A Modest Proposal: A Trans-World Workers Agreement

May 17, 2015 § 1 Comment


Modern technology has created a global economy.  Multinational trade agreements like NAFTA and the currently pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) are corporate business responses to this development.  These so-called “free trade” arrangements feature trans-national agreements for standardizing trade regulations, patents, copyrights and other laws designed to control the impact of corporate policies and practices on the welfare and incomes of citizens of participating countries.  The arrangements are enforceable by affected businesses through appeals to arbitrators with authority to design remedies that supersede the constitutions and laws of those nations. [For a description of this process with respect to the TTP, here is a link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership#Potential_members.%5D

In this essay I will contend that a glaring omission from these agreements and the processes by which they are negotiated is representation by spokesmen for the interests of members of the working class and underclass in the nations affected by the trade agreements.  I will also contend that, just as the restrictions on “conspiracies in restraint of trade” and other anti-trust laws are understandably exempted from the negotiation of multinational trade agreements, the rights of workers to engage in secondary boycotts and other non-violent arrangements for collective action should be suspended insofar as such tactics are employed as bargaining power in the process of reaching trans-national labor agreements.

Preliminary Comment

My title was suggested to me by Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay entitled “A MODEST PROPOSAL for Preventing the children of the poor people in Ireland from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick”.

Here is a link:  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1080/1080-h/1080-h.htm

I was reminded of this essay because the prevailing focus on corporate welfare disregards the growing inequality of wealth and the workers’ dwindling share of it.

The Negotiation Process

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has not yet been finalized.  Congressional action on the President’s demand for “fast track” authority is before the Congress, following a vote against it by the Senate.  There will probably be another vote in the Senate and the White House is exerting its considerable influence to overcome dissent by Senate Democrats, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ron Wyden and Minority Leader Harry Reed.  The debate process is hampered by the fact that the substance of the issues has been kept secret.  Members of Congress can read current drafts, subject to tight secrecy restrictions, but they are prohibited from disclosing to their constituents or the press what they learn.

      Too Much Secrecy

What we know is the result of leaks published by Wikileaks.  This, to me, is contrary to the proper functioning of a democracy.  We are not dealing with any matter of national security, the usual excuse for secrecy.  President Obama asks us to trust him and his “team” to protect our interests.  He claims divulging the details of the negotiations would unduly inhibit the give-and-take of the bargaining process.

There is some merit in this argument, but the problem is:  we are asked to grant authority to negotiate without knowing what we are agreeing to.  We are also asked to limit our ability to express approval to parts of the agreement when negotiations are completed.   Our elected representatives will have to accept or reject the entire agreement – no directions to return to the bargaining table seeking modifications.   This is not a proper process for framing an agreement that will significantly affect the lives of Americans for several decades with no way to change it if it proves to have been a mistake.

     One-Sided Negotiators

I have not seen one word indicating that any member of the “teams” who have done and who will do the negotiating of this TPP represented the interests of workers.  This looks like “trickle-down” economics on steroids:  “What’s good for corporate America is good for America”.  Do we really have reason to believe this, given the recent evidence?

Here is Ron Wyden, speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate during the debate on “fast track” authority:

The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement. […] More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. We hear that the process by which TPP is being negotiated has been a model of transparency. I disagree with that statement.

Here is link to the opinion of Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, writing last January about this TTP:  http://www.alternet.org/robert-reich-largest-most-disastrous-trade-deal-youve-never-heard.

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel Laureate professor of economics at Columbia University; former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration.   Here is his reaction to TTP:


My Modest Proposal

I have written several essays about Thomas Piketty’s book, “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century”.   He has compiled a prodigious database to establish a fact:  capitalism exerts relentless pressure toward wealth inequality.  His analysis concludes:   the only remedy to avoid a degree of inequality that becomes unsustainable, either due to violent revolution or implosion when consumer demand no longer suffices to support demand for investment, is a global remedy that redistributes wealth from the wealthy to the middle and underclass.  It seems to me that globalization resulting in corporate pressure for multinational trade agreements may also suggest a way to design and implement the kind of global remedy required by Piketty’s analysis.

Removing trade barriers is a good idea, but only if the wealth generated by a more efficient market is fairly distributed.  That fairness can be achieved by arming the bargaining representatives for the working class and the underclass of capitalist nations with the bargaining structure and power to demand fair distribution of wealth.

There are some historical examples pertinent to this idea that are interesting to me.  Applying the reasoning and justifications for trade agreements to a proposal for labor agreements is similar to Marx’ conversion of Hegel’s dialectical idealism to dialectical materialism, a process sometimes referred to as “standing Hegel on his head”.

I know that today’s political climate is unlikely to take seriously any idea of a trans-national labor agreement.  I believe, however, in Piketty’s prediction.   Wealth inequality will continue to grow and, as it does, pressure for a remedy will become stronger.

Globalization has been accompanied by the explosive impact of social media on the pace of social change.  We are, right now, witnessing the way a relatively small group of brutal men, using religious fanaticism as a cloak,  can become a force threatening the stability of nations.  I don’t think they will prevail but they have demonstrated a solution to a problem that limited the effect of “Occupy Wall Street” and the “Arab Spring”.  I thought those efforts would be transformative.  They weren’t.  They failed to create permanent structural changes to implement the ideas they expressed.  ISIS has accomplished that.

I hope these problems will attract and inspire creative and courageous people to demand a global solution to a global problem.  The seeds of the TPP were planted over ten  years ago.  The negotiations have continued for seven years.  It will take years to create a structure for global labor negotiations with developed capitalist countries.  My “modest proposal” is a suggestion fueled by hope.  Here is the longshoreman philosopher, Eric Hoeffer’s advice to those who might accept my suggestion, across the decades:

“Those who would transform a nation or the world
cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent
or by demonstrating reasonableness and desirability
of the intended changes
or by coercing people into a new way of life.
They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope.”
The True Believer.

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