Above photo by Eleanor Goldfield of ActOut.
Global solidarity is essential to stop the Race to the Bottom
Washington, DC – On Tuesday, November 17, as part of the Flush the TPP days of action and in solidarity with people protesting the Asian Pacific Economic Coordination (APEC) meetings in Manila, Philippines, trade justice advocates took over the streets of Embassy Row and committed acts of civil disobedience including a lockdown at the Embassy of Japan. Trade ministers and leaders from all of the countries involved in the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) are attending the APEC meetings to coordinate their strategy to ratify the TPP treaty in their countries and to bring in more Asian Pacific countries as TPP members.
The TPP is being pushed in large part by the United States government at the behest of transnational corporations and financial institutions to expand its global hegemony and encircle countries that are building alternatives that are independent of US control such as the countries involved in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bank. The TPP and other giant treaties such as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trade-in-Services Agreement (TISA) will drive a global race to the bottom in wages and laws to protect workers, communities and the planet.
Decades of experience with “free trade” agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) have taught us that transnational capital has no loyalty to nations, only to profit. Transnational capital will go where the wages are lowest and the regulations are the most relaxed. This has reduced wages globally, including in the US where 51% of workers made less than $30,000 a year in 2014.
If we are to stop the TPP and other transnational treaties and stop this race to the bottom, people around the world will need to rise together in opposition. A popular movement of global solidarity can block these treaties and demand that international treaties prioritize the protection of people and the planet over profit. That movement is growing in the United States as people understand the connections between their struggles and those of people in other countries.
The march on Tuesday was colorful and beautiful. Marchers carried a large globe surrounded by tall banners which read “Stop the TPP” in the languages of TPP countries. A giant Monopoly man puppet had the flags of TPP countries hanging on strings from his fingers to represent that the TPP destroys sovereignty and allows transnational capital to determine national laws. A more than twenty foot wide banner that read “TPP = Betrayal” brought up the rear.
Marchers stopped at each embassy to read a statement. The first stop was the Vietnamese Embassy where marchers highlighted the low wages and worker protections. The statement said:
We are the representatives of three independent Vietnamese civil society organizations concerned with negotiations that are going on between the United States and Vietnam regarding our country’s eventual joining of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).
Let us be clear. Members of the U.S. Congress who wish to assist us in ending Vietnam’s systematic labor rights violations should NOT grant Fast Track authority for the TPP until the Vietnamese government has reversed its ban on independent labor unions; has ended widespread workplace abuse and unsafe working conditions; has increased our abysmal wages; has halted its repression of workers and organizers who are trying to promote basic labor rights; and has released all labor rights activists from prison who have been convicted for simply speaking up for workers.
The U.S. Congress should not cast away its leverage to push for such reforms by passing fast track. Promises of future reforms by the Vietnamese government should not be trusted. If fast track were passed before the above abuses are actually stopped, the hope of any real reprieve for Vietnam’s oppressed workers would fade.
by Lê Thanh Tùng of the Committee of Support of Independent Labor Unions, Trương Minh Đức from Viet Labor and Phạm Văn Trội of the Brotherhood for Democracy
Pennies were passed to each person as a tangible reminder that workers in Vietnam earn pennies per hour. Vietnamese garment workers make 53 cents an hour on average.
Video by Jimmy Betts:
The next stop was the Australian Embassy where a statement was read from Dr. Deborah Gleeson, Convener of the Political Economy of Health Special Interest Group of the Public Health Association of Australia, Lecturer in Public Health at La Trobe University and spokesperson for PHAA on the TPP:
“It was around two and a half years ago when I first heard reports that Australia was engaged in trade negotiations that could result in harm to our health. I heard that the United States was proposing rules for the Trans Pacific Partnership that would raise the cost of medicines and that could give new rights to big transnational corporations such as tobacco companies to sue our government over its public health policies. Few people seemed to be aware of what was being proposed.
I was galvanized into action….
What keeps me going in moments like this is the certainty that many lives are at stake. Medicines like HIV/AIDS and cancer drugs are already priced out of reach for many people in countries like Vietnam, and the US proposals for the TPP would make this scenario much worse. Even in wealthy countries like Australia, a significant proportion of those on low incomes already postpone purchasing or go without necessary medicines due to the cost.
Likewise, if Big Tobacco gains additional avenues to challenge tobacco control measures like our tobacco plain packaging laws, governments in less well-resourced countries are likely to be deterred from following suit, and more people will die from diseases caused by smoking.
I’m encouraged by the growing number of health professionals, academics and organizations involved in what’s now a large network of people in Australia – and many other countries – who are concerned about the potential impact of the TPP on health.
Video by Jimmy Betts:
At the Embassy of the Philippines, Kit Jones read a statement from Bernadette Ellorin, chairperson of BAYAN-USA, an alliance of Filipino organizations in the US, who is currently in Manila protesting:
“People in the Asia-Pacific have been struggling for decades against U.S. intervention. This is nothing new to people in the region,” said Ellorin. “In the Philippines we have been fighting us presence for 114 years. Other countries have been fighting for decades. Those struggles and movements still exist, and they are intensifying now. These movements in the region continue to frustrate the U.S. geopolitical agenda in the region and have endured countless U.S. counter-insurgency campaigns. The U.S. Pacific Command is the largest and oldest of the U.S. global commands. As long as U.S. intervention is present, people’s resistance will not only persist, but grow.”
The president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, is trying to change the Filipino constitution to allow foreign ownership of land, a prerequisite for joining the TPP. The peasants movement, Kilasung Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP, strongly opposes this change because already 80% of farmers do not own the land they tend even though they have farmed it for generations. Foreign investors have been allowed to lease the land and this has exploited and displaced Filipino farmers.
The Filipino government banned unpermitted protests, but Filipinos are demonstrating anyway. A week ago, a group of students burned the APEC logo and portraits of Presidents Aquino and Obama. In solidarity with them, the marchers burned a ‘text of the TPP’ in front of the Embassy.
Video by Jimmy Betts:
Marchers then gathered in front of the Embassy of Peru where Mimi Salvador, a student from the Ecuadorian Amazon, read at statement from Veronica Mendoza, a member of Congress who worked to demand a public debate on the TPP, in both English and Spanish.
“The government is putting in serious and grave risk the access to medicines for Peruvians. It has not kept its word, because in all times the congress has discussed the subject, we were told it will not go further. The government has not kept its word.”
Then Maira Sutton, Global Policy Analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which protects digital rights, who was in Peru for protests at a round of TPP negotiations, read an OpEd by former Peruvian Minister of the Environment Jose de Echave that discussed the attacks on environmental activists:
“Increasingly, those seeking to defend our forests are coming under violent attack. Assassinations of environmental activists in Peru have surged. The nongovernmental organization Global Witness found that at least 57 environmental activists in Peru have been killed since 2002, with the majority assassinated since 2010. Peru has become the fourth most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental or land defender.”
Marchers then counted to 57 to remember the environmental activists who died. Click on the image below to see a video of this event.
Video by Jimmy Betts
The next stop was the Embassy of Chile where a statement by Rodrigo Contreras was read. Contreras was Chile’s chief negotiator for the TPP but he quit in protest.
“It is critical to reject the imposition of a model designed according to realities of high-income countries, which are very different from the other participating countries. Otherwise, this agreement will become a threat for our countries: it will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.”
Video by Jimmy Betts
At the Mexican Embassy, Mackenzie McDonald, who has lived in Mexico, said, “What happened with NAFTA will only continue with the TPP. After NAFTA’s passage, families in Mexico that grew corn could no longer compete. Many had to immigrate because of it.” McDonald read a statement by Carlos, Coyuca de Catalán, from Guerrero, México:
“To get me here, my family had to sell the only cow they had, so that I could pay all the expenses required and come to NYC to work and look for my father. I never found my father. I don’t know what happened to him. I live in a room here in El Barrio with another 5 workers. My life is increasingly harder, from work to home to work again every day. Our only consolation is to drink here in the room so that the police does not catch us. I have not been able to go back to my country in ten years. I could not even go to my mother funeral, because the “migra” (ICE) restrictions are worse, and now the wall . . . I feel trapped in this country, like I cannot move anymore. These “polleros” (smugglers of cheap labor to the US) charge you much more now to get you back if you go to Mexico. And how would I get that money? Our family used to make our living growing corn, but now it is very expensive to grow corn – we cannot compete with the imported corn prices that are coming to Mexico . . . that’s over. My family has never gotten a credit from the bank to grow corn, you need to be rich so that the bank lends you money.”
Video by Jimmy Betts
The final stop on the march was the Embassy of Japan where Jimmy Betts read the following statement:
Farmer and poet Kanji Hoshi, 76, who has been engaged in organic farming for 38 years in the Yamagata Prefecture town of Takahata, is adamantly opposed to Japan’s TPP participation. While it is standard for the media to showcase arguments for and against TPP, here, I’ll only talk about Hoshi because there’s no sense of drifting in his argument.Hoshi started farming in 1954, at the age of 19. Not long afterward came the 1961 enactment of the Agricultural Basic Law, whose objective was to increase productivity and income. Agriculture grew more and more mechanized, and along with the heavy use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and herbicides, led to greater harvests. At the same time, however, food safety began to crumble and the problem of environmental pollution grew serious.
It goes without saying that organic, chemical-free farming is hard. Hoshi was ridiculed for “trying to go back to the Edo period,” but he continued to explore new methods and repeatedly made mistakes. It was through his activism against the spraying of pesticides from helicopters that he found like-minded comrades. Eventually, in an act of revenge, Hoshi harvested sparking, tortoiseshell-like brown rice, for which he was awarded the gold medal in a nationwide contest.
Hoshi is the author of an essay called “The philosophy of revere agriculture, expel the barbarians: anti-TPP localism”, published in May 2011 in the book, “Takahata-gaku” (Takahataology). In it, he writes: “I would like the philosophy of revering agriculture and expelling the barbarians to be the stronghold against the black ships of TPP,” Hoshi writes. “We need to give primary importance to agriculture for its production of food for life, and to justly appreciate its function of protecting the environment. If we destroy our beautiful homeland, we will not be able to face our descendents. ‘Expel the barbarians’ refers to the elimination of our disposable consumer civilization. We need to possess a set of values necessary to live simply and spiritually rich in a mature society, and let us attempt self realization.”
In this essay, Hoshi categorically states that TPP participation will devastate Japanese agriculture. Our dinner tables will be filled with imported products whose manufacturers and processors we don’t know, sacrificing food safety, and rural landscapes will be destroyed, Hoshi says, and warns that local communities themselves will collapse.
The Japanese Embassy was shut down for several hours because former steelworker, Richard Ochs, whose job was outsourced by NAFTA, locked his neck to the front doors using kryptonite bike locks. His sit-in was joined by Jim Goodman, an organic dairy farmer from Wonewoc, WI who is with Family Farm Defenders. Goodman held a bag of Japanese rice. In a statement written prior to the action, Goodman said:
“Free trade has no consideration for cultural preferences because it has no consideration for people. Japanese farmers and consumers prefer to grow and eat their traditional varieties of rice, not imported rice— that should be their right, not so under the TPP.”
Ochs was cut out by members of the fire department and arrested. Demonstrators stayed with him, chanting and singing to keep him company until the police took him away in a wagon. Ochs was processed and released hours later. He will go to court on December 6.