Senate Votes for Fast Track
13 Democrats back corporate trade agenda despite protests by Labor
Communications Workers of America Sacramento Political Director Robert Longer speaks at a rally outside Senator Feinstein’s San Francisco office before meeting with the senator’s staff.
The Senate voted 60-38 June 24 to grant Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to the Obama Administration that will fast track trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).The House of Representatives passed fast-track trade legislation June 18 on a 218-208 vote, with 28 Democrats voting yes. Unlike a version rejected earlier in June, the bills passed in the House and Senate were not tied to the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill meant to provide aid to workers displaced by trade agreements.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of 13 Democrats who joined 47 of the Senate’s 54 Republicans to reach the necessary 60 votes to end debate on June 23 and enable the TPA legislation to move forward. Fast tracking the TPP will mean that the trade deal that will be negotiated behind closed doors and can’t be amended or improved to include labor standards, or environmental and consumer protections once it reaches Congress.
Communications Workers of America members from the Bay Area and Sacramento rallied outside Senator Feinstein’s San Francisco office June 22.
Over 200 people rallied outside Senator Feinstein’s San Francisco office June 22 to urge her to oppose Fast Track. A delegation of activists met with the Senator’s staff to demand she stand up for the constituents who would be hurt by unfair trade deals. Robert Longer, Political Director for the Communications Workers of America’s Sacramento Local said that as the group was meeting in Feinstein’s office, the phone was ringing constantly as people called to demand a no vote on cloture and TPA. Longer said the delegation reminded Feinstein that she had spoken up for human rights and against torture, but that “if you vote to authorize a vote on TPP, you authorize human rights abuses in Brunei and Malaysia,” where workers are exploited by repressive regimes.
Many members of CWA rallied at Feinstein’s office, along with nurses from the California Nurses Association, members of IBEW 1245 and IBEW 304, representatives of the San Francisco and Sacramento Labor Councils, and activists from environmental and human rights organizations.
Feinstein and President Obama aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called the June 23 vote, “a very big vote. It’s an important moment for the country.”
Reuters reported that, “The legislation has already endured six weeks of congressional wrangling. It twice brushed with failure after revolts by Obama’s own Democrats, many of whom fear trade deals will threaten U.S. jobs.” Senators had rejected TPA under pressure from the AFL-CIO in an earlier vote. “The TPP, a potential legacy-defining agreement for Obama, would open markets for U.S. exporters like Intel Corp and Caterpillar Inc, extend monopoly periods for Pfizer Inc and rivals’ medicines and cut import costs for companies like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.,” Reuters reported.
The National Nurses United called the Senate vote to green light the fast track process for corporate-oriented trade pacts “an abandonment of critical public health protections that will put lives and public health standards in jeopardy for millions of Americans.” The NNU pointed out that the TPP would allow giant pharmaceutical corporations lengthy extensions of monopoly control for high priced brand name drugs, and enable them to block access to cheaper generic drugs that can mean life and death for low and moderate-income patients, many of whom already face un-payable bills for medicine and other healthcare.
“With this vote, the U.S. Senate, eliminating the ability to amend a deeply flawed trade deal written in secret by corporate lobbyists, has sent an unmistakable message that access to life saving medications and food safety are less important than the profits of the wealthiest corporations in the world,” said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United.
“In this entire fight over fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it was evident that the White House and Congressional leaders from both major parties were acting as corporate assets to Wall Street while ignoring the widespread opposition of American workers and the public,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.
“These votes are acts of betrayal at the highest level that may become a defining moment of why there is so much mass dissatisfaction with a political establishment that continues to put corporate profits above the people’s well being,” DeMoro said.
California Nurses Association members rallied against the TPP June 22.
In another provision, global corporations under the TPP would be able to challenge and evade U.S. food safety laws and regulation on the use of pesticides and additives on meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetables that are stricter than rules in other nations. U.S. regulations would be threatened as they are considered “illegal trade barriers” and American consumers would be exposed to unsafe food. TPP would also grant global conglomerates the legal authority to evade or overturn any public health and safety laws that they argue restrict “competition” and their right to unlimited profits in secret, corporate-dominated courts.
At the San Francisco rally, CWA’s Robert Longer also pointed out that TPP would allow multi-national corporations to supersede local and state laws, like bans on fracking, and other environmental regulations. Longer said TPP would be worse than earlier trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA. “It isn’t just jobs in manufacturing that will be outsourced,” he said. “Jobs in technology and health care will also be lost. And it’s not just jobs that will be lost now, but future jobs—the TPP will be there forever; like NAFTA, it doesn’t go away.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who voted against the measure, called the votes of the 13 Senate Democrats who joined Republicans to make sure corporate interests had the necessary votes to pass the Fast Track bill through the chamber “shameful,” and said, “We’re making this decision knowing that people will lose their jobs because of our action.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who campaigned vigorously against Fast Track, said the vote represented a win for corporate America. “The vote today—pushed by multi-national corporations, pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street—will mean a continuation of disastrous trade policies which have cost our country millions of decent-paying jobs,” the presidential candidate said in a statement.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, pointed out that the vote only came about via “elaborate legislative contortions and gimmicks designed to hand multinational corporations their top priority.” Such contortions were necessary, she added, “because the American people overwhelmingly oppose these deals, notwithstanding an endless barrage of propaganda.”
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, echoed that warning as she declared, “The senators who provided the margin of Fast Track victory will face angry voters in their next elections. Constituents will hold them accountable for putting the interests of transnational corporations ahead of the public.”
Unions vowed to continue to oppose the TPP, and remind voters in upcoming elections of which politicians aligned with Wall Street against the interests of the public.
Union members, environmental activists, and representatives of human rights campaigns protested the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Fast Track outside Senator Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office June 22. Photos by Paul Burton
- Paul Burton, with material from National Nurses United and Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org).
In Wake of Senate Vote, Workers Remain Committed to Fair Trade
By Rachel Johnson
California Labor Federation
The U.S. Senate’s vote June 23 to invoke cloture on Trade Promotion Authority (aka “Fast Track”) for the Trans-Pacific Partnership effectively ensured the passage of Fast Track. The vote was all the more disappointing because Sen. Feinstein joined 12 other Senate Democrats to cast decisive votes that pushed this job-killing corporate trade deal forward.
For months, unions waged a spirited campaign to derail Fast Track. Union members and leaders traveled to Washington D.C. to personally meet with members of Congress and convey how catastrophic Fast Track legislation could be for working people in California. California nurses dedicated an incredible amount of time and resources to expose how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could wreak havoc on our healthcare system and hold legislators who supported Fast Tracking the TPP accountable.
Upon news of Congressman Ami Bera choosing to turn his back on workers and support Fast Track, working people in Sacramento were dedicated to informing the community and spent their free time phone-banking and canvassing for weeks. They also delivered Q-Tips and held sit-ins at his Sacramento office, urging him to listen to his constituents and change his mind. Folks around the state worked to hold their representatives accountable, as well. Workers in Rep. Peters’ district in San Diego, Rep. Farr’s district in Monterey, and Rep. Costa’s district in Fresno worked for weeks and were relentless in their resolve to urge their Congressmen to vote no on Fast Track to protect jobs and the environment. Unfortunately these Representatives refused to budge, siding with corporate lobbyists and DC bureaucrats who have a major stake in getting TPP passed under the radar of working people in America.
The silver lining in all this is the unity shown between labor, environmental groups, human rights organizations and many other progressives who stood together to push for more transparency on this secretive deal. The strong show of solidarity amongst progressives also paved the way for full debate on the TPP’s impact on workers, our environment and democracy itself.
This fight is not over. Congress still must vote on enactment of the TPP. This will likely happen later on this year. Once the agreement is finalized, its content will become public for a period of 60 days before votes on the agreement take place in the House and Senate.
We’re never going to stop fighting for good jobs that support families and our communities. This fight isn’t about one procedural vote in the Senate. It’s about protecting jobs and preserving the middle class. We won’t ever waver in our resolve. Stay tuned for Round Two.