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Labor Silent in Opposing NAFTA-Style Korea Free Trade; Here’s Where They Used to Stand

Abandoned Bethlehem Steel Factory

Coming soon to a town near you: NAFTA 2.0! via Tom Giebel on Flickr

In the 14 hours since the White House dumped the news of a NAFTA-style Korea Free Trade agreement on a Friday night, labor unions are deafly silent in opposing this job-killing agreement.

UAW came out in support, but to our count, no other unions have said a word. Firedoglake reported last night that President Obama, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and Members of Congress worked the phones yesterday to keep unions quiet. The Steelworkers are reportedly on the fence about supporting, and their goal for the AFL-CIO is neutrality, or silence. So far, it’s working.

Just so we’re on the same page, Obama is continuing Bush’s unfair NAFTA-style free trade agreement with Korea with effectively none of the changes he promised. Public Citizen sums it up:

The Korea FTA text contains the extreme investor rights that promote offshoring; the private enforcement of those rights that had led to serial attacks on domestic environmental, health, and other safeguards; a ban on Buy America; limits on financial service regulation (recall, this is a 2007 pre-crisis text with all of the crazy extreme deregulation language of past Bush FTAs) and more of the most damaging NAFTA-style provisions Obama promised to fix.

The UAW is joined in supporting the NAFTA-style Korea Free Trade agreement by such protectors of working people as: US Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue; President of the National Association of Manufacturers John Engler; Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit; JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon; Amway CEO and top Republican funder Dick DeVos; Big Bank lobby group Financial Services Roundtable President Steve Bartlett; and more.

That’s just who the White House trumpeted in their press push. And that’s who the UAW stands with, as does any union who not just supports, but fails to oppose the NAFTA-style Korea Free Trade Agreement.

In the absence of any opposition from anyone in labor on the new NAFTA, I thought I’d do a public service and show where labor and its allies used to stand on this NAFTA-style agreement, before they were pushed back into the veal pen.  [cont’d]

I’m sure it’ll be easy for these organizations to just copy and paste their previous opposition, since that’s what this agreement does. I’m looking forwarding to hearing anything from any of these entities to oppose NAFTA 2.0.

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO, 11/18/10.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Nov. 16 declined to say whether his organization would be able to support a final deal on the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement that only deals with the issues of improved market access for U.S. auto and beef exports, even though the AFL-CIO has pushed for broader changes.

In a conference call with reporters, Trumka refused to speculate on what a final deal on changes to the FTA could look like and how the AFL-CIO would respond. “We will have to see whether the improvements made make it more acceptable, and then we’ll make a decision,” he said. In its current form, the FTA is far from acceptable, he added.

“[I]f it doesn’t meet the needs of the American people and the American economy, then we’ll oppose it,” he said, in reference to the FTA. He argued that faulty trade deals have for decades “hollowed out the core” of the U.S. economy.

110 House Democrats, 7/22/10.

More than 100 U.S. Democratic lawmakers asked on Thursday to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss their concerns about his plan to seek congressional approval of a trade deal with South Korea.

“At a time when our economy is struggling to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, it is unthinkable to consider moving forward with another job-killing FTA,” the 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives said in a letter to Obama.

The letter underscores the battle Obama faces within his own party unless he persuades South Korea to make substantial changes to the agreement it negotiated three years ago with the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO, 6/29/10.

We remain deeply concerned about and strongly opposed to the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement as negotiated by the Bush Administration. The agreement would exacerbate our already lopsided trade relationship with South Korea, putting at risk thousands of good U.S. jobs in the auto, steel, and other industrial sectors. […]

This flawed agreement is the last thing working people need. With a fragile and incomplete economic recovery, and unemployment estimated to remain near 10 percent for the foreseeable future, we should not be putting in place new trade agreements that will speed up the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Senator Barack Obama, 4/26/08.

“The only trade agreements I believe in are ones that put workers first,” Sen. Obama told members of the United Auto Workers in November. “Because trade deals aren’t good for the American people if they aren’t good for working people. That’s why I opposed CAFTA. That’s why I oppose the South Korea Free Trade Agreement.”

UAW Statement, 5/1/07.

KMWU and UAW firmly call on the Korean National Assembly and the U.S. Congress to reject the KORUS FTA. With the conclusion of the FTA negotiations, many commentators have framed the discussion largely in terms of a worker “zero sum game,” by focusing on how much and how quickly each nation’s tariffs would be reduced. More importantly, the FTA will lead to an acceleration of capital mobility and financial speculation, thereby pitting American workers against Korean workers in unlimited restructuring and driving down wages, employment stability and working conditions.

John Sweeney, then-President of the AFL-CIO, 4/2/07.

Working people in the United States and South Korea join today in vigorously opposing the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), and we will send a powerful message to the U.S. Congress and the Korean Parliament that any trade agreement between our countries must protect the fundamental rights of workers and contribute to the creation of good jobs in both countries.

The agreement, which is the largest since the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), will not benefit the working people of the United States or South Korea. The AFL-CIO along with our Korean union counterparts, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) strongly oppose any agreement that will hurt working families, farmers, and domestic producers in both countries. This flawed deal contains no enforceable protections for core workers’ rights, and it will undermine both governments’ ability to provide affordable and high-quality public and social services, and to protect food safety, the environment, and public health.

AFL-CIO and Change to Win joint statement, 2/17/07.

We believe that the current model agreement, which so far has provided enormous benefits for a disproportionate few, will not likely generate widely shared economic prosperity for the majority of persons in the U.S. and South Korea. Indeed, some of the provisions under negotiation could jeopardize important public interest gains or narrow the policy space of governments to respond to the needs or wants of their citizens.

Anna Burger, Chairwoman of Change to Win, 6/9/06.

“This administration seems to think that ‘free trade’ means they get to freely trade workers’ rights and protections for the benefit and profit of global corporations,” the chair of Change to Win, Anna Burger, said in a statement. “We need fair trade, not trade that leads to fewer jobs, lower pay, worsened working conditions, and environmental degradation.”

U.S. labor groups compared a possible FTA with Korea with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

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Michael Whitney

Michael Whitney

My name is Michael Whitney. I'm a progressive online organizer working with FDL Action. Rush Limbaugh called me "clueless" once. He went into rehab two days later.