Speech | Global Worker Rights · Trade

Shuler: Global Economy Must Work for Working People

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks at the OECD 2021 60th Anniversary Ministerial Council Meeting:

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important consultation ahead of the OECD ministerial. Secretary General [Mathias] Cormann, Undersecretary [Jose] Fernandez, TUAC and BIAC colleaguesthank you for your condolences. We are still grieving the loss of Rich Trumka and I know how much he loved participating in these meetings but the best way to honor him is to keep working together to build a robust OECD worker-centered policy agenda and strengthen working peoples’ bargaining power and working conditions around the world.

The global labor movement knows trade is a vital part of a modern global economy. We also know the global economy must work for working people. The question is not whether trade and economic globalization are inherently “good” or “bad.” The question is: Will we craft trade policies that protect our environment and ensure working people receive a fair share of the gains from trade? Or will we continue the path of globalization policies that drive a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions, and exacerbate economic inequalities?

Over the past 40 years, a harmful neoliberal “free trade” agenda was built on a false premise—that by protecting investors’ rights, expanding rules of law for business owners and lowering tariffs and expanding trade, that workers would benefit. We now know the reality was the oppositeunder these neoliberal policies, workers suffered lower wages, reduced job and social security, and eroded rights. Current trade policies resulted in workers becoming poorer and weaker in relation to their employers. And workers’ rights and environmental protection were cast aside, branded as “non-trade” issues. This model has led to skyrocketing inequality, a backlash to globalization and increasing distrust in democratic institutions.

We cannot downplay job losses or income losses or collapse of communities by saying “oh, people just don’t understand the true benefits of globalization.” What they understand is that job precariousness and economic uncertainty are their reality. To counteract it, respect for human rights and labor standards should be a precondition for any trade and investment agreement, and in a manner that makes them enforceable. Monitoring, complaint and sanction mechanisms involving social partners should become part of all trade and investment agreements. The USMCA free trade agreement recently helped protect freedom of association and collective bargaining rights in Mexico. This is an example of the policies we need. It’s time for a new model that promotes good jobs, high wages and sustainable economic growth, protects our environment, and respects human dignity world-wide.

Workers need to be at the table at every stage of trade negotiations to shape these policies. We need to build on the USMCA free trade agreement that uses an enforceable labor mechanism to protect freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. The AFL-CIO and my colleagues at TUAC look forward to working with you to ensure a worker-centered trade agenda is more than a goal, but a set of real, transformative policies for working people.

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