CFL News
September 06, 2011

Union leaders call for fair deal on free trade in Pacific Rim

Negotiations on a free trade agreement in the Pacific Rim were the focus of a Labor Day rally in downtown Chicago Monday, where union leaders and other activists called for a fair deal or no deal if it jeopardizes jobs

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Francine Knowles

Negotiations on a free trade agreement in the Pacific Rim were the focus of a Labor Day rally in downtown Chicago Monday, where union leaders and other activists called for a fair deal or no deal if it jeopardizes jobs, health and the environment.

The rally, which drew several hundred people, took place as negotiators prepared to gather at the Hilton Chicago for the eighth round of talks on the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The talks will take place here over the next 10 days starting Tuesday.

Rally participants, who marched around the hotel, say they do not want to see an agreement that mirrors the North American Free Trade Agreement, which they contend has led to job losses in the United States and in other countries, pushed down wages and hurt the environment.

“Hundreds of thousands of workers here in Chicago and all over the Midwest are out of jobs because of bad trade agreements like NAFTA that did so much to push down the value of people’s labor in this country…and has pushed down workers ability to raise their standards everywhere,” Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Illinois State Council, told the gathering.

Rally attendee Mike Parrillo, 57, who is unemployed, said he’s not opposed to trade deals, but “they have to be fair and balanced. They have to be protecting our manufacturing here.”

Countries involved in the negotiations include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. The TPP members have a goal of reaching the outlines of an agreement by the time a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Corporation takes place in November in Hawaii.

Parrillo said he came out Sunday so “that our voices will be heard and that these trade agreements don’t get pushed through without some public support behind them.”

Parrillo, was laid off from his job as a precision metal worker in Schaumburg a month ago. He said he’d only worked their seven months. He said prior to that he spent 13 months unemployed in 2008 and 2009.

The Obama administration, which wants to see a trade pact, notes the Asia-Pacific region comprises 40 percent of the global population, and the economies are growing faster than the world average with 56 percent of global GDP in 2009. The region is the largest market in the world for U.S exports and receives two thirds of U.S. agricultural exports. The administration says it is committed to increasing those exports and creating more domestic jobs.

In Illinois, exports shipments in 2009 totaled $41.5 billion, and $26.7 billion, or 61 percent, went to markets in the region, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Jobs supported by Illinois’ goods exports are estimated to be 384,000.

But rally organizers cited data from the Economic Policy Institute that shows since the passage of NAFTA, the net job loss in Illinois, when also factoring in jobs created by NAFTA was 34,700. Illinois ranks fourth among the 50 states in the number of jobs displaced, according to the institute.

Rally organizers plan to deliver 20,000 signed post cards to trade pact negotiators calling for a fair agreement. They say the agreement should include strong worker and environmental protections and should not restrict access to life-saving generic medications.

“There’s no reason in the world why trade agreements can’t be written that create a more just and sustainable world,” said Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, who along with co-founder Ben Cohen, addressed the gathering.

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