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Double Whammy On Farmers

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, December 12, 2016

Washington’s long-term plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This result has been the creation of food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North. Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture for the benefit of transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and global food security.

In the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. India was advised to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops. As the largest recipient of loans from the World Bank in the history of that institution, India has been quite obliging and has been opening up its agriculture to foreign corporations.

The centre-left’s narrative on climate change has convinced no one

By Alex Randall - Red Pepper, November 2016

The election of Donald Trump reflects the unraveling of the centre-left across the West, and with it a fragile consensus on climate change. For two decades parties of the centre-left have created narratives about climate change that they do not really believe. They have done this to try and convince their fragile coalition of supporters and to try to bring they’re political opponents on the right into the fold. These attempts have failed.

The centre-left long ago abandoned ‘typical' green messaging in the way it talks about climate change. You don’t hear Obama, Clinton or Justin Trudeau talking about polar bears, sinking Pacific Islands or even climate change as a human rights issue. The go-to arguments of the centre-left (and to some extent centre-right politicians like Germany’s Angela Merkel) are these:

  • Climate change will create war, terrorism and migration—it’s a national security issue
  • The solutions to climate change could create millions of jobs in manufacturing and industry—in areas hit most by industrial decline
  • Tackling climate change is an opportunity for economic growth—there is money to be made by entrepreneurs

How did the centre-left end up making these arguments? And why does no one believe them?

Trump Vows to Disrupt Trade; Progressives Need to Push Him in the Right Direction

By Michelle Chen - In These Times, November 22, 2016

The one election issue tying together populist voices on the right and left was trade—or so it seemed. Donald Trump’s upset win, fueled in part by Rust Belt rage against free trade deals and globalization, could hand liberals an unexpected opportunity to push a fairer set of trade rules, if they can shift the debate away from Trump's reactionary “bull in a China shop” spectacle and toward a concrete movement to advance a people-centered alternative, based on social-justice principles not return-on-investment.

A group of human rights organizations, including the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), has framed a human rights-based trade agenda requiring signatories to “understand, assess, and address their full effects on human rights, with a particular focus on vulnerable and marginalized groups,” such as women and migrants. Core provisions would include the right to a safe and healthy environment, fair access to medicines and respect for labor and indigenous rights.

The group contends that pending trade deals fail on these basic human rights standards. Such deals include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would link 12 Pacific Rim nations and was panned by both Trump and Bernie Sanders during the campaign, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would connect Europe and the United States.

One of Trump's first policy announcements was that he would immediately kill the already-stalled TPP negotiations and, instead, seek to negotiate bilateral trade agreements supposedly more beneficial to the United States. But progressive internationalists, who note that the TPP was likely moribund anyway due to widespread public backlash, warn that Trump’s rhetoric is equally short-sighted.

In a broadly-worded memorandum on a 200-day trade agenda, Trump's camp has laid out a program of deregulation and corporate tax breaks as a way to preserve domestic manufacturing jobs. The president-elect plans to sanction China for violating trade rules and promote “America First” by privileging the enrichment of U.S. corporations and workers above those of Mexico.

Despite its populist spin, Trump’s plan centers on growing multinational monopolies, and by extension, aggravating global inequality, critics say.

“This is a guy who has said U.S. workers are overpaid, that climate change is a hoax and that has no problem buddying up with authoritarian regimes,” says Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the fair-trade coalition Citizens Trade Campaign.

Advocates like Stamoulis see Trump as a continuation of previous administrations' neoliberal agendas. Even if he scraps the TPP and similar deals, his whole business persona embodies the predatory multinational investment that underlies free-trade market liberalism. According to IPS associate fellow Manuel Perez-Rocha, despite his populist veneer, the president-elect will likely “expand free trade and corporate-friendly policies but just with other names.”

A structural challenge to the neoliberal order would involve tackling not only trade policy, but also, for example, labor exploitation and dominance of international financial institutions over Global South economies. Rather than Trump's “'them against us approach,” a left trade analysis should, in Perez-Rocha's view, show “all these problems … are interconnected.”

After Brexit and Trump: don't demonise; localise!

By Helena Norberg-Hodge & Rupert Read - The Ecologist, November 22, 2016

The election of Donald Trump was a rude awakening from which many people in the US have still not recovered.

Their shock is similar to that felt by UK progressives, Greens, and those on the Left following the Brexit referendum.

In both cases, the visceral reaction was heightened by the barely-disguised racist and xenophobic messaging underpinning these campaigns.

Before these sentiments grow even more extreme, it's vital that we understand their root cause. If we simply react in horror and outrage, if we only protest and denounce, then we fail to grasp the deeper ramifications of their votes.

For the defeat of both the Clinton campaign in the US and the Remain campaign in the UK can be explained by their inability to address the pain endured by ordinary citizens in the era of globalisation.

By failing to focus on the reckless profiteers driving the global economy, they allowed their opponents to offer a less truthful and more hateful explanation for voters' social and economic distress.

In order to move forward, we need to give those who voted for Trump and Brexit something better to believe in. And we can. Because in both countries, voters emphatically rejected the system that has inflicted so much social and economic insecurity: pro-corporate globalisation. And that is the silver lining to the dark storm clouds we see.

No, Trump Didn’t Kill the TPP — Progressives Did

By Arthur Stamoulis - Medium, November 11, 2016

If you read the headlines, Donald Trump’s election has killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The headlines have it wrong.

Donald Trump didn’t kill the TPP. Assuming we see the fight through to the bitter end, it’s the cross-border, cross-sector, progressive “movement of movements” that will have defeated the TPP.

While overshadowed by the horror of Trump’s election, this victory will be one of the biggest wins against concentrated corporate power in our lifetimes, and it holds lessons we should internalize as we steel ourselves for the many challenges we face heading into the Trump years.

Under a banner reading “A New Deal or No Deal,” the first cross-sector demonstration against the TPP in the United States was in June 2010 — a full six years before Trump became the official Republican nominee. Held outside the TPP’s first U.S.-based negotiating round, it featured advocates from the labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, indigenous rights and other social justice movements.

While we didn’t outright oppose the TPP at that time, we warned we would organize against it if it didn’t represent a radical departure from trade deals past that put corporate interests ahead of working families, public health and the environment.

It took years of protests at subsequent rounds in Chicago, Dallas, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Maui and elsewhere — coupled with hundreds of other protests in cities and towns across the U.S. and around the world — to slowly, but surely, put the TPP on progressive groups’ radar.

Over that time, first thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then literally millions of Americans signed letters and petitions urging the Obama administration and Congress to abandon TPP negotiations that gave corporate lobbyists a seat at the table, while keeping the public in the dark.

We were up against Wall Street, Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Pharma, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the President of the United States, the leadership of Congress — in short, we were up against some of the most powerful economic and political interests in human history.

Countless people told us we had no chance of winning. But we persevered.

Cities and civic workers: The union role in building better cities

By Jim Silver - Rabble.Ca, October 5, 2016

Although Carlo Fanelli's book Megacity Malaise: Neoliberalism, Public Services and Labour in Toronto is not about Winnipeg, it offers many insights applicable to Winnipeg and to other Canadian cities. Fanelli is a former Toronto civic employee who looks at civic issues from the point of view of city employees and their unions. His central argument is that the fiscal problems confronting Toronto and all major Canadian cities are not caused by over-spending on civic services nor by excessive union wage demands, although this is what is typically claimed.

The basis of Canadian cities' fiscal problems is in Canada's Constitution, which does not give cities the taxing powers to generate sufficient revenue to do all of the things for which they have responsibility. Cities are forced to over-rely on property taxes, which "is unsustainable in the long run." Property taxes are regressive, and don't grow with the economy, leaving cities in a constant state of fiscal crisis. This is made worse by the fact that federal commitments to civic issues have been sporadic and insufficient to meet cities' needs.

This has been worsened further by the ideological dominance in Canada of neoliberalism. This ideology has driven massive cuts in taxation and in public spending -- by 1999 Ontario's Mike Harris government, for example, had made 99 different tax cuts; by 2013 Stephen Harper's government had cut federal taxes to the lowest rate in 70 years -- followed by the downloading of responsibilities from senior to lower level governments. Cities have borne the brunt of this offloading, and have not had the capacity to generate the revenues needed to deal with it.

Toronto and Winnipeg have responded with a host of policy measures that do not get at the real root of the problem. Like Winnipeg, Toronto has allowed suburban sprawl to grow, on the grounds that more suburban housing will mean more property tax revenue. But this doesn't get at the underlying structural problems, and in fact generates more costs in the longer run. Selling off valuable public assets to the private sector creates profits for private interests, but produces a one-time only injection of cash that is no solution to the underlying problem and that diminishes future revenue flows. The same is the case with privatization and contracting out and the use of public-private partnerships (PPPs).

There is a great deal of evidence that PPPs, to take that example, do not generate the savings that cities claim. Ontario's auditor-general produced a major report on 74 PPPs completed between 2003 and 2014 and found that these cost Ontario some $8 billion more than traditional public financing. Contractors benefit, cities' budgets do not, yet Toronto and Winnipeg continue to make use of PPPs on the largely false grounds that they save public money. The contracting out of city work continues unabated, and any "savings" it produces are typically the result of non-union contractors exploiting vulnerable workers. This is the case with the privatization of Winnipeg's garbage collection service in 2012. The hard work of lifting garbage cans and dumping them into trucks is done by temporary day labourers -- many of them young Aboriginal men -- hired on a day-by-day basis at minimum wage with no benefits. Described in an expose by Aboriginal Peoples Television Network as "Winnipeg's dirty little garbage secret," this exploitative process is how Winnipeg "saves" money via privatization and contracting out

Spending on valuable public services continues to be cut on the largely false grounds that cities have a "spending problem," while the already massive infrastructure deficit balloons ever further. Roads, bridges, underground pipelines and transit services continue to deteriorate, while parks and recreation facilities, libraries and other essential civic services remain underfunded. The urban fiscal crisis grows unabated.

City governments, desperate for solutions and driven by their ideological orientation, point the finger at out-of-control spending and excessive wage demands by civic unions. Many in the right-wing media promote this simplistic and largely false explanation.

Fanelli points to data showing that incomes have stagnated over the past three decades of neoliberal governance. "In Canada's three largest cities the bottom 90 per cent of income-earners made less in 2013 than they did in 1983." Toronto's 2007 Independent Fiscal Review Panel found that the average wage of City of Toronto workers, including overtime, was "less than $40,000 in 2007." Toronto's unionized workers and their unions are not the cause of the city's fiscal problems.

Yet one of the great "successes" of neoliberalism and its adherents has been to redirect the anger of many modest-income earners at civic employees and their unions. Civic employees are seen as being paid too generously, despite their relatively modest earnings. As Fanelli points out, "the vitriol directed at them is intense, often as if they live lavish lives at the expense of non-unionized workers."

This October, All Hands On Deck to Stop the TPP

By Steve Brown - Labor Notes, September 30, 2016

The White House is hell-bent on forcing the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress during the lame-duck session immediately after the election, when political accountability to constituents is at its lowest.

That’s why it’s critical that workers and unions demand that waffling members of Congress state their opposition to the TPP this October, before the election—while we still have some leverage.

TPP is like a giant version of NAFTA, covering 12 countries around the Pacific. This multinational treaty poses an urgent threat to our democracy, jobs, health, environment, drug prices, and the Internet.

Communications Workers (CWA) Local 3611 member Grant Welch hadn’t even heard of the TPP until he attended a union training in June. Now he’s helping his local to phonebank, asking every member to call their Congressperson. CWA held a national call-in day September 14.

“People are eager and willing to learn,” says Welch, a telecom worker in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We have a group of very passionate young workers who have visited every work center and every yard to tell workers about the TPP.” He and fellow activists have also passed out flyers at Moral Monday rallies, and they’re spreading the word to family and friends.

Still Standing or Standing Still?

By Robert Lambert - New Internationalist, September 1, 2016

A cheer goes up every time a taxi driver honks his horn in solidarity. Passers-by stop to sign our petition and ask questions. A couple of well-heeled women hurry towards the hotel entrance, averting their eyes from the cluster of hospitality workers waving flags and chanting: ‘What do we want? Fair tips and a union! When do we want it? Now!’

We’re here on a busy London street, as the evening rush hour gridlocks the city, to support Robert, a Hungarian waiter at the luxury five-star Melia hotel, who has been sacked. His crime? To question the restaurant’s unfair practice of sharing tips – on which waiters depend to top up their low wages – between senior managers as well as waiting staff.

Robert had joined the London Hotel Workers branch of Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, and through its support found the courage to speak out. There is a lot to speak out about, because the capital’s hotels and restaurants are getting away with murder, exploiting the fact that most hospitality workers are migrants, desperate for jobs and unaware of their rights. ‘Hotel workers in the Philippines have more collective bargaining rights than those in London,’ says an exasperated Dave Turnbull, Unite regional officer.

Over 1,000 kilometres away in Barcelona, undocumented street vendors from Senegal are also fighting for their rights. As illegal migrants they cannot join an established union, so they have come together to create one for themselves: the Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (Popular Union of Street Vendors). Its activity, concedes Clelia Goodchild, whose documentary film El peso de la manta features Barcelona’s street vendors, is chaotic, because it has no experience, no contacts and often fails to communicate with its members properly – but it is a start. And it has already had some success, with the city council recently offering five street vendors the opportunity to attend a fishing course, which will then lead to papers and a regular job.1

Organizing and collective action – whether with the backing of a national union, like Robert, or the support of a handful of co-workers, like the Senegalese street vendors – is a must in the 21st-century fight-back against rapacious employers and neoliberal governments. But it is not easy. In many countries of the Global South, trade unionists put their lives on the line every day to fight injustice, and many are murdered.

The power of transnationals is increasing, thanks to free-trade agreements signed behind closed doors by governments either in cahoots with the companies or lacking the political clout or will to object. The globalization juggernaut, in which profit is king and to hell with the workers, is dragging down industries from manufacturing to healthcare in a race to the bottom: zero-hours contracts, outsourcing, privatization and sub-contracting are all weapons in the transnationals’ armoury. Previously hard-won workers’ rights – gains we in the West take so much for granted we barely register that they were fought for at all – are being shot to bits.

Though trade unions have been standing up for workers for nearly 200 years, it’s fair to say that they have been on a roller-coaster ride. There have been highs: winning an eight-hour day and a five-day week; the golden age of the 1930s and 1940s, when employees’ rights were enshrined in law in the US and Britain. But there have also been lows. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher systematically dismantled trade unions in a full-scale attack on workers’ rights, as part of their neoliberal free-market agenda. Australia’s John Howard followed suit, introducing draconian legislation at the turn of this century which resulted in many unions losing half their membership.2

Trade unions also have a proud history of international solidarity. In the 1860s, Lancashire cotton workers supported the unionists in the US Civil War. In 1997, dock workers in 27 countries struck for a day in solidarity with the Liverpool Dockers, who had been on strike for two years. But there have also been moments when corruption, poor leadership and infighting have risked bringing the whole movement into disrepute.

These days, the lows seem to outnumber the highs. Trade unions, it would appear, have their backs to the wall just when we need them most. Governments continue to pass anti-union laws: between 1982 and 2012, 200 restrictive labour laws were passed by federal and provincial governments in Canada, and after 9/11 the US used the ‘war on terror’ as an opportunity to deny many federal employees the right to unionize – threatening to invoke anti-terrorism laws to stop strikes.3,4

But all is not yet lost. After a period of introspection in the 1990s, when the battered and bruised Western trade unions mutated into little more than a mediation service between employer and employee, offering member benefits such as cheaper insurance on the side, the movement has begun organizing again. There is a new sense of urgency and optimism among many unionists, who have dusted themselves down and are ready to resume the fight. But which battles? And with which weapons?

Unfair Market Value II: Coal Exports and the Value of Federal Coal

By Clark Williams-Derry - Sightline Institute, June 17, 2016

This report documents massive exports of federally owned coal from 2000-15. The US Bureau of Land Management sold private companies the right to mine this coal for a pittance—in some cases, for less than 20 cents per ton. And when Asian demand was red-hot, these companies made massive profits selling millions of tons of federal coal overseas. Nonetheless, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has essentially ignored export economics when setting the “fair market value” that it will accept for federal coal leases. Now that the Department of Interior has placed a three-year moratorium on new coal leases pending a thorough review of federal coal policies, BLM has an ideal opportunity for a thorough review of the economics of exports. And our report points to evidence that by ignoring exports, the BLM has been selling many federal coal leases at just a fraction of their true economic value.

Read the report (PDF).

Leaked treaty texts confirm it: TTIP is a trade deal that threatens democracy

By staff - International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF), May 11, 2016

The secret draft texts of the proposed US-EU 'free trade' agreement TTIP released by Greenpeace Netherlands on May 2 confirm what critics have maintained from the outset. TTIP is a trade deal that threatens democracy.

The treaty negotiations were never centered on reducing tariffs between the US and the European Union, which are at historic lows. Like the finalized but as yet unratified Trans-Pacific Partnership and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement CETA, TTIP's principal objective is to further expand the already considerable power of transnational corporations by restricting the regulatory power of governments and locking the system into place to prevent new regulatory initiatives.

The leaked chapters (13 out of a projected 24) show how TTIP would undermine the capacity of governments at every level to adopt and enforce laws and regulations to defend worker and consumer health and safety and the environment against corporate depredation.

The blunt instrument for lowering standards and ensuring they remain low is the chapter on regulatory harmonization (what the EU negotiators call 'Regulatory Cooperation' and the US 'Regulatory Coherence, Transparency, and Other Good Regulatory Practices'). Any and all regulatory proposals must be evaluated for their impact on trade and investment, must conform to a 'least burdensome' requirement (in which no regulation is the benchmark) and must be subject to a cost/benefit analysis. Governments are required to signal in advance any proposed regulations they intend to adopt and must guarantee interested 'natural and legal persons' (read: corporations) input into the drafting and review process. Corporations as legal persons on either side can 'petition' for the amendment or repeal of any regulation they find objectionable. The precautionary principle established in EU law is nowhere mentioned in the EU draft text, which proposes instead the 'mutual recognition of equivalence of regulatory acts" - a preemptive surrender of Europe's generally higher standards.

An institutional role for transnational corporations is developed further in the chapter on Technical Barriers to Trade, the WTO-based mechanism under which corporations have challenged regulations concerning, for example, plain-packaging requirements for tobacco products, country of origin labelling, chemical rinses on poultry meat and import restrictions on genetically modified crops. The US draft stipulates that "Each Party shall allow persons of the other Party to participate in the development of standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures" and that "Each Party shall permit persons of the other Party to participate in the development of these measures on terms no less favorable than those it accords to its own persons." Transnational corporate committees replace democratic process. The 'right to regulate' evoked in the EU draft investment chapter published last year is meaningless in the light of provisions which completely eviscerate democratic decision-making.

What else do the leaked texts tell us? The US is seeking to crack open the potential EU market for 'products of modern agricultural technology', i.e. genetically modified crops. The draft chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures creates a web of 'science-based' requirements which would make it even more difficult for the EU to maintain its restrictions on GM imports and production. The EU would be required to enroll in the US-driven International Initiative on Low Level Presence, a program designed to eliminate restrictions on the import of non-GM foods containing the traces of GM contamination which have become ubiquitous with the expansion of GM agriculture. The 'international initiative' is GM colonization by stealth.


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