FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama Sells Out Labor and the Environment … Again

This week the Obama administration was caught hiding behind secrecy agreements to mask its role in the latest ‘free-trade’ deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The pact is designed to further shift legal and regulatory authority from governments to multi-national corporations. To state the obvious, if doing this were in the public interest there would be no need for secrecy.

The pact was originally framed as an extension of existing agreements to Asian countries. However, with Canada and Mexico brought into the open as members, it is now apparent that it goes well beyond previous trade deals. In fact, it is looking like the end game to achieve total corporate control over our lives.

To explain their need for secrecy ‘seasoned’ trade negotiators argue that special interests impede progress. Exactly what progress is being impeded is inferred in the absence of labor and environmental groups in the negotiations.

The evidence is unambiguous that trade agreements have decimated U.S. manufacturing, have driven wages down for most working Americans and have led to soaring corporate profits as corporations earn more by paying workers less. Mainstream economists attribute these effects mainly to technological innovation (computers, robotics), which is partially true but misleading.

The sleight-of-hand with technology involves the myth that computing and communications technologies resulted from lone entrepreneurs inventing computers and the Internet in their garages. In fact, these resulted first from the government’s funding of the development of computers, second from the Pentagon’s (ARPA, now DARPA) development of the internet and finally from the government’s purchase of tech goods and services from ‘private’ corporations. To a significant degree these technologies were created at public expense before being transferred to private hands.

With respect to manufacturing technologies in particular, newer technologies have largely been put into new factories overseas. This results from a confluence of factors, but with labor costs representing a relatively small proportion of overall manufacturing costs, the prevailing explanation that lower wages are behind this transition is incomplete.

International labor market competition, to the extent that it can be said to exist, is about differing institutional conditions, not labor markets per se. Assuming for the moment that workers in the U.S. and China can produce the same output using the same equipment in the same amount of time, capital goes to the country with the lowest all-in costs. Labor is one component, but the unrestricted ability to pollute is another. Government and / or corporate control over workers that prevents work stoppages and labor organizing are another. It is this total package that international capital looks for, not just the lowest wages.

Again, labor costs are a relatively small proportion of total manufacturing costs in industries that have seen outsourcing. Were corporations forced to heed strict environmental regulations and negotiate with (real) organized labor overseas, the economic incentive to out-source would be even less than it already is. It is the ability to pollute without consequence and access to pliant labor that have driven out-sourcing more than simply lower wages.

Additionally, the ability of corporations to move production overseas is being used to eliminate environmental regulations and restrict labor organization in the U.S. The argument goes that eliminating these will revive the U.S. economy. Yet with forty years of unimpeded implementation of these very policies behind us, the benefits remain elusive. This isn’t a matter of market competition. By building new factories overseas multi-nationals can get other people to pay their bills for them. By removing environmental regulations and busting unions in the U.S. these same corporations can get us to pay their bills for them.

That organized labor and environmentalists continue to support parties and policies that are diametrically opposed to their members’ interests points to opposing tensions within these groups. Decades ago U.S. labor made a deal with the devil by ousting ideological unionists (communists) in favor of ‘pragmatists’ considered less objectionable to political moderates and the right. And by shifting to corporatist organizational models the environmental movement now by-and-large promotes corporatist ‘solutions’ to environmental problems.

Pay and benefit differences between union leadership and the rank and file put the two on opposing sides of class struggle. The cooperative strategies used by labor leaders in recent decades haven’t stemmed the loss of union members, haven’t resulted in rising wages and benefits for union members, and have not slowed one iota the neo-liberal program to destroy the U.S. labor market. The question of what union leadership is being paid so much to do seems legitimate?

Likewise, corporatist environmental strategies put well-paid environmental lobbyists in luxury office towers pushing ‘market-based’ solutions that are ineffectual both in that they promote the profit system that has corporations earning higher profits the more they pollute and they provide no necessary link between polluters and those who bear the costs of pollution. Corporate polluters and profiteering environmentalists are living lives of relative prosperity while the poor in far-away lands choke and drown on pollution from which they derive no offsetting economic benefit.

The innovation reportedly in the TPPA increases corporate control over local legal and regulatory authority. For instance, under the agreement, if a local or state government passes a law requiring that genetically modified crops be identified as such, a panel of corporate representatives outside of the U.S. can overrule the law. Likewise, labor organizing rights and environmental restrictions can be banned or otherwise overridden. Without the ability to pass binding laws all governmental ability to restrict corporate behavior is removed.

The big lie at work here is that ‘free-trade’ agreements have anything to do with free trade. They are about transferring social resources to connected capitalists who will take as much as they can get. That government officials would willingly hand over their law making powers to private corporations illustrates exactly where real political power now resides. And the strategies of cooperation being used by labor unions and environmental groups haven’t even slowed, let alone reversed, this transfer of power. The choice between fighting back and giving up entirely has rarely in history been clearer.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

More articles by:

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail