The president will give his final State of the Union address tonight. Traditionally, this annual speech reviews the accomplishments of years past and sets out a “to-do” list for the year ahead. Although the White House has indicated that this year’s speech will be “nontraditional,” it has made clear the economy will be a major focus.
I hope the president will talk about the importance of the proposed overtime rule, which could raise wages for some 15 million of America’s working people. I also hope he talks about how the auto manufacturing industry has soared back to life since the so-called bailout, which saved 1.5 million jobs in its first year alone.
While the economy isn’t perfect, and most of us are still feeling the pinch of student loans, too-small paychecks, threats to retirement security and not enough voice in our workplaces, there are a lot of successes the president can look back on with pride in his speech.
On the other hand, there is also a new trade and economic deal on the horizon—the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that could poke a hole in the progress our economy has made since the president came in to office in 2009.
The thing that’s dangerous about the TPP, and the reason we should worry about it shrinking our paychecks, is not the idea of trade. Trade is good—but we shouldn’t confuse “trade” with so-called “trade agreements,” which set down rules not just for “trade,” but for food safety, Wall Street regulations, prescription medicines and investor rights. These are the kind of rules that should be made in public, in democratic fashion, not in a secretly negotiated agreement that can’t be amended. The TPP’s corporate giveaways are dangerous.
Existing trade rules (including those in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.–Korea trade deal) already cost the average U.S. worker $1,800 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and preliminary studies on the TPP by Center for Economic and Policy Research and Tufts indicate that we can expect that figure to get worse.
Working people are deeply disappointed that the opportunities to put workers’ interests first and eliminate corporate entitlements in the TPP were largely ignored. And more importantly, working people are disappointed because we know that all of these things mean fewer good jobs in our communities and fewer opportunities for our children.
The TPP is the latest example of the failed U.S. approach to trade that started with NAFTA, which drives down wages and creates special rights for corporations. The TPP could have been different, but instead it is a collection of minor tweaks designed to get congressional votes rather than ensure workers’ wages rise.
The AFL-CIO wants trade agreements that grow our economy, create good jobs in America and give working people in all countries the chance to succeed when they work hard. Instead, passage of the TPP will mean lost jobs and lower wages.
Compared to eight years ago, the U.S. economy is afloat and heading toward improvement. The TPP will undermine that progress and give us rocky sailing ahead. There is simply no good argument for trading away our right to control our economy in exchange for more corporate power.
I hope the TPP doesn’t come up at all in the State of the Union speech. We’d be better off without it. But if it does—let’s be clear about what it really means for America's working families.