AFL-CIO economist Thea Lee describes the U.S. trade approval process and how unions and pro-worker organizations mobilize to challenge bad trade proposals.
In October 2011, the U.S. Congress passed, and the president signed, three new trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama. The AFL-CIO actively opposed each agreement. All three are based on the same flawed trade model that has sent jobs overseas, suppressed wages and provided the benefits of trade to a narrow class of wealthy investors.
Since NAFTA, all U.S. trade agreements have required both parties to make commitments regarding labor rights. Although the commitments in many of the agreements are minimal, due to the work of the AFL-CIO and its allies, the commitments have been getting stronger from agreement to agreement. The point behind the commitments is simple: if workers who live in the territory of our trading partners do not have the right to organize and collectively bargain, they will be hindered in their efforts to improve their own wages, benefits and working conditions—employers are certainly not going to do it of their own volition. In an increasingly globalized world, with globalized capital, we must also have global labor cooperation. If workers anywhere—from Mexico to Colombia to Bangladesh—have their rights suppressed, workers everywhere else will also pay the price.
To give meaning to the labor commitments in U.S. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), the AFL-CIO cooperates with our international counterparts to track labor rights and, where appropriate, file FTA complaints. As of May 2013, the AFL-CIO had active FTA complaints concerning the labor practices of the Mexican, Bahraini, Honduran and Guatemalan governments.
Our Guatemalan and Honduran brothers and sisters have developed concrete recommendations for how their governments can improve their labor laws and enforcement processes. You can read those recommendations for Guatemala (in English or Spanish ) or Honduras (in English or Spanish ).