« A New Target for the WingNuts | Main | More Newspeak »

April 07, 2004

What Labor Wants from Trade

Like a lot of "free trade liberals" Ezra Klein at Pandagon sounds worried every time a Democrat sounds "protectionist" in demanding labor rights in trade agreements like the CAFTA accord.

He's worried that Kerry is engaging in such protectionism by highlighting the lack of labor rights in the CAFTA agreement:

he'd be better off explaining exactly what he wants included in Cafta rather than just saying it lacks protections. After all, it supposedly has these protections, so unless he expands his position a bit, most of us are going to be left pretty confused about what he's against.
Ezra really shouldn't be dissing Kerry and implicitly dissing progressive labor allies as "protectionist" without learning the basic facts.

Like the fact that Bill Clinton already signed a trade agreement with real labor protections-- a trade agreement that the AFL-CIO endorsed. It was the last trade agreement of his Presidency, ratified in 2001, but it's got the basic principles that labor folks demand. It was a small country, Jordan, but it gives you exactly what labor means when they demand real labor standards.

No one expects poorer nations to meet US wages, but every nation can respect the internationally recognized free speech rights that go with the right to organize unions. Those are the principles of the International Labor Organization, and those were embodied in the Jordan agreement

Here is the labour clauses from the US-Jordan Free Trade Area Agreement. If you want the bottom line for what labor activists want, it's the following:

1. The Parties reaffirm their obligations as members of the International Labor Organization ("ILO") and their commitments under the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up. The Parties shall strive to ensure that such labor principles and the internationally recognized labor rights set forth in paragraph 6 are recognized and protected by domestic law.

6. For purposes of this Article, "labor laws" means statutes and regulations, or provisions thereof, that are directly related to the following internationally recognized labor rights:
(a) the right of association;
(b) the right to organize and bargain collectively;
(c) a prohibition on the use of any form of forced or compulsory labor;
(d) a minimum age for the employment of children; and
(e) acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.

As for CAFTA, it fails to commit both nations to enforceable ILO labor standards. As this Human Rights Watch analysis states:
CAFTA does not require that countries’ domestic labor laws comply with basic international norms that have been established by United Nations (U.N.) and International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions...A party violating these provisions faces no meaningful consequences because the accord does not contemplate the possibility of fines or sanctions for such violations.
Here's the basic phrase that every progressive should memorize--

"Enforceable core ILO labor rights"

That means free speech, the right to organize and the end to child labor.

Any trade agreement without those should be dead on arrival.

Other documents worth reading:

  • AFL-CIO page on CAFTA
  • Joint Declaration of AFL-CIO and Central American unions on CAFTA
  • HRW's Deliberate Indifference report on El Salvador violation of labor rights
  • Citizens Trade Campaign fact sheet on CAFTA

    Posted by Nathan at April 7, 2004 12:38 AM