The proposed EU/US Trade Agreement will be an attack on workers

The proposed EU/US trade agreement (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP) will be a dangerous step towards a global trade war, an attack on the workers in the participating countries and is also designed to put higher profits into the hands of multinational corporations.

The TTIP will create the largest free trade area in the world and tie the economic policies of the USA and the EU together.

Unfortunately the European and American trade union confederations, the ETUC and AFL-CIO, are calling for consultation and safeguards instead of expressing outright opposition, although it is obvious from their statements that they are deeply worried about the consequences of the TTIP. This position shows wishful thinking. Their press releases show that they clearly understand many of the potential dangers while hoping that somehow capitalism will accept their suggestions.

For example unions in Europe are wary of the fact the USA has not ratified a number of the most important ILO Conventions, including that on the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The US has also passed ‘Right to Work’ legislation in 24 states, most recently in the traditional union stronghold of Michigan, which clamp down on unions’ basic ability to exist. There are worries that European companies would locate themselves in such states and take advantage of un-unionised labour.

American unions are also concerned about its companies relocating to countries in Europe such as Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Slovakia where incomes are low and trade unions are weaker than in other parts of the EU. This is of course exactly what does happen, as workers in the UK know only too well as their jobs disappear abroad to the EU.

Unions on both sides of the Atlantic also worry that closer economic coordination could mean Europe’s welfare states may be threatened by US-style free-marketeering whilst the USA might be forced to swallow a dose of Osborne-style austerity. They say the agreement should not be ‘the enshrinement of destructive austerity, de-regulation, or other neoliberal ideas prominent in recent years.’

But at the same time the AFL-CIO hopes that the TTIP will prompt the USA to sign up to ILO conventions and instigate European-style laws on worker protection and worker representation on company boards, while the ETUC hopes the TTIP will strengthen progressive economic policies. Its press release says, ‘It’s vital that negotiators in Washington and Brussels involve trade unions in the process to make sure this historic deal can bring progressive change to each other’s economies, working conditions and trade union rights. That’s the kind of trade deal that would break out of the financial news pages and make a positive difference in people’s lives.’

These positions are hopelessly misguided and seem to stem from the same lack of leadership as is shown here by some unions over the issue of austerity. Currently very few workers know anything about the TTIP or the harm it will do. There are parallels with the attitude of many unions to the EU, which has and is causing huge damage to the UK, its economy, industries and workers. It is essential that the confederations begin a campaign of opposition and information, so workers can mobilise against the treaty which could be ratified in the next couple of years.

For the press releases by EU and US confederations of trade unions follow the following links:

http://strongerunions.org/2013/05/30/unions-unite-to-call-for-us-eu-trade-deal-to-benefit-workers/

http://www.aflcio.org/Issues/Trade/U.S.-EU-Free-Trade-Agreement

http://www.etuc.org/a/11234

For a UK government’s assessment of the pros and (a few) cons, there is a rather lengthy and technical document, full of guesswork on the economic consequences: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/198115/bis-13-869-economic-impact-on-uk-of-tranatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-between-eu-and-us.pdf

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