, Calderon hoped to destroy one of Mexico’s oldest and most democratic unions, the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME). The company’s operations were folded into the Federal Electricity Commission. Private electrical generation was already permitted by Salinas and Zedillo, and Lopez Obrador’s immediate predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, had set up plans for private power sale to consumers.

Meanwhile, the Federal Electricity Commission itself was slated for elimination. Peña Nieto pushed a Constitutional reform through Congress to reverse the guarantee of national ownership of both the oil and electrical industries.

Far from increasing productivity and investment, however, “the damage caused to the national energy sector during neoliberalism is so serious,” Lopez Obrador charged, “that we are not only the oil country that imports the most gasoline in the world, but we are now buying crude oil to supply the only six refineries that barely survive.”

Humberto Montes de Oca, foreign secretary of the SME union, says, “The country is bankrupt. Before we can redistribute wealth we have to recover it. We know the banks will act against reversing the energy reform along with the others. We will all have to participate in order to defend any changes this new government tries to make.” The SME has established a cooperative and has regained control of seven power generation stations, along with other property that formerly belonged to the old company.

“Privatization has been synonymous with corruption in Mexico,” Lopez Obrador charged in his speech. “The robbery of the goods of the people and the riches of the nation has been a modus operandi. The government will no longer facilitate looting, and will no longer be a committee in the service of a rapacious minority.”

To date, only one economic reform enacted by Lopez Obrador’s predecessors has been repealed outright: the education reform that mandated standardized testing for students—and of teachers themselves, which led to many politicized firings. Mexico’s teachers have a long history of resistance and radical politics. More than 100 teachers in the state of Oaxaca alone were killed during their struggle over control of their union, and in defense of the indigenous communities in which they lived. Years of massive teacher strikes against the government’s education reform eventually led to a massacre in Nochixtlan in June 2016, in which nine people were gunned down by federal and state police.

The disappearance and murder of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa training school in September 2014 was also an indirect product of the corporate education reform program. Their school had a reputation for turning out radical teachers, as do many rural training schools like it, and their students came from some of the poorest families in the countryside.

Claudio X. González Guajardo, cofounder of the Televisa Foundation and the Mexicanos Primeros corporate education reform lobby, called such public schools “a swarm of politics and shouting.” He demanded the government replace them with private institutions. Following Lopez Obrador’s speech to the Congress, Gonzalez tweeted, “AMLO—Against the free market, against the energy reform, a retrograde, statist, interventionist, stagnant vision. The markets will react negatively. It will go very badly with us, very badly. A shame.”

In his address, Lopez Obrador had promised, “The so-called education reform will be canceled, the right to free education will be established in Article 3 of the Constitution at all levels of schooling, and the government will never again offend teachers. The disappearance of Ayotzinapa’s youth will be thoroughly investigated; the truth will be known and those responsible will be punished.” In meetings with the democratic teachers caucus he also promised free elections in their union, the largest in Latin America. Eliminating the authoritarian group that has held power in the union for decades could shift the balance between the left and right in Mexico’s institutional politics.

Despite the move against education reform, most Mexican unions do not expect the new government to reverse the privatizations that have already taken place, at least not for the first three years of Lopez Obrador’s six-year term. Instead, they have concentrated on winning a basic reform of Mexico’s labor law, which has changed radically during the past two decades.

In May 2000, the World Bank made a series of recommendations to the Mexican administration, “An Integral Agenda of Development for the New Era.” The bank recommended rewriting Mexico’s Constitution and Federal Labor Law by eliminating its requirements that companies give workers permanent status after 90 days, limit part time work and abide by the 40-hour week, pay severance when they lay workers off and negotiate over the closure of factories. The bank called for ending the law’s ban on strikebreaking, and its guarantees of job training, health care and housing.

The recommendations were so extreme that even some employers condemned them. President Vicente Fox embraced the proposal, but it failed to pass the Congress. After further attempts, however, President Felipe Calderon did get a similar reform adopted in 2012. It allows companies to outsource, or subcontract, jobs, which was previously banned. It allows part time and temporary work and pay by the hour rather than the day. Workers now can be terminated without cause for their first six months on the job.

Arturo Alcalde, one of Mexico’s most respected labor lawyers and past president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, called the reforms “a road to a paradise of firings.” As he predicted, subcontracting proliferated with disastrous results. In just one instance, Grupo Mexico replaced strikers at the Cananea mine by contracting out their jobs.  Inexperienced replacements died in mine accidents, and allowed a huge spill of toxic mine tailings into the Sonora River, contaminating communities and sickening residents.

According to Benedicto Martinez, co-president of the Authentic Labor Front, the union federation to which STIMAHCS belongs, “The motivation of the government, assisted by corporate unions, was to encourage the layoff of longtime employees, who could be replaced by subcontracted workers. There are companies now where all the workers are subcontracted, who have no employees of their own at all. The conditions are very low, just slightly above the legal minimum, and sometimes below.”

Last year, under pressure from the European Union, which sought a free trade agreement with Mexico, the Peña Nieto administration had to agree to reform some of the pro-corporate labor practices. The government was forced to ratify Convention 98 of the International Labor Organization, guaranteeing freedom of association (something the United States has not done). Peña Nieto then got the Mexican Congress to pass a Constitutional reform, embodying these changes. Corporate unions like the CTM, clearly feeling threatened by the reform, introduced their own legislation in 2017 to nullify its effect. They couldn’t get it passed, however, as it became evident that Lopez Obrador would be elected the next president.

In Martinez’ eyes, the Constitutional reform is “the most advanced proposal that you could imagine. It includes union democracy, and the disappearance of the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards, which have always been complicit with the bosses and the corporate unions.  In some states a union contract is treated like a state secret, that no one is allowed to see.”

Martinez believes the reform was the fruit of many years of groups like his fighting the government. “It was like talking to a wall,” he recalls. “We were accused of being traitors to the country, because we organized international pressure with unions all over the world, denouncing the practices here in Mexico.”

Domingues Marrufo, Lopez Obrador’s Deputy Labor Secretary, agrees. “If it were not for that support from the [U.S. and Canadian] United Steelworkers and other unions, it would have been impossible to achieve the Constitutional reform.”

But changing the Constitution does not change the particular laws that govern labor activity. Implementing legislation must be passed to define rights and procedures, and set up the structure for enforcing the reform. After Lopez Obrador won the election in July, but before he took office in December, Mexican unions and labor lawyers set up a discussion group, the Citizens Labor Observatory, and debated how far the new changes should go.

Some wanted to undo Calderon’s 2012 reform completely, by reversing, for instance, the reform laws that now allow subcontracting and temporary employment. In the end, though, the consensus among the democratic unions was to limit the proposal to the implementing legislation that gives workers the right to vote for the union and union leaders of their choice, and to approve or reject their contracts. It was clear this was Lopez Obrador’s favored choice. As Mexico City mayor in 2000, he had appointed another dean of Mexican labor lawyers, Jesus Campos Linas, as head of the city’s labor board. Campos Linas then made public an estimated 70-80,000 protection contracts whose contents had never been released to the workers they covered.

Two days before Christmas, deputies from Lopez Obrador’s Morena Party-in-formation introduced their labor reform bill into the Chamber of Deputies. It will abolish the JCAs and substitute an independent system of labor tribunals. Unions will be independent of the government and business, and leaders must be elected by a majority of the workers. Union contracts will be public, and must be ratified by the majority of the workers in a free and secret vote.

Sweeping though it will be, the new labor law is just a beginning. On taking office, Lopez Obrador appointed Maria Luisa Alcalde the new Labor Secretary. She is a former legislator, daughter of labor lawyer Arturo Alcalde , and at 31, the youngest person in AMLO’s cabinet. “She is very clear that the democratization of the unions will create a new situation and our society will have a much better chance to raise living standards,” Dominguez says. But, he warned, “We aren’t accustomed to organizing ourselves. We’re used to waiting for some powerful person to come from above to help us.”

And while waiting for unions and workers to use the new law, the government is still faced with many legacy strikes and fights inherited from 36 years of neoliberal administrations. The telecommunications reform, for instance, mandated the breakup of TelMex, the old telephone monopoly sold to billionaire Carlos Slim. In February it is set to be divided in two, a move the telephone workers union bitterly opposes. They are threatening to strike if it isn’t stopped.

In the mid-1990s the telefonistas, together with the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and two other unions, formed the National Union of Workers, an independent labor federation. They supported Lopez Obrador very strongly. “Our corporate elite had to respond to the fact that the vast majority of Mexicans voted for him, and were unable to use their electoral fraud strategy to deny him victory, as they had in the past,” says Victor Enrique Fabela, vice-president of the union.

But he doesn’t believe that Lopez Obrador will simply do what unions ask, pointing out that the new president invited Carlos Slim to hear his inaugural speech to the Congress, an invitation not extended to the union’s general secretary, Francisco Hernandez Juarez. Further, long-term operating concessions have been renewed for Televisa and TeleAzteca, two media giants with a record of right-wing politics. “We have to be critical,” he cautioned, “while understanding that we have to support the direction AMLO is moving.”

The strike in Cananea has yet to be settled, and there and in Nacozari, two of the world’s largest copper mines, the miners’ union was forced out by previous JCA decisions favoring the CTM and Grupo Mexico. The communities on the Rio Sonora are still suffering the health effects of the toxic spill, three years later. And on November 29 at the giant PKC wire harness plant in Ciudad Acuña, just two days before Lopez Obrador was sworn in, CTM thugs marched into the facility, shouting “Mineros Afuera!” [Miners’ Union Out!] as workers were about to vote on the miners’ union as their representative.  They overturned ballot boxes, the election was canceled, and the mineros say the union’s representatives were beaten.

“We all want a change,” charged Moises Acuña, the mineros’ political secretary.  “We have a chance to move forward now, and we have to use it.”  Meanwhile, a new federation of independent unions in the auto industry has also been formed, and plans to fight with the CTM over the right to negotiate contracts with the industry’s giants.

In dealing with the workers’ upsurge and the emergence of new unions, however, Lopez Obrador’s government faces a complex situation. The JCAs will disappear and the new tribunals will be formed. But there are no judges yet, and they won’t be in place for the first three years. The tribunals have to be funded, and judges and personnel trained in administering a completely new law.

“But during that time, in order to represent workers and negotiate, a union still has to be certified by the authorities,” Martinez says. “There must be some way to ensure that the workers have approved this union, and this approval must take place before any negotiation begins. Plus, who are the inspectors now responsible for investigating the outsourcing, to make sure it’s legal? We need an army of them, and there’s no money to hire them.”

Despite the institutional challenges, Dominguez believes that the time has arrived when Mexican workers may be able to reshape their nation. “Today many workers live in poverty, on one or two dollars a day. This is the fundamental problem. But we’re not just fighting for an economic goal, not just for decent wages, but for the revitalization of the democratic life of workers, of our unions and the organizations we belong to.”

Taken From: https://prospect.org/article/new-day-mexican-workers

From the farm bill to grocery bills, the government shutdown is affecting how America eats

Stories from a shutdown—from food safety and hog nuisance lawsuits to EBT payments and “shutdown specials” at D.C. restaurants.

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On Twitter, federal employees and others affected by the ongoing government shutdown are sharing their #shutdownstories—and, not surprisingly, many of them are focused on food. That isn’t just because people anticipating missed paychecks are worried about their grocery bills, though concerns about hunger appear to be widespread. Many have described making tough choices between fuel, meals, and medical care.

And it goes beyond basic sustenance. A USDA science tech reported not being able to enter a government greenhouse to water plants, a setback she said would ultimately cost scientists a year of work. A woman about to close on a new house described being left in limbo, thanks to a USDA rural development loan now delayed indefinitely. (“The only wall(s) I care about are the ones that support the roof I want my children to be able to live under,” she wrote.) A farmer who moonlights as a federal contractor said the shutdown would “cost me $500 a day,” making it impossible to “hire, purchase and grow.” And at USDA headquarters, reports are that staff refrigerators are all but emptied out.

Here’s how the shutdown continues to affect:

Food safety. In a primer first reported by Food Safety News, Alliance for a Stronger FDA (ASFDA), a nonprofit advocate, explained that the shutdown may significantly affect oversight of the food supply. During the current “lapse period,” ASFDA wrote, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be hobbled, though still able to perform “activities necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life.” According to the document, 41 percent of FDA’s employees will be furloughed (about 7,000 people). While the agency’s most critical public health responsibilities won’t be affected—with staff on hand to handle key duties like emergency inspections and drug shortages—other, more routine work will be suspended. That could cause issues.

“Food safety will be particularly hard-hit, including the furloughing of workers in charge of routine inspections,” according to the document, though FDA will still be staffed to handle urgent and high-risk recalls and outbreaks of foodborne illness.

The brand-spanking-new farm bill. Congress spent most of 2018 intensely haggling over the farm bill. Then, two days after President Trump signed it into law on December 20, the government shut down. Now, says Anna Johnson, policy manager of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, “should be one of the busiest times at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): they have hundreds of pages of new marching orders in the new farm bill.” Instead of poring through those pages, though, some USDA employees are likely at home, reading Peoplemagazine.

Farm payments. There’s something of a 50/50 split here: some continue, others are on hold. Market Facilitation Program payments, for example, which relieve commodity producers whose access to export markets has been stymied by the recent retaliatory tariffs, will go out. So will payments related to conservation easements. But rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities, and businesses will not continue. Processing of payments for existing grants to support research, education, and agricultural extension services have been halted, too.

Native communities. New York Times report on January 1 said that Native communities from New Mexico to Michigan are facing empty food pantry shelves as a result of delayed federal funds they rely on to keep their food assistance programs in operation. Those funds, which were guaranteed by treaties negotiated generations ago, can be as much as $100,000. Said Kevin Washburn, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs under President Barack Obama: “Indian Country stops moving forward” during a shutdown, “and starts moving backward.”

Nuisance lawsuits. For months, we’ve been following developments in North Carolina, where residents of rural counties have targeted Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, with a series of nuisance lawsuits. The suits allege that the plaintiffs’ home values—and their quality of life—have been destroyed by the stench and poor air quality in the areas surrounding the company’s operations. Turns out, there’s a shutdown angle here, too: The fifth of more than two dozen such lawsuits, according to the Associated Press, has been postponed by a federal judge because jury pay can’t be guaranteed.

Free lunches. As Congress has increasingly failed to keep the government open in recent years, “Shutdown Specials” have become something of an institution in Washington, D.C.-area restaurants. During 2013’s shutdown, Pork Barrel Barbecue offered to feed furloughed federal workers free sandwiches—a promotion that became a viral sensation, ultimately leading the restaurant to hand out more than 1,300 cost-free sandwiches. The Washington Business Journal takes a look at the current state of this trend, asking whether it still makes economic sense for restaurants to offer handouts when the government gets shuttered so often. Unsurprisingly, it’s a mixed bag. Yes, it can get expensive to give free food to D.C.’s vast horde of federal workers—one company, &pizza, reported giving away 6,000 pies this year. The upside? Our nation’s bureaucrats like to drown their sorrows—who wouldn’t?—and drink sales can offset the revenues lost.

Taken From: https://newfoodeconomy.org/government-shutdown-food-system-snap-ebt-farm-bill/

Unions See Pick For House’s Top Trade Job As Test For Democrats In Populist Era

“We are at a crossroads,” according to a labor union official.

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The fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement lies in the hands of the Democratic-controlled House, whose approval President Donald Trump will need to enact a revised version of the 25-year-old accord.

 

Now organized labor, an influential foe of free trade agreements, wants to make sure a trusted friend shepherds that process in the House so that its voice is fully heard.

Several major labor unions are pressing Democratic House leaders to make Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey ― who had been the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittee on trade when Republicans ruled the House in the last Congress ― the new chairman of that subcommittee.

 

Pascrell, a union ally, is keen to ensure Trump ratifies a fundamentally pro-worker North American trade agreement. Labor leaders consider the current revisions an improvement on the status quo, but believe it can still be toughened to help workers.

But Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.), both of whom are seen as friendlier to recent international trade agreements, are also vying for the top post.

 

Blumenauer and Kind declined the ranking member position in the last Congress, but they have slightly more seniority than Pascrell.

 

“Pascrell’s done a great job as ranking member. He’s attuned with our concerns in our approach to trade,” said Shane Larson, legislative director for the Communications Workers of America.

 

CWA, which represents over 100,000 call center and manufacturing workers whose jobs are vulnerable to offshoring, is coordinating its push for Pascrell with other manufacturing unions. These include the United Steel Workers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Auto Workers and the International Association of Machinists, according to a union official familiar with the effort. (Aside from CWA, none of the individual unions agreed to comment about their efforts.)

 

“There is a consensus in general that Pascrell would be a better chair of the subcommittee,” said the union official, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“Putting a free trader as chair of the subcommittee sends a very bad message to the main constituency on [trade] reform: the labor movement,” the official said.

 

A particular concern for organized labor and like-minded experts at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a consumer group skeptical of past trade policies, is Blumenauer and Kind’s support for the fast-track authority ensuring an up-or-down vote in Congress on any trade deal negotiated by the president.

 

The GOP-controlled House approved the fast-track power, known as Trade Promotion Authority, in 2015 over the objections of the overwhelming majority of the House

Democratic Caucus and its leadership.

Critics of TPA argue that it deprives Congress of the essential right to debate and amend trade agreements before an up-or-down floor vote.

 

Many Democrats also viewed the vote on TPA as a de-facto referendum on then-President Barack Obama’s 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, since Obama planned to eventually use TPA to pass the TPP.

Obama and other proponents of the TPP insisted it would be a net benefit for the U.S. economy by opening markets for U.S. exports. They also argued that the deal would provide a key check on Chinese power in the Pacific Rim.

 

But labor unions, as well as many public health, consumer and environmental groups, opposed the mammoth trade deal on the grounds it would provide lopsided benefits to corporations at the expense of workers, consumers and the environment.

 

With organized labor’s blessing, House Democrats had the votes to block the 2015 consideration of TPA in the chamber. But against the wishes of Democratic leaders, a group of eight Democrats ― including Blumenauer and Kind ― backed a congressional “rule” clearing the way for a vote on fast-track authority. The rule passed by five votes, making the support from those eight Democrats essential.

 

Trump, of course, immediately shelved the Trans-Pacific Partnership upon taking office and named as U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, known for his tough stance of trade issues. That has given skeptics of international trade deals in both parties a chance to beat back a decades-long bipartisan consensus in favor of agreements that they consider unduly deferential to corporate interests.

Trump’s renegotiation of NAFTA virtually dissolves the controversial international arbitration system enabling corporations to challenge domestic laws in signatory countries. The deal would also require 40 percent of cars and 45 percent of trucks to be made by workers earning $16 an hour in order for those vehicles to be imported into the U.S. without tariffs.

 

But unions and their Democratic allies fear that another provision protecting the right of Mexican workers to unionize, which they see as essential to boosting Mexican wages, is not likely to be enforced.

 

“For us, underlying all of this is the outsourcing of jobs,” Pascrell told HuffPost in a recent interview.

If a new deal strengthens labor protections in Mexico, he added, “then we’ll keep jobs here.”

 

By contrast, naming Blumenauer or Kind to head the subcommittee would turn the clock back to the time when multinational corporations had more influence over trade policy in both parties, according to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

 

“The corporate trade agenda is under threat in a way that the corporate lobbies hope a Blumenauer or a Kind could try and … change,” Wallach said.

Kind is unlikely to be tapped for the top trade position ― it likely didn’t help that last week he voted against California Democrat Nancy Pelosi becoming House speaker.

But organized labor and other critics of free trade deals worry that Blumenauer has a fighting chance at getting the nod.

In a Tuesday interview with HuffPost, Blumenauer vehemently defended his record on trade. He noted his votes against the Colombia and Central America free trade agreements, and his successful efforts to ramp up enforcement of trade deals, including a crackdown against illegal logging.

 

“I have no intention of picking a fight with Bill Pascrell. But if you look at our records … [mine is] much more in line with what much more of the Ways and Means Democrats and… the caucus as a whole [supports],” Blumenauer said. He later acknowledged that his support for TPA broke with most of the caucus.

 

Although Blumenauer teamed up with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in 2015 to promote a TPP-style agreement to expand export markets for U.S. goods and services, he insisted that he never came out in support of the text of the TPP as it finally stood.

Organized labor is attempting to flex its muscle on trade policy at a time when the Congressional Progressive Caucus and outside progressive activist groups are engaged in a more public bid to shape the assignments for powerful House committees.

 

The co-chairs of the CPC leveraged their endorsement of Pelosi’s speakership for a promise that they would receive proportional representation ― 40 percent of seats ― on five top committees: Ways and Means; Energy and Commerce; Appropriations; Financial Services; and Intelligence.

 

But unlike the CPC and its allies, who have openly marshaled grassroots support for their efforts, the unions have limited their lobbying for Pascrell to closed-door discussions with leadership.

 

In 2016, Trump narrowly won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania ― three states that cost Hillary Clinton the election ― at least partly thanks to his opposition to trade deals. Democrats now have an opportunity to seize the populist high ground as they debate the NAFTA revisions and seek to improve them, according to CWA’s Larson.

 

“We are at a crossroads. This is an opportunity for Democrats to say, ‘We’re for trade, but we’re for responsible trade,’ against Trump’s knee-jerk rhetoric,” Larson said. “Blind opposition to Trump shouldn’t lead them to be suddenly quote-unquote pro-trade … because those voters are still looking for someone to protect their jobs.”

Taken From: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/labor-unions-bill-pascrell-earl-blumenauer-trade-subcommittee_us_5c34f985e4b0116c11f1011d

Mexico misses USMCA deadline for labor reforms; bill could move in Feb.

The Mexican Congress failed to meet a Jan. 1 deadline to pass legislation to establish labor reforms called for in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, with a bill introduced last month in the Chamber of Deputies unlikely to be addressed until February.

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An annex to USMCA’s labor chapter says Mexico must adopt legislation establishing, among other things, “(i) an independent entity for conciliation and union collective bargaining agreement registration and (ii) independent Labor Courts for the adjudication of labor disputes.” The deal said the bill had to be passed by Jan. 1, adding that “entry into force of the agreement may be delayed until such legislation becomes effective.”

But the draft legislation, obtained by Inside U.S. Trade, is dated Dec. 22 and was introduced by the MORENA party in the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 30. The next regular session of the Chamber is set for February. While a special session will be held in mid-January, Mexican media reports say the labor law is unlikely to come up, with lawmakers set to debate national security legislation.

If passed by the Chamber of Deputies, the bill will head to the Mexican Senate.

The implementation of Mexican labor reforms has been a key issue for U.S. Democratic lawmakers weighing whether to back USMCA. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in December that he expected a vote on the deal’s implementing bill “within the next few months.”

Specifically, Democrats have, among other requests, called for enforceable labor provisions that address Mexican wages, job outsourcing to Mexico and so-called “protection contracts.”

The 204-page legislation addresses labor union “democracy” and freedom of collective bargaining, gender issues and “fundamental rights,” and new “labor justice,” according to an informal translation of the document.

Among its provisions is one that would broaden and clarify the powers of a “Labor Court” to “to achieve execution of labor judgments,” the document states. It would also address an “old claim of the workers of the field to be included minimum professional wages, which is why it is provided that the National Commission of Minimum Wages shall fix minimum wages professionals of said workers, considering the physical wear and tear caused by working conditions and salaries and benefits perceived by workers of establishments and dedicated companies to the branch of agricultural products.”

The legislation would also recognize and delineate the “right of workers to organize freely in the form and scope that they decide,” the document states, and would establish “principles of autonomy, equity, and democracy, legality, transparency, certainty, gratuity, immediacy” in the registration and “updating of union directives.”

The draft also includes transitional provisions that “constitute a critical path that must lead to a successful transition,” such as the establishment of mechanisms aimed at contemplating “the costs of operation, the necessary infrastructure, the training programs of the staff of the new jurisdictional and administrative bodies and the necessary coordination with the various institutions and public entities, national and international organizations, including the Liaison Unit that the Secretariat of Labor integrate[s] for such purposes.

Taken From: https://insidetrade.com/

Revamped TPP goes into effect

The 11-country Trans-Pacific Partnership went into effect on Sunday after being ratified by seven countries.

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The agreement, now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, will cut tariffs among the 11 members — and, according to U.S. industry groups and many lawmakers, make American goods less competitive.

The deal has been ratified by Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and Singapore. The remaining four — Brunei, Chile, Peru and Malaysia — are expected to follow suit in the new year.

U.S. lawmakers have also continued to support U.S. participation in CPTPP. Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE) said earlier this month that the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the pact was “crazy.”

“For years my top priority was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and if I could somehow resurrect that and put Humpty Dumpty back together I would do that in a minute,” he said. “I think one of the biggest mistakes we will have made in terms of trade policy, economic policy in this country in recent years, is backing out of the TPP and letting it collapse.”

In a Monday statement, Farmers for Free Trade lamented what it called “the beginning of an era of lost opportunity for American farmers and ranchers.” The group cited beef, poultry, grains and dairy as products that will face an “immediate disadvantage.”

“While America stands on the sidelines, countries that directly compete with our farmers – including Mexico, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – will begin to receive the tariff-free benefits of a trade agreement the U.S. once stood at the center of,” the statement continued. “Our farmers and ranchers will continue to be at a competitive disadvantage until we reengage with trading partners across the globe and rejoin the many nations that are providing their farmers with the benefits of multilateral trade agreements like CPTPP.”

The U.S. earlier this month released negotiating objectives for the bilateral deal it is seeking with Japan, the biggest CPTPP country. U.S. agriculture groups have long said an agreement with Japan was urgently needed to counteract CPTPP and other deals that will disadvantage U.S. agricultural products in particular.

Taken From: https://insidetrade.com/