Friday, April 11, 2008

Labor Gears Up Campaign Against Colombia Free Trade Pact

Labor Gears Up Campaign Against Colombia Free Trade Pact

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Washington - Organized labor, joined by several congressional Democrats, has geared up its campaign to stop the proposed U.S.-Colombia "free trade" agreement.

But they don't have much time. President Bush submitted the pact April 7 under "fast-track" rules that call for an up-or-down House vote within 60 days and a Senate vote within 90 days. No amendments are allowed.

Nevertheless, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel predicted Bush faces "an uphill battle" to get the Colombia FTA approved.

The pact would dump all tariffs and other trade restrictions between the U.S. and the South American nation. But while the pact itself has weak labor rights language in its text - as opposed to other Bush trade pacts which had none - the implementing legislation has none. That legislation would let the pact take effect, and that's what Congress will vote on without the possibility of changing it.

Union leaders said the big problem with the Colombia FTA is that it opens the U.S. market to a government that has let right-wing paramilitaries - some of them paid by U.S.-based multinational corporations - murder unionists at will for at least a decade. Some 2,584 unionists have been assassinated in Colombia during the last 15 years.

Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor federations oppose the agreement.

Change to Win Chair Anna Burger said, "So-called 'free' trade agreements like Colombia, which encourage the off-shoring of U.S. jobs, are one of the major reasons that a majority of the public sees the American Dream slipping away ... The combination of ongoing assassinations, death threats, and violence against family members creates a climate of fear for trade unionists that makes it impossible for them to fully exercise their rights to organize, bargain collectively, go on strike, or criticize the government. Congress should reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement."

The Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition is organizing its members, which include labor, environmental and community groups, to call members of the state's Congressional delegation to oppose the deal.

"This agreement is modeled off much of the same flawed language found in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)," the coalition notes. "We can only expect the results of the Colombia FTA to be the same."

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