Steelworkers Slighted as Corporate Money Fuels Democrats’ Pro Fast Track Vote
Despite promises, “pro-labor” Democrats vote yes on TPP
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, TRNN: Protesters on June 17 encouraged House lawmakers to vote no on granting President Obama fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But in the end, fast-track passed by a slim margin of 218-208 votes. 28 Democrats voted in favor of it, while nearly twice that number of Republicans voted against it.
Lawmakers like Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson made an effort to single out those Democrats who pushed for its passage.
REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D-FL): We are Congressmen. We are responsible and we take an oath of office to debate, to amend, to do oversight and hold hearings. We can’t do any of that under the fast-track procedures. All we can do is rubber-stamp whatever is called a trade agreement.
DESVARIEUX: The trade agreement, which is being negotiated in secret, will have real consequences for workers in the steel industry. Thousands of them are already feeling the consequences of current trade deals like the U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement. Since its passage in 2012 an estimated 75,000 jobs have been lost, mostly in manufacturing. That’s because U.S. steel is directly competing with South Korean steel, which is a cheaper product to make and is now being sold under market value.
This continues to happen with other countries like China, which overproduces steel and is sending excess steel overseas in a process known as dumping. Steel manufacturers say they cannot compete with these countries if the playing field is not even. Reports show Chinese steel manufacturers are even selling at a loss.
President Obama has already hinted that China could become a member of the TPP.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, they’ve already started putting out feelers about the possibilities of them participating at some point.
DESVARIEUX: But unions like the United Steelworkers are concerned that more trade agreements will lead to more dumping and fewer jobs.
LEO GERARD, PRESIDENT, UNITED STEELWORKERS: We have over 4,000 steelworkers that have now had to apply for trade adjustment assistance. We have 1,000 steelworkers since the decision by Congress, have now received layoff notices, have reduced hours. So what I really expect is, I expect the President to go into South Korea and tell the South Korean government that they need to stop dumping into our market. 78 percent of the steel coming into the U.S. is coming from China and South Korea. We just set a record this last two months of steel coming from South Korea and from other parts of the world into our market in two months.
DESVARIEUX: But with these type of statistics, why would members who claim to be pro-labor support fast-track? Fast-track approval passed the House with just two votes.
One of the votes came from Democratic Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama. She’s participated in pro-union rallies like this one, where she comes out against import dumping and in support of workers’ rights.
REP. TERRI SEWELL: It’s unacceptable that we’re having so many imports dumped right here in America when we have steel made in Fairfield, Alabama by wonderful American workers. It is so important. And so I want you to know that we’re putting partisanship aside today because we’re sending a loud and clear voice that we’re standing up for things being made in America, and made in Alabama, by American workers like yourself.
DESVARIEUX: Members of District 9 United Steelworkers Local lobbied hard for Representative Sewell to be against fast-track. They say she promised to be on their side, but in the end she changed her stance.
SHANE MITCHELL, DISTRICT 9, UNITED STEELWORKERS: Representative Sewell was one of our main targets that we had to help us oppose fast-track. In the past we’ve been big supporters of hers. We’ve met with her in Washington, we’ve met with her in the district, we’ve attended events. We’ve held events in opposition of fast-track. And all along thought that she was going to be with us and going to vote no. In the end she ended up voting yes on it. We’re very disappointed that she would turn her back on what we consider the American worker, and labor. Especially in her district.
DESVARIEUX: But Sewell says that she has been able to include tougher enforcement provisions in the framework of the deal. According to the Alabama Times Sewell has read the deal, and she says that she trusts the Obama administration to protect workers. She said in a statement after the TPA vote, “The bottom line is that President Obama has our back, and we should have his too. While not a cure-all, these stronger enforcement provisions are now an essential part of the framework for negotiating any trade agreement going forward.”
But with the public unable to see a draft of the deal, there is no way to verify Rep. Sewell’s claims. Critics speculate that Sewell’s moves surround larger political ambitions. She’s currently being talked about as a successor to Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Also, she currently sits on the House Committee on Financial Services, which is known as a honeypot for politicians looking for big donors. According to OpenSecrets, the top three industries that contributed to her last campaign included law firms, insurance, and securities and investments. Building trade unions are listed as number eight.
Union leaders like Shane Mitchell are timid to say what her vote for fast-track will mean in next year’s election. With a 60 percent black district, Sewell has positioned herself as a strong Obama supporter in her past campaign ads. But Mitchell says regardless of the way House members voted, they will continue to fight against fast-track in the Senate.
MITCHELL: Yes. We’ll make phone calls, we’ll hold rallies, we’ll write letters, we’ll sign petitions. We’ll go lobby, we’ll personally talk to our representatives [with members] with us, with Steelworker leadership along with members [being] with us. And just continue to [inaud.] and voice our concern for the American Worker.
DESVARIEUX: Actions these activists in Washington will do as well, as Republican leaders maneuver to get fast-track on the Senate floor this week.
But there could be roadblocks in the Senate, since senators have the ability to filibuster. Senator Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Brown of Ohio, and Senator Sanders of Vermont have all come out strongly against fast-track.
KEVIN ZEESE, CO-FOUNDER, POPULARRESISTANCE.ORG: Each one of those three could do a filibuster. They could also put a hold on the bill until TAA is passed. They could do a number of procedural things to slow it down. There are others, as well. Barbara Boxer says she would do what she could to slow it down. But those are the three who really are leading the effort against it in the Senate. So they would be the three people to take [inaud.] to do whatever they can to slow it down.
DESVARIEUX: For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.