Time For New Politics

The following article was written by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and originally published in Spanish on March 19th, 2015 in La Jornada, Mexico City’s leading daily newspaper, considered by many scholars as one of the last remaining independent newspapers in the Americas.

The AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor), which represents 13.5 million worker members from leading trade unions, led by President Richard Trumka, held its Executive Committee conference from February 22nd to 25th, 2015. The events took place in Atlanta, Georgia at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, and I was invited to be an active participant, adding my contributions to those of other distinguished leaders, politicians, writers and intellectuals, among them Professor Robert Reich, author of 13 books and Secretary of Labor under the administration of President Bill Clinton.

The topics discussed are vitally important to today’s world, and most of them have to do with growing inequality and injustices, as well as the objectionable practices of many multinational companies which try, together with conservative governments, to do away with democracy and trade union freedom of association.

There was a great debate related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, which 11 nations – among them Mexico — are about to sign. So far, nobody knows the extent of this new free trade agreement, but by looking at the negative results of the one signed 20 years ago between Mexico, Canada and the United States, the great majority of participants were against it, because it would deepen inequality within and between signatory nations, because it is an instrument of geopolitical intervention, the hidden objective of which is to try to put the brakes on China’s expansion, but most importantly because it will open up the floodgates to trade without limits, to the thoughtless exploitation of natural resources. It would have a direct impact on permanent employment and the unionization of workers, by making the labour market more flexible, meaning that companies will vie for cheap labour until it becomes a case of quasi-slavery dressed up as employment.

The trade union leaders in attendance expressed that when economic policy decisions are taken behind closed doors, this is done to shore up the preferences of the political and business elite, rather than for the benefit of the great majority of the population. Many trade policy strategies have long been made in this way, leaving workers, rural workers and farmers, along with small businesses and domestic producers, to pay a high price.

In today’s world, trade agreements go far beyond imposing tariffs and quotas. More often, they are used to promote foreign investment, reduce barriers to business and widen support and distribution networks in favour of big retail chains and service providers. Trade agreements can have an impact on environmental safeguards, labour rights, incentives to socially necessary investments, food safety policies, as well as antitrust policies and many more besides.

This was why trade union leaders attending the Atlanta AFL-CIO conference expressed that when governments talk about trade policy, they need to ensure that the negotiation process is transparent, democratic and inclusive. Participating governments must avoid using their powers such as trade promotion authority (TPA), also known as fast track negotiating. It is more democratic to establish the direction and standards of the trade relationship openly, as opposed to imposing them in secret.

Delegates questioned the fact that fast track had never been used to promote increases in the minimum or average wage, or to grant full rights to women or even to open up free health and social security benefits, among other key issues for furthering gender equality of the general wellbeing of the majority of the population.

Thanks to economic crises, misguided commercial policies and a lack of opportunities to live and work with dignity, the middle class in the United States has shrunk by half over the last ten years. If we look at the case of Mexico, equality has unquestionably suffered an even more significant decline, as pre-existing problems have been compounded by the waste of public resources, a lack of safety, high levels of corruption and inefficiency, large debts and the weakness of public finances, as well as the crisis of image, credibility and confidence that is having a profound effect on the country. The Centre for Private Sector Economic Studies (CEESP by its initials in Spanish) has already spelled it out: the complicated environment the country finds itself in is reflected in business leaders’ uncertainty around investing. In its publication, entitled none other than “Crisis of Confidence”, CEESP indicates that confidence is fundamental to economic performance, and calls for clearer legal regulation to lend certainty.

This is why it is the critical task and unavoidable duty of this Mexican government to prevent failure by respecting and enforcing the rule of law, and to do so with honesty and transparency. More than this though, and this requires a statesmanlike vision, the government needs to do everything in its power to improve people’s general wellbeing and living standards. The key challenge is how to reduce inequality immediately, rather than increase it. The results of these efforts will determine the place the Mexican nation will take in history.

For more from Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, follow his blog, here.

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