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November 10, 2005

"Free Trade" is Not about Freedom

Looking over the whole debate on Gene Sperling's book at TPM Cafe, what's striking is that advocates for trade deals accuse critics of being against "free trade"-- yet the deals they advocate are all about accepting child slavery and denial of freedom by workers to form unions as acceptable parts of the global economy.  

It the critics of these deals -- who support trade but demand that basic standards of freedom for workers be incorporated into the trade regime -- who truly support "free trade."  It is actually Orwellian that advocates for unrestricted trade with China-- where workers are thrown in prison if they advocate unionizations -- can appropriate the use of the term "freedom" for their position.

What exactly is wrong with demanding that if China wants to sell goods to the US, they must extend accepted ILO labor rights, such as the freedom to form a union, to their workers?

A special 2002 Amnesty International report entitled Labour unrest and the suppression of the rights to freedom of association and expression laid out in detail many of the abuses that suppress wages for Chinese workers and means trade with that country supports anything but freedom:

Labour unrest in China continues to be widespread...Protests are often forcibly repressed by public security personnel, and labour activists, workers' leaders and those who appeared to be outspoken face detention and imprisonment. Journalists and lawyers are also targeted by the authorities and often face intimidation and arrest if they speak out in defence of protesters.
In a companion report, they listed various labor activists imprisoned in the country.

The neoliberals sign on to a range of global policies that give freedom to financial capitalists to operate unhindered around the world, yet fiercely resist any demands that the freedom of workers be given equal consideration in the international trade regime.  

And then they have the chutzpah to accuse their critics of being opposed to "freedom."

Yes, we oppose legitimating child slavery and suppression of workers free speech under the Orwellian rubric of "free trade", but that doesn't mean we oppose greater trade under a better and, yes, freer system of world trade.  But "free" should include freedom for workers, not just of the owners of capital.

Posted by Nathan at November 10, 2005 06:50 AM