Wednesday’s labor panel on day two of the CPA Annual Conference was a history lesson in how far we have come from the halcyon days of kumbaya free trade across political parties to the now bipartisan and growing consensus and support for fair trade and reindustrialization.
Standing in front of his computer’s webcam, Teamsters trade specialist Mike Dolan gave a textbook overview of how it started, from Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” if NAFTA was implemented, to the 1999 Battle of Seattle that saw the World Trade Organization leave the city “with its tail between their legs,” Dolan recalled. He was an on-the-ground foot soldier in making sure the WTO’s ministerial meeting on how to bring a neoliberal globalist agenda from Argentina to Canada, Portugal to the Russian border, lost its shine. It’s been a dull blade ever since.
“Bipartisan grassroots mobilization is important to our strategy today, which remains a strategy of a worker-focused trade policy,” Dolan said in our first-ever online conference. In regards to a labor-friendly trade policy, as opposed to one friendly to the likes of Goldman Sachs, Amazon, and General Motors, Dolan says the people inside the Biden administration are on board. He said it was important to educate people on Capitol Hill and nationwide on what’s at stake when it comes to big trade deals and lowest-common-denominator global economics that will never favor labor in the US.
“Frankly, this is what CPA does now and must do more of going forward,” he said.
An animated Dolan recalled his time fighting the Obama/Biden administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership plans, another “expansion of the flawed and failed NAFTA model.” He coordinated with labor unions and with the Tea Party, at the time the new expression of the Perotistas from the Ross Perot years.
“We frustrated the free traders. Obama couldn’t get TPP done because of our effective bipartisan opposition. Then we know what happened in 2016,” Dolan said of the Trump victory and subsequent efforts to slap tariffs on countries that have been enjoying free access to the US with little favors returned. For example, our trade deficit with the European Union is our third largest behind China and Mexico. One would think that our trade balance would be more even as the EU is full of rich nations. Germany is a top-five trade deficit of ours, along with Ireland.
The standard has been that global economic integration prioritizes global investors and global corporations. Maximum possible trade is a maximum good.
“We’ve managed globalization poorly,” said Stan Storscher, a policy advisor with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. He kick-started the day with a slideshow presentation on just where the free-trade religion has taken us.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway was that as the US offshored means of production and good-paying jobs, and moved towards a consumer market that buys things made elsewhere, small cities and towns outside of the major urban centers became depressed. We need a national industry strategy of some kind, both Storscher and Dolan said.
“We have had national industrial strategies before,” he said. “We had the New Deal, the Space Program; you had national social programs like the GI Bill. And we have done these based on our own principals and priorities and they have been very effective,” Storscher said, highlighting one small example of Canada making its dairy industry a national imperative. We don’t anything like that on a national level in the US as our commodities market is geared towards exporting, with the main farm crop – soy – pretty much wholly dependent on the whims of China.
“We look at China all the time and say how it’s not playing fair, or not playing by the rules, but in fact they are not playing the same game,” he said. “They are after requiring the means of production and that becomes the foundation for their geopolitical power. When we expect them to play by our rules, we are missing the point. We have to keep this in the front of our mind.”
A few Senators, led by Marco Rubio (R-FL) have talked about the need for an industrial policy, but so far that has not materialized into legislation passed by Congress and enacted by the president.
“If CPA did not exist, we would have to invent it. That is how essential it is to the vision of fair trade,” Dolan concluded, leaving attendees with his thoughts on “love.”
“I’m reminded of a definition of love that I picked up from some poet or something and it’s basically that love is not looking deep into someone’s bipartisan eyes. You know what love is? It’s two people looking off together in the same direction,” he said. “That’s what we are doing, looking together in the same direction. That’s why I love CPA.”
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