Archive for January, 2013

TPP: The biggest corporate rights grab you’ve never heard of…

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

By Kristen Beifus, Executive Director, WA Fair Trade Coalition & a PSARA member

The TPP…no not tp…TPP-the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement will impact access to affordable medicine in the US and globally, WA state supported education & healthcare, the right to regulate big banks, public control over natural resources such as water & air, the sustainability of local farmers, rights of indigenous communities, our very democracy.

What do we know?

US negotiators have kept the public and even our elected leaders in the dark about what is being negotiated. The secrecy is so extreme that WA Reps. Larsen, Smith and McDermott wrote letters to USTR calling for more transparency and authentic stakeholder involvement in the TPP. Congress will have the final vote, however US negotiators are calling for ‘fast-track’ authority which means that Congress would only be able to vote yes or no and not change the agreement at all. Now is the time for the people we just voted into office to advocate on our behalf.

Countries involved: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States.

Potential joiners: Japan, Thailand, any country in the Pacific that wants to because the TPP has a ‘docking clause’ which means others countries can join, making this possibly the last trade deal that the US will negotiate.

Who is negotiating on our behalf?

The US Trade Representative’s (USTR) Office is responsible for negotiating the TPP. The outgoing US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk is a ‘former’ lobbyist for Philip Morris and the head of Agricultural negotiations Islam Siddiqui, is a ‘former’ Monsanto Lobbyists…and there are over 600 corporate ‘advisors’ who have unlimited access to the current text, such as Cargill, Dow Chemical, Walmart, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

How have these big corporations been treating workers and communities in WA State this past year?

Kimberly Clark: closed its profitable mill in Everett, WA laying off 750 workers directly and causing the loss of 1000s of other ‘indirect’ jobs. They also shipped WA state subsidized state of the art equipment to their new plant in Brazil.

EGT: Disregarded the contract of the ILWU with the Port of Longview when operating their new grain terminal, seeking to increase their profits by driving down wages of workers.

Walmart: Continues to pay poverty wages forcing its associates to rely on WA state programs to subsidize basic needs including food and health care.

So what are corporations writing into the TPP?

Expansion of Corporate Rights: Companies will have the right to challenge labor, environmental, public health and safety, and procurement laws if they believe they limit their ability to make a profit. They can compel us (as a country, as a state, as a city) to change our laws or use tax dollars to compensate them for projected loss of profits. This applies to ‘Buy America’ procurement preferences, green jobs initiatives, clean air & water laws, and food labels.

Privatization of public services: TPP risks opening up publicly provided services (education, water, sewer and social services) to competition from private foreign enterprises. Factories off-shoring also shrinks our tax base, reducing revenues available for public services making them more vulnerable to
privatization.

Reduction in Access to Affordable Medicines: PhRMA is at the table to extend patents which will deny people access to life saving medicines.

Disrespect of Indigenous Sovereignty: Mining corporations seek to further access and exploit the lands of indigenous people and communities.

The Community Responds!

Earlier this month, we capitalized on the historic moment of Canada and Mexico joining the Trans- Pacific Partnership, the 13th Anniversary of the People’s Shut-down of the WTO in Seattle and the 15th Round of TPP negotiations in New Zealand. On December 1st, labor leaders, trade justice & food sovereignty groups, family farmers, immigration reformers, public health & internet freedom advocates, environmentalists, students, small businesses and communities from Canada, Mexico & the United States took action against the TransPacific Partnership. This People’s Round on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, at the Peace Arch to rejuvenated our collective movement towards just & sustainable trade, human rights & corporate responsibility!

The power of our collective movement inspired us with music & dance from Seattle’s Labor Chorus, Seattle Fandango Project as well as Movitas a radical marching band; testimonies from former workers at Kimberly Clark, associates organizing with Our Walmart, the Philippine-US Solidarity Organization, Community to Community, the Council of Canadians, the national AFL-CIO, and the Washington State Labor Council.

Then we collectively smashed the TPP piñata to access ‘generic medicines’ and ‘GMO-free corn.’ Backbone Campaign’s Free Trade My Ass balloon…Flush the TPP flew proudly along the border. The action was supported by SPEEA, IBEW Local 46, MLKCLC, UFCW Local 21, WFSE 443, CTC, Global Exchange, CAGJ, Equal Exchange and endorsed by the AFGE 3937, PSARA, Sierra Club and WA CAN.

What’s Next?

  1. Learn more about the TPP: www.washingtonfairtrade.org
  2. Have your organization sign on to the North American Unity Statement: The goal is over 1,000 organizational signers by the next round of TPP negotiations in March, 2013.Visit: http://washingtonfairtrade.org/ or TPPxBorder on Facebook

Walmart encounters worker activism

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

By Elena Perez, Coordinator, Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound Coalition & a PSARA member

Walmart intended 2012 to be an epic celebration of its 50th anniversary. It ended up as a year of indictment, with scandals and strikes highlighting five decades of Walmart running roughshod over workers’ rights and community laws and standards.

Several hard-fought years of organizing, education and mobilization led to this year’s historic successes. However, the achievements of 2012 must be seen as part of a long-term movement to fundamentally change the way the world’s largest employer does business. Clearly not an easy task, but one of great importance to the future of the American economy.

Less than two years ago, in 2010, the Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound coalition was founded, along with a local chapter of the new independent workers’ association called OUR Walmart–Organization United for Respect at Walmart. Our coalition has now grown to over two dozen local organizations, including PSARA, and we are determined to challenge Walmart’s expansion in Puget Sound and support local workers’ demands for respect and a voice in their workplace.

Some of this year’s achievements of the Puget Sound coalition:

  • We stopped Seattle from adopting lower environmental standards that would have eased Walmart’s entry into city neighborhoods.
  • We stopped a King County process aimed at creating a new I-90 retail zone that would have set a precedent for runaway suburban big box development and opened the door to Walmart.
  • We kept a Walmart out of the South King County neighborhood of Skyway.
  • We put a spotlight on Promenade 23’s developer, Weingarten Realty, for considering replacing a locally-owned union grocer with Walmart.
  • We mobilized hundreds of allies to support local Walmart workers as they took action throughout the year.

OUR Walmart – Puget Sound had a momentous year, including:

  • Well-established, active membership at 25% of local stores in over 5 counties…and growing!
  • Relentless activism that has overturned unfair discipline and scheduling, addressed serious safety hazards, and spread their message to other workers that they, too, can have a voice at work through OUR Walmart.
  • Participating in local and national events to challenge Walmart, including: U.N. Responsible Investment meeting in Brazil; Walmart shareholders meeting in Bentonville; TPP Protest in Blaine; WSLC annual conference; and more.
  • For the first time in its history, Walmart faced national Black Friday strikes. Local workers engaged in multiple strikes, with every worker returning to work without incident.

Walmart workers still fear retaliation, but this year has demonstrated they can work through fear, act, and emerge stronger. The coalition has grown in number and breadth of leadership. We are better prepared to challenge Walmart’s expansion attempts in our region– especially its new small-footprint tool for penetrating urban centers, the “Neighborhood Market.”

Another notable development is Making Change at Walmart going global. Ongoing investigations of alleged bribery and corruption by Walmart in five different countries, and its role in opposing attempts in Bangladesh to improve fire safety in garment factories highlight the need for us to work together with unions and workers around the world. In October, we launched the UNI Global Union Walmart Alliance, an international network of Walmart workers pledging solidarity to change Walmart.