Kaela Berg: Trans-Pacific Partnership a threat to U.S. jobs

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Kaela Berg is director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition.

Trade. It may not be at the front of your mind today, or even most days, but it should be. After 20 years of living with the disastrous impacts of NAFTA and every trade agreement since, we are now faced with the largest free trade agreement we’ve yet seen, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Often touted as “NAFTA on Steroids,” the TPP will affect 40 percent of the world economy and continue the hemorrhaging of American jobs – jobs that we can ill afford to lose. The TPP already has been signed by representatives of all 12 countries involved, and it now awaits ratification by the various governing bodies of each participating nation.

The images of shuttered factories in once-thriving cities of industry are all too familiar in recent history. The lack of manufacturing that breeds a strong and steady economy in this country is astounding, and it leaves far too many able workers with few options. Working families today, are struggling to make ends meet, to send their children to college and to have the ability to retire not only to enjoy the fruits of so many years of labor, but to rest when their bodies need it most.

The effects of trade are woven into the fabric of our lives – in the quality of the air we breathe, the food we eat and the jobs we may or may not have.

The current and irresponsible way that giant corporations and governments negotiate international treaties will always result in dire consequences for the most vulnerable. I saw that firsthand during my two trips to Colombia last year.

The labor rights, human rights and environmental justice violations in Colombia were both alarming and a direct result of U.S. trade policy. The Labor Action Plan, which is a mechanism put in place supposedly to ensure the protection of workers under the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, is ineffective in its practical application. That’s no surprise, given the provision never had any “teeth” in its genesis. Even NAFTA had an outline that seemingly provided some protections for workers, but in fruition such protections were negligible.

Simply put, free trade agreements do not work for workers. Not here at home, and not in the countries in which we already trade. The TPP promises more of the same: more American jobs lost, more stagnant wages and more cheap and illegal goods flooding our markets. It keeps the scales tipped firmly in favor of the multinationals and keeps American workers participating in an involuntary race to the bottom.

Whether it’s picketing in response to being locked out of steel mills in Pennsylvania for months at a time or standing up for miners on the Iron Range, as workers we must do what we do best: Stand Up, Fight Back! We cannot allow another trade agreement to continue the rampant eradication of our jobs, the stagnation of our wages and the theft of our opportunity to offer our children a better way of life.

In a world where globalization is inevitable and also an amazing opportunity, we must be mindful of creating a path for fair trade if we are to nourish and grow an economy that works for all people. There is something that each of us can do. This election season I urge you to reach out to your lawmakers and initiate a dialogue asking them to vote against the TPP. A vote against the TPP is a vote for working families!

– Kaela Berg is director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition. Founded in 1991, the organization unites family farmers, unions and environmental groups to promote and support fair trade policy and global justice.

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