Wednesday, Congress passed three new "free" trade deals -- with Panama, Colombia and South Korea -- that have long faced strong opposition from the left and labor groups. All three deals passed with bipartisan support, although many Democrats -- such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- opposed all three of them. Also passing was a bill designed to expand a program to help workers that might be displaced by the new agreements.
President Barack Obama supported the bills, despite previously criticizing them as a candidate, and the bills were originally proposed. Many supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement have come out in opposition to the trade deals. Economists say that the new agreements are likely to have only modest effects on the economy, with most of the benefit coming from the least controversial of the trio, the pact with South Korea.
Earlier today, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made it obvious why he opposed these deals:
These flawed trade deals – with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama -- are the wrong medicine at the wrong time. Working people know what too many politicians apparently do not: these deals will be bad for jobs, workers’ rights and our economy. We call on Congress to reject the proposed agreements, which put corporations over people and profits over prosperity.
The damage to our economy from bad trade agreements is one of the few issues on which Americans across the political spectrum agree. The Economic Policy Institute predicts that the trade deal with Korea could cost nearly 160,000 American jobs.
A deal with Colombia is not just bad policy, it’s immoral. Colombians who try to organize to lift their families out of poverty are often murdered with impunity. Just last year, 51 trade unionists were assassinated. Would we pass a trade agreement with a country where 51 corporate CEOs had been murdered?
And in Panama, we’re not just destroying American jobs, but entering into a trade deal with a country that routinely tramples workers’ rights and shelters money launderers and corporate tax dodgers.
America’s families need a new way forward on trade, one that promotes the export of U.S. goods -- not jobs. Members of Congress will be held accountable for their votes on these trade deals. By a 4-to-1 margin, the American people understand that so-called free trade costs jobs. Instead of passing more flawed trade deals, Congress and the White House should act quickly on China currency and focus on creating the millions of good jobs that we desperately need.