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Posts Tagged ‘CAFTA’

Viewpoint from Honduras: CAFTA, Forced Immigration, Deportation Connections

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Larry CohenAt the deportation center in San Pedro Sula, planes land with more than 100 Hondurans a day, returned from our border prisons to their native land. They are mostly young men, with shackled hands and legs, who have harrowing tales of days in what they call the “ice box,” the U.S. detention centers on our borders that are so crowded they must stand up for hours, taking turns lying down to sleep. These were heartbreaking conversations, nearly hopeless tales through tears, of failed attempts to unify with families or find work.

At the same center, beautiful posters highlight jobs for English speakers in call centers to handle call center work for U.S. customers. Call center companies tout minimum wage call center jobs for deportees so they can pursue “the American dream” without leaving San Pedro Sula. One particular poster touted a call center company that received a big boost from T-Mobile two years ago after it laid off 3,000 in the U.S. and moved work to Honduras, the Philippines, and other locations. T-Mobile then denied that it had moved the services outside the U.S. and tried to prevent the fired employees from collecting trade adjustment assistance. Consistently, working families pay the cost of increased profits on every side of our disastrous trade policies.

We spoke to community, union, women’s and children’s groups, the Honduran government, and our embassy. Amazingly, all confirm a unified story—an economy in collapse, widespread violations of minimum wage and all social protection laws, small farmers forced from their land, subsistence farming replaced by African palm, and the jobs created in maquila zones dwarfed by the numbers forced to leave ancestral lands and travel to cities already jammed.

The subsistence farmers, or campesinos, describe how they are pushed from land where they grew beans or corn. Now it is corporate farms growing African palm for sale to the U.S. and other multinationals, while Honduras imports beans from the U.S. or even Ethiopia, and the campesinos line up for work at factories far from their homes. There are not enough jobs and 70 percent pay under the poverty level minimum wage while labor inspectors say they are outnumbered by the violations.

The unions confirmed constant violations of organizing rights in direct violation of CAFTA. These included everything from the murder of leaders to the collapse of bargaining rights where they once existed. But our AFL-CIO complaint has sat at the Labor Department for more than two years, just as the complaint of widespread abuse in Guatemala was held for six years before the U.S. Trade Representative finally raised it with the government there. Eighty-three human rights lawyers and 43 journalists have been murdered in recent years trying to enforce or report on the constant violations of everything decent.

So as we return, what can we do besides shout loudly, motivated by the pain of the Hondurans we met? First we need to look at the economic frame that has produced this 19th-century capitalism largely unregulated. Second, we need to look atour own immigration policy, concentrating enormous resources on deportation and nothing on resettlement. Third, we need to look at the trade deals, in this case, CAFTA, that accelerated the free market devastation. NAFTA, CAFTA, trade preferences for China, millions of lost jobs in the U.S., our wages depressed by global comparisons, and more than $10 trillion in total trade deficits have destroyed our industrial cities and created huge budget deficits nationally and in those same cities with cuts to social services.

We await the president’s action on immigration, not only on the potential easing of deportation for certain categories of immigrants, but also on a change in processing immigrants for deportation. We expect him to act boldly after deferring for months after waiting and waiting for House Republicans to act.

But just as importantly, we need to build the widest possible coalition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Farming communities in Mexico and Central America already devastated by subsidized U.S. corporate farm imports will now see maquila factories close in droves as U.S. and other multinationals head for Vietnam,  which has 90 million people and a 27-cents-an-hour minimum wage. That minimum wage is about one-third of the minimum in Honduras. How long will Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, and other employers remain in Central America when competitors head to Vietnam with labor costs far lower and a government there that will agree to protect the profits from those lower wages?

Our president promised a different trade regime when he ran for election in 2008. The misery of 20 years of trade deals in the U.S. and the Americas needs to confront his Trade Ambassador. Multinationals and especially the financial sector have benefited tremendously. The rest of us, whether global north or south, are left only with some combination of hope and anger as motivation to fight for real change.

Let’s end Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which allows multinationals to sue for lost future profits. This means that if Honduras passes new legislation to safeguard the environment from African palm or a higher minimum wage, multinationals that lose profits can sue the government for billions of dollars. Let’s kill TPP or any trade deal that benefits governments like Vietnam where human rights are an illusion. Let’s link together the campaigns for immigrant rights, environmental justice, and workers’ rights like never before. I met amazing freedom fighters in Honduras from labor and elected officials to women and community members who have not given up. We haven’t given up either. The voices from Honduras and our own communities will strengthen our determination to stand for justice.

This blog originally appeared in Huffington Post reposted on AFL-CIO Blog site. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Viewpoint-from-Honduras-CAFTA-Forced-Immigration-Deportation-Connections. October 27, 2014.

About the Author: Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen was in Honduras Oct. 12-15 for meetings with Honduran workers and union leaders, community and women’s activists, elected officials, and others to focus awareness on the immigration crisis affecting Central American families and the connection with CAFTA and similar bad trade deals. He was joined by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the leading Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, and other U.S. union leaders.

 

Corporate Rewards: Controlling U.S. Trade Policy

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Leo GerardReal men, real human beings, with feelings and families, fought and died at Gettysburg to preserve the Union, to ensure, as their president, Abraham Lincoln, would say later, that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Perversely, afterwards, non-humans commandeered the constitutional amendment intended to protect the rights of former slaves. Corporations wrested from the U.S. Supreme Court a decision based on the 14th Amendment asserting that corporations are people with rights to be upheld by the government – but with no counterbalancing human responsibilities to the republic. No duty to fight or die in war, for example. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court expanded those rights – ruling that corporations have a First Amendment free speech right to surreptitiously spend unlimited money on political campaigns.

Today, Lincoln would have to say America’s got a government of the people by the corporations, for the corporations.

The proposed trade agreement with South Korea illustrates corporate control of government for profit. It’s the same with efforts to revive the moribund trade schemes former President George W. Bush also negotiated with Panama and Colombia, the world’s most dangerous country by far for trade unionists, with 2,700 assassinated with impunity in the past two decades, 38 slain so far this year.

Nobody likes these trade deals – except corporations. They’re all modeled on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), both of which killed American jobs while giving corporations new authority to sue governments (read: taxpayers) for regulations – like environmental standards – that corporations contend interfere with their right to make money.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the South Korea so-called Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would cost America 159,000 jobs and enlarge its trade deficit by $16.7 billion in its first seven years.

Americans, now suffering though corporate-caused 9.6 percent unemployment, know a deal when they see one – and the South Korea FTA is not one. In a September poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 53 percent of Americans said so-called free trade agreements have injured the country. Only 17 percent said those trade schemes benefited the United States. Disgust with these deals spans party lines, including Tea Partiers, 61 percent of whom said they’re bad for America.

Many politicians, particularly Democrats, abhor the schemes as well. In July, just after President Obama announced that he would try to get the South Korea pact passed, 110 House Democrats described their disdain for the deal:

“We oppose specific provisions of the agreement in the financial services, investment, and labor chapters, because they benefit multi-national corporations at the expense of small businesses and workers.”

In addition, during this fall’s midterm election campaign, 205 candidates, Republican and Democrat, ran on platforms condemning job off-shoring and unfair trade, and house Democrats who ran on fair trade were three times as likely to survive the GOP “shellacking” as Democrats who supported so-called free trade schemes.

Significantly, the South Korean public and some South Korean politicians also oppose the trade proposal. In the week leading up to the G-20 meetings in Seoul, trade unionists, farmers, peasants and students filled the streets in marches and candle light vigils to express outrage with the proposed agreement, including its provisions giving U.S. corporations the right to challenge South Korean laws in private tribunals.

In October, 35 South Korean lawmakers joined 20 U.S. Representatives in writing President Obama and Korean President Lee Myunk-bak to protest the proposal.

Despite all that opposition, when Obama and Lee emerged from talks without an agreement, the American press, pundits and “analysts on both sides of the aisle,” described the situation as a major diplomacy failure, “a serious setback for the president.”

They were wrong. It wasn’t a setback for Obama. It was the president refusing to sign a bad deal for American workers.

It was, however, a humiliation for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which just spent at least $50 million from secret corporate donors to elect Republicans who will do its bidding. The South Korea deal is a priority for the Chamber. Here’s what Chamber senior vice president for international affairs Myron Brilliant told the New York Times after the South Korean negotiations broke down and Obama pledged to attempt to complete the deal over the following six weeks:

“This will be an early test for this president with the new Congress, particularly the House leadership.”

The “Brilliant” test is whether the president of the United States will comply with Chamber demands to complete trade deals that kill jobs and that Americans despise.

When Obama went to Seoul, Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue was there to, as he put it, help win the trade deal. He also was among 120 executives given exclusive access to international leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev in a conference before the G-20 meeting.

The international organizers didn’t invite to the trade talks or the conference the students, farmers, environmental groups, organized labor and untold millions of individuals who oppose the so-called free trade deals. The human beings who will be hurt most by the trade deals didn’t get a seat at the table. The corporate-people who stand to gain everything did.

Brilliant’s comments express the corporate sense of entitlement. They spent tens of millions to get what they wanted from politicians to increase profits. Now they expect it to be delivered. It’s their recompense, their corporate reward.

If fatter profits mean fewer American jobs and wider trade deficits, that’s simply not a problem for corporations. That’s among the perks corporations got when the Supreme Court awarded them the privileges of personhood in America but none of the pesky personal and patriotic responsibilities of actual people in American society.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

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