From Washington, D.C., to Sacramento, millions of labor, environmental, community and human-rights activists are raising our voices in an otherwise secretive discussion on the future of our global economy – the 190,000 California members of the Communications Workers of America and the Sierra Club determinedly among them.
Together, we’re concerned about the position of Northern California’s congressional delegation on “free” trade pacts that will threaten our families, our jobs and our access to clean water and clean air.
The Obama administration is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal with 11 other countries – including Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and others – that will cost us jobs and jeopardize our clean air and water.
Trade deals can be good if they’re done responsibly – if they improve our economy, protect our environment and uplift our overall quality of life. But from what we’ve seen, the TPP will drag us in the opposite direction by offshoring our jobs, eroding our wages and leaving environmental and consumer protections vulnerable to attack from corporations.
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We already know how bad trade deals hurt our jobs and wages. We were promised prosperity from opening up trade with Mexico and Canada 20 years ago with the North American Free Trade Agreement. But this hasn’t been the case.
NAFTA and allowing China into the World Trade Organization led to a net loss of 650,700 California jobs. Our trade policies have also resulted in an annual 5.5 percent wage loss for most workers in California, a total of $13 billion a year.
The TPP would make things even worse because we’ll be competing with corporations relocating to countries such as Vietnam, where the average minimum wage is less than 60 cents an hour.
Also, this agreement would allow foreign corporations to sue the U.S. over laws that they allege could cut into their expected profits. That includes laws designed to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.
This corporate empowerment will pose a massive threat to our environment. A draft of the environment chapter, leaked earlier this year, had weak language about all of the region’s main conservation issues – fish, wildlife and forest protections. Without fully enforceable safeguards in the Pacific Rim, natural wonders like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Peru’s Amazon rain forest and California’s Stanislaus and Mendocino national parks could be destroyed.
It comes as no surprise that the American people are not fooled by these trade agreements. According to a bipartisan poll, 62 percent of voters oppose giving President Barack Obama “fast track” authority over the TPP. With fast track, Congress would not be allowed to make any changes to the deal before it’s signed.
The fight over the TPP will probably come to a head in the next few weeks, as fast-track legislation moves through Congress. We need our representatives in Congress to put Californians first, not corporations and big polluters.
We hope that each member of our congressional delegation will join us in the fight to protect our jobs, wages, environment and national sovereignty by making a public commitment to oppose fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Dean Wallraff of Los Angeles is on the national board of the Sierra Club. Laura Reynolds is vice president of the Communications Workers of America District 9, which supports locals in California, Nevada and Hawaii.