November 22, 2007


How a Breakthrough in Trade Broke Down in Congress (Juliet Eilperin, 11/22/07, Washington Post)

Early on, Sweeney made it clear that he and other union leaders wanted any trade pact to include the International Labor Organization's 1998 Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which calls for freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, a ban on forced labor and child labor, and no employment discrimination.

Rangel and other senior Democrats adopted labor's demand, and made it clear to the administration that no trade agreement would make it to the floor unless it included the ILO standards, which is a more stringent requirement than had ever been achieved during the Clinton administration.

For six years, labor -- along with the Democrats -- had been largely sidelined when it came to trade negotiations, but now one of its top leaders has gained access to the lawmakers making the deals. Rangel and Sweeney, according to the chairman, regularly have "friendly meetings about his concept of international trade policy."

"It just shows you what can be accomplished when the right people get elected to office," Sweeney said of the Democratic majority and his newfound position on Capitol Hill. "I've been thanking God every day for this."

After nearly four months of negotiations, the administration and congressional leaders reached an accord that met all of the Democrats' initial requirements. Just as Sweeney saw the new leadership as the answer to his prayers, those leaders saw the trade pact as a sort of miracle.

"We were able, thank God, to take yes for an answer," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Sweeney was meeting with foreign labor leaders in Berlin when the deal was struck on May 10, but both Rangel and Pelosi called to inform him of the news. At about midnight Berlin time, Sweeney spoke to the speaker on the phone. "This is a historic agreement," he told her.

But moments later, as Pelosi walked into the Speaker's Dining Room to hold a news conference with Schwab and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., she found herself facing hostile Democrats. A handful of lawmakers opposed to the trade pact with Peru -- including several Democratic freshmen who had campaigned on the issue -- had squeezed themselves into the tiny room on the Capitol's first floor and stared stony-faced at the speaker.

"We're not against trade. We just want a trade system that works," said Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), a former labor lawyer who listened skeptically as the bipartisan group outlined its achievement.

Many of Sweeney's fellow union leaders delivered even harsher assessments of the new trade accord. Change to Win, the six-million member federation that now ranks as the AFL-CIO's main rival, issued a news release on May 25 saying that the agreement "does not represent the basis for the type of new U.S. trade policy that this nation desperately needs."

Even some leaders of the AFL-CIO's own affiliates rejected the agreement, saying they do not trust President Bush with the enforcement of its labor provisions.

As they shouldn't. Such provisions are just there to get the wahoos to vote yes, like enforcement provisions in immigration bills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2007 8:31 AM
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