Speech | Trade

Trumka Outlines a New Direction on Trade

Washington, D.C.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you Celeste [Drake] for that introduction and for your outstanding work on this issue. And thanks to all of you for taking part in today’s critical conversation about the future of trade.

I want to start with a word about last week’s referendum in Great Britain. The Brexit vote sent a message loud and clear—we have to make democratic societies work for working people. You can’t let Wall Street and the City of London run everything and then expect voters to say it’s okay. We face this issue over and over again—with austerity, tax policy and yes, trade deals. From Brussels to Washington, policymakers must understand that if we want to defend democracy from both the radical right and the out of touch elites, working people must help write the economic rules. That is why our ongoing efforts to redefine the trade narrative have been so important.

For too long, if you opposed a trade agreement for any reason, you were belittled as a protectionist, a dinosaur, as not understanding the complex reality of a global economy. Even some of our friends told us we were fighting the last war.

But our movement is trying to shape globalization, not stop it. We have changed the debate by focusing on trade rules, the structures that for too long have killed jobs and lowered wages.

This isn’t a matter of whether or not to trade. Of course we should open up new markets for our products and do business with people all over the world. The real challenge is to advance trade policy that creates shared prosperity and makes the world stronger and safer. Bring us a deal like that and we’ll be ready to support it.

At the beginning, we were hopeful the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be that deal. A pro-worker, progressive administration talked about a new direction on trade. The dedicated and hard-working team at the AFL-CIO provided detailed and substantive suggestions for the TPP, and mountains of evidence to support our positions. But eventually it became clear that, behind closed doors, our ideas were being ignored. Instead, corporations drove the agenda. Once again, they were writing the rules.

The final language of the TPP was based on the same outdated trade model that has devastated families and communities for decades. It mirrors agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO which have transferred wealth from working people to multinational corporations. NAFTA in particular is still wreaking havoc on our economy—just ask the men and women who will soon lose their jobs at Carrier in Indianapolis or Mondelez in Chicago.

Trade, by definition, should be a fair exchange. We give up something, and you give us something in return. Let me tell you, if the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers made some of the trades our nation has over the last 25 years, he would be fired. And rightly so. For decades, our trade policy has made the ruling class richer and the working class poorer, not just here but around the world. That isn’t trade. It’s corporate welfare.

Two years ago, almost nobody thought these corporate trade deals could be stopped. With the support of President Obama and the Republican leadership, the TPP looked like a slam dunk. Congress moved quickly to grease the skids with fast track authority.

Well something happened along the way. A groundswell of activism led by the people in this room slammed the brakes on the whole process. Our strength stunned Washington. Fast track limped through. But nobody can ever say it won, because Goliath had been tamed, and everybody was looking at us with newfound and well-earned respect.

Think about what we’ve accomplished. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton came around to our position and now opposes the TPP. With our help, she’s never going back. Donald Trump talks a good game on trade, but his first and only loyalty is to himself. Trump is giving a speech in Western Pennsylvania later today, not far from where I grew up. Expect to hear crocodile tears about lost jobs and shuttered factories. But Trump embodies everything that is wrong with our current trade policies. He personally profited from NAFTA. He told students at Trump University that outsourcing creates jobs. And he has consistently sent American jobs overseas to line his own pockets.

The people of Pittsburgh and towns like it deserve more than empty promises and bluster. They need a public servant who shares our commitment to negotiating trade deals that work for working people, not a billionaire looking for his next buck. When it comes to corporate trade, Donald Trump is the problem. And Hillary Clinton is ready to help us find a solution.

While we are heartened that the House does not currently have the votes to pass the TPP, this is not the time to rest on our laurels. The threat of this unfair agreement remains, so we continue to point out its fundamental flaws.

We must remind voters and elected officials alike that the TPP fails to address currency manipulation, giving foreign nations an ongoing free pass for cheating U.S. companies and workers. We must expose the TPP for giving multinational corporations broad new powers and a special justice system to sue governments, including ours, for any laws that threaten their bottom lines—including labor and environmental protections. We must reiterate that the TPP is a giveaway to Big Pharma, and would jeopardize people's access to affordable medicines. We must reemphasize that the TPP will exacerbate economic displacement in Peru and Central America. Finally, in light of the tragedy in Orlando, it is important to once again make clear that the TPP would give trade benefits to nations where you can be jailed or executed for being gay.

The deal’s proponents are now saying that the TPP is essential to keeping China at bay. When the corporate elite lose the economic argument, they tend to shift to geopolitics. But far from bringing China into a system of global rules, the TPP is likely to give Beijing a pass. It contains woefully weak rules for determining how much of a product needs to be made in the TPP countries to qualify for lower tariffs. This means China and other non-TPP nations can reap many of the deal’s benefits without offering access to their markets or following rules on labor, environment, investment or intellectual property.

This is a critical issue. That’s why, during our conference today, we will explore it in depth, including hearing from a TPP supporter. As I’ve always said, we encourage a free and open exchange of ideas, not the secrecy that dominated TPP negotiations.

Let me close by talking about the road ahead. As you know, the AFL-CIO recently endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, and we are going to do everything we can to elect her. Much of the next five months will be spent empowering and mobilizing our members to make their voices heard at the polls. Those of you who have been involved in a presidential race know how exhausting it can be.

And yet, in the days following the election, we’ll be ready to fight back against any attempt to pass the TPP in a lame duck session of Congress. We are sending that signal right now, because I expect we’ll hear offers of improved assistance for workers who lose their jobs and other Band-Aid fixes. But those who argue we can fix structural problems with more Trade Adjustment Assistance are like Lucy asking Charlie Brown to kick the football again. We need a different trade model, not crumbs from the table of the big corporations who are the only winners in the failed NAFTA model. The TPP must be renegotiated or scrapped entirely.

In the meantime, we will continue to be agile, smart, strategic and resilient. Working together, I am confident that we will beat back the TPP. And we will also be ready for future agreements like TTIP and TISA.

The bottom line is, if they don’t work for working people, we will mobilize to defeat them, too.

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