In a recent interview, President Obama addressed the divide which has grown between his administration and labor unions over international trade.
“I said, look, not every trade deal has lived up to the hype,” the president said during his interview with Vox. “And there are real gaps in the current trading regime that mean there are a whole lot of Toyotas sold here and almost no Fords or Chryslers sold in Japan. But what I say to them [is] if, in fact, the current situation disadvantages us, why would we want to stick with the current situation?”
Though labor unions and the president agree on many policy areas, they have been unable to come to an agreement on international trade policies like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the president argues the current trade deals could open up the international market and help America promote interests abroad, labor unions say such deals will have vastly negative consequences for American workers.
“Now, sometimes their response will be, well, what you’re doing isn’t enough; what we need to do is to have union recognition in Vietnam or we need Japan to completely open its markets and not have any barriers whatsoever, and we need that immediately,” the president continued. “And I say, well, I can’t get that for you. But what I can do is make the current situation better for American workers and American businesses that are trying to export there. I can open up more markets than what we have open right now, so that American farmers can sell their goods there. And, you know, better is better. It’s not perfect.”
“When I talk to labor organizations, I say, right now, we’ve been hugely disadvantaged,” the president added. “Why would we want to maintain the status quo? If we can organize a new trade deal in which a country like Vietnam for the first time recognizes labor rights and those are enforceable, that’s a big deal. It doesn’t mean that we’re still not going to see wage differentials between us and them, but they’re already selling here for the most part. And what we have the opportunity to do is to set long-term trends that keep us in the game in a place that we’ve got to be.”
As recently as the State of the Union address last month, labor unions have expressed opposition to the current trade negotiations.
The United Steelworkers noted in a statement, “There are many aspects of the TPP that merit grave concern like the rights and privileges given to investors that make it safer for companies to move production overseas to low-wage, human-rights-violating countries like Vietnam.”
Along with opposing many aspects of the trade deals, unions have also expressed great concern with how the administration has gone about requesting fast-track authority. If congress agrees on fast-track it would mean the president would have the authority to make trade deals with other countries without them being amended or filibustered.
“As the Obama administration works to secure Fast Track authority for its trade deal that critics fear will devastate American jobs, CWA members and activists in every district and sector have been generating calls and writing letters to members of Congress to stop Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal,” the Communications Workers of America declared in a statement.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has argued, “He has to decide which matters more; fast-tracked trade deals that are giant giveaways to big corporations and lower corporate tax rates, or a healthy economy that works for all working people.”
It’s not just labor unions which have turned their back to the president over trade. Many other left-leaning organizations and Democrat leaders have also noted adamant opposition to the current trade policies.
Even many congressional Democrats have expressed their opposition to the president’s trade plan. In a letter, 151 House Democrats told the president, “We write to express our serious concern with the ongoing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a potential agreement of tremendous consequence for our country.”
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