UAW Trade Resolution Demands “Significant Economic Consequences” for Worker Rights Violators

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Going beyond other stands, the United Auto Workers are demanding “significant economic consequences” under any new trade pacts – NAFTA included – for firms that violate workers’ rights.

And enforceable, transparent worker rights, including forcing nations to live up to international labor standards, must be written into any and all future trade pacts, UAW added.

UAW convention delegates in Detroit passed the resolution with that demand on June 13. There was no dissent, and a lot of denunciation of predatory corporations and foreign nations who use so-called “free trade” pacts to strip U.S. workers of jobs and U.S. cities of factories, notably in autos and auto parts.

The resolution and the remarks from the convention floor made clear that UAW, like other unions, is not against foreign trade, but against unfair foreign trade.

Delegates approved the measure at a time when tensions over trade between the GOP Trump administration and its two NAFTA trading partners, Canada and Mexico, are rising. On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump called NAFTA “a disaster” and pledged to kill it.

That stance won him hundreds of thousands of unionists’ votes in the key Great Lakes industrial states – Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – he carried. And those states’ electoral votes put him in the White House.  But since then, Trump’s been renegotiating NAFTA, not killing it. Progress in the talks has been rocky.

And labor and congressional Democratic opposition forced Democratic President Barack Obama to shelve an even worse pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). NAFTA was the recipe for TPP and other following corporate-written “free trade” pacts. All those pacts, led by NAFTA, anger UAW and the rest of organized labor.

And on June 15, after the conclave closed, Trump imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of goods from China, which immediately retaliated. New union President Gary Jones told a post-confab press conference union leaders are evaluating Trump’s move.

“In this interconnected world, the issue is not whether one is ‘for’ or ‘against’ trade, but what form it will take and who it will benefit,” the union resolution said. “The UAW supports trade that benefits working people as opposed to global capital.”

“Unfortunately, over the past several decades our country has entered into trade agreements that put corporations in the driver’s seat at the expense of workers and discouraged the outsourcing of our jobs.”

But now there’s “a new opportunity” to rewrite trade pacts with “strong, enforceable language” benefit workers and halt outsourcing, the union said – without saying how that opportunity occurred. It pledged to fight for “renegotiating all harmful trade agreements.” 

It’s that corporate trade pact authorship and tilt that UAW denounced, both in print and from the floor. Its resolution said any new trade pacts must also “preserve and expand” U.S. factory employment and include “meaningful and strong provisions to prevent currency manipulation by our trading partners.” That phrase is aimed not at Mexico, but at China.

And past trade pacts not only took U.S. jobs overseas, but drove down wages and working standards here at home, delegates added.

“Unfair trade policies have…shuttered companies like mine, Delphi,” the former unionized auto parts subsidiary for GM, said Arturo Reyes, president of Local 651 in Flint, Mich. “We need policies that penalize companies that chase cheap labor.”

"I don’t want to have to sit at the bargaining table and have them tell me that ‘Unless you take this, we’re moving to South Korea, to China, to Mexico,’” another delegate said. “I don’t want to take this b---s--- anymore.”

“We’re living in an era of unrivaled, unending corporate greed,” said a Local 276 member from Arlington, Texas, who helps manufacture Cadillac Escalades. “It’s our responsibility to tell our elected leaders that we expect organized labor to have a seat at the table when trade deals are brought up.”

“Trade agreements seem to drive wages down, even in Mexico, where they went from $3.95 an hour” when NAFTA passed “to $2.93,” said Mark Payne, president of Local 1250 in Cleveland. His local represents workers at Cleveland Engine. “For Cleveland, NAFTA’s been a job-killer.” His own former company’s plant was across the street from the union hall. Now the firm is gone “and the site is an empty field.”

But several speakers noted U.S. workers and consumers make things worse for themselves. “There’s not an easy answer, but here’s a message to our members: Do not shop at Wal-Mart. They do not pay a fair wage,” said Steve Gruener, president of Local 659 in Flint, Mich. Though Gruener did not say so, most of the virulently anti-union retailer’s goods come from China, a notorious breaker of trade pacts.

Brian Schneck, president of Local 259 in New York City, reminded his colleagues many unionists, including many UAW members, voted for Trump. “Elections have consequences,” he said. “Working people have to immunize themselves against voting for our executioners. Do people really believe [Trump} is going to do anything for us? He took our” fair trade “issue and used it against us! Gimme a break!”

“A good trade policy will equal jobs for the middle class and our way of life,” concluded Tony Renfro, vice president of Local 249 in Kansas City. 



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