NZ Council of Trade Unions on Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement / A worker’s comment

“Trade is only a small part of these negotiations”, said Bill Rosenberg, CTU Policy Director and Economist, who will be the CTU observer. “In fact most of the proposed agreement covers areas like foreign investment rules, empowering foreign companies to sue our government, opening our services to more international competition, our right to regulate, pharmaceutical costs, intellectual property rights, and preventing use of government procurement to help local firms.”

Don: That mixes possible working class concerns with local capitalist concerns as if they were the same thing, or were mutually compatible. The end result of that outlook has historically been pressure on workers to make sacrifices to help “our firms” or “our country”. It’s not “our right to regulate”, if you don’t believe me, try effecting some regulating today and see how you get on.

“The big trade interest for New Zealand is agriculture – getting more dairy and other products into the US. But powerful US interests will oppose that every step of the way. Australian exporters were very disappointed at the results of their free trade agreement with the US. It would be naive to believe New Zealand can do any better. If any access is won it is likely to be delayed for a decade or more, by which time there is likely to be greater competition from other international suppliers  to the US market and subsidies may still be in place.”

Don: Fonterra might lose out. Lend me a hanky.

Any access will not come free, says Rosenberg. “We will have to pay for it. For example, the price could be reducing our ability to control foreign investment, giving overseas corporations the power to sue our government for millions of dollars and force it to change laws, higher cost of medicines, further loss of our ability to give assistance to local producers, or greater pressures to privatise. If we have to give this sovereignty away to get agricultural export access, we have to ask whether being locked into production of low value-added commodities is really the future New Zealanders want. It is a low value, low quality, low wage path.”

Don: In other words, foreigners might take over and cut our wages. Its high time the union movement cut out the bullshit bogeyman stuff. The entirely NZ owned plumbing fixtures factory I recently worked for built its large fortune on paying the lowest possible wages for all the several decades of its existence. NZ sovereignty had nothing to offer the thousands of weary toilers the firm used up and spat out. Kiwi bosses need no lessons in hacking a low wage path.

Unions will also be pushing for an enforceable labour chapter to prevent the kind of race-to-the-bottom competition to lower labour standards that the government demonstrated in passing the amendment to the Employment Relations Act at the behest of Warner Brothers. “These agreements go much too far in increasing rights for international corporate interests. At the very least they should provide protection for the rights of people who work for their living and make up the great majority of our working age population.”

Don: Most unfortunately, unions currently have nothing to “be pushing ” with. Getting something to push with should be our first priority. Untill we get jobs organised and more union density and some class struggle attitude in the leadership, NZ unions will be able to do little more than plead for fairness.

“What is even more disturbing about the negotiations is the degree of secrecy that surrounds them, despite their outcome being more important than most laws that go through Parliament. The text of the agreement will not be available for scrutiny until the deal is signed. Only scraps of information are available until then. This is not how a 21st century agreement should be created.”

Don: On the contrary, that is how most capitalist 21st century negotiations are created. Like the recent new phone tap laws for the world cup. Yes, of course negotiations should be transparent. To achieve that, see immediately above.

“We are not against trade. It can provide jobs, but it must be fair. It often has not been fair to working people. But the TPP is about much more than trade. Any trade benefits are likely to be tiny. Unless we receive assurances that the dangers such as those outlined, are being addressed, we will oppose it. We are working with union centres in most of the other TPP countries, and have a common view on a broad range of issues.”

Don: Well, that’s a good start. When that broad range of issues includes mutual ditching of abject class collaboration it will be even better. And when we’ve rebuilt the union movement to a state where mass strikes can be mounted in support of overseas workers it will be better still. Because that is the only way unions will be able to have any effect on anti worker runoff from TPP.

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