As Democrats and their allies continue to fight over trade, some unions Wednesday made a personal appeal to President Barack Obama to see firsthand the damage previous trade deals have done.
“President Obama, we welcome you to come to the site of what failed trade policies have brought, the devastation of this facility,” former union worker Mike Lewis said in a video. “Please come. Please take a look at the devastation of three decades of failed trade policies.”
The video, which was released by the AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers, highlights how workers like Lewis have been hurt from previous trade deals and why the president should stop pursuing current negotiations to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Unions and many Democratic lawmakers have voiced concerns that the trade deal is going to benefit corporate interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment.
Throughout the debate, unions have pointed to trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a sign this current deal will be bad for workers.
“One can’t help but be saddened,” Lewis said. “This was once called the ‘Beast of the East.’ We made the steel that went into the Golden Gate Bridge.”
NAFTA was signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States in 1994 to help promote free trade through standard rules. Opponents have argued the deal failed and has hurt American workers and nearly destroyed industries like steel production.
“We want the American people to know that bad trade policies have terrible consequences for workers,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka added. “This battle isn’t about a political party, it’s about the thousands of people just like Mike Lewis who simply want a fair chance to earn a good living and put food on their table.”
The White House has routinely denounced the comparison, arguing the TPP will include protections NAFTA didn’t and will actually help reverse some of the damage previous trade deals have caused.
“And the response that the president has routinely had when faced with this question has been to say that the TPP agreement that’s being negotiated is not NAFTA and it’s not any of these other trade agreements that have been enacted, it’s a different one,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in May. “And what it contains are higher labor standards and environmental standards, and ensures that they are enforceable, that they’re written into the agreement.”
“So those who are concerned with the way that previous trade agreements have been enforced when it comes to labor standards should find TPP something that they can support because it will include enforceable labor provisions that will be enforced in the same way that other elements of the agreement will be enforced,” he added.
Separate from the Steelworkers’ personal plea, the AFL-CIO and 0ther unions this week have more aggressively challenged the trade deal and those who support. The AFL-CIO has even gone as far as to personally attack Democratic lawmakers who break with party lines to support it.
A vote on the whether to grant the president fast-track is expected Friday.
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