|ONLINE VERSION||VOLUME 106 - NUMBER 12 - DECEMBER 1997|
|American workers got an early
holiday present as the vote to give President Clinton fast track trade negotiating
authority went down in flames.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich pulled the vote after a series of postponements when it became apparent that fast track opponents would prevail.
No one seriously believes the issue will be reintroduced next year, when the entire House is up for re-election. Why? Because the American public--union and non-union--clearly believes the trade agreements that result from fast track, pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, are harmful. Americans see the direct link between bad trade policies and falling wages, increased job insecurity, bad food imports and a rise in drug smuggling.
That doesn't mean that American workers are isolationists, as fast track supporters maintain, but that they know what is right and what is wrong. They know that the United States should be using its trade power to raise the standard of living in other countries, not to lower ours.
Despite the free trade rhetoric, we set policy with trade agreements all the time. Why can the United States use its trade muscle to insist on stronger trademark protections (which benefit businesses), but not on better working conditions and livable wages?
So, again, we see that pro-business legislators don't mind protecting their buddies, but just don't want to do it under the glare of the public spotlight--as in an election year. That's why the vote won't come up again.
I am deeply troubled by that logic. First off, you know something stinks when President
Clinton and Newt Gingrich turn into best buddies. Second, when conservative Republicans
and the majority House Democrats have problems with it. Third, when the House leadership
hands over rooms in the Capitol (rooms paid for by all Americans) (for?)
Well, secret ballots aren't the hallmark of a democracy. But more to the point, if something is so bad that you can't be accountable to the public for voting for it, well then maybe it's a bad idea.
Actually, fast track's defeat wasn't a present. It was earned with the blood and tears of workers in the United States who have lost their jobs and those overseas who have lost their lives in squalid working conditions.
This was a big win for labor. We can celebrate now, but not for long. Because tomorrow we must build on this momentum and take advantage of what our enemies fear most--an election year--to ensure once and for all that bad legislation without worker protections are never seen in this country again.