Portland against the TPP

April 23, 2015

Paul Dean reports from Oregon on a protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

HUNDREDS OF union members and social justice activists rallied and marched on April 18 in Portland, Oregon, against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Adding to the sense of urgency was the fact that Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, has been a key player in reaching a deal with Republicans on a bill that would "fast track" trade agreements like the TPP--this would block Congress from proposing specific amendments around issues of concern.

The TPP is often referred to by activists as "NAFTA on steroids" because it would expand on all the anti-democratic aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement that have impoverished workers and enriched bosses in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and spread them to incorporate 11 more countries in Asia and South America.

TPP negotiations have been carried out in secret, but sections of the draft uncovered by WikiLeaks have revealed provisions to, among other things, increase the right of corporations to sue national governments to overturn laws that threaten profit margins and crack down on the production of more affordable generic drugs.

Speakers at the rally included Ramon Ramirez from Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), Barbara Dudley from the Working Families Party, Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain and state labor commissioner Brad Avakian. Avakian has put forward a proposal to raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour, far less than the $15 that many Oregon unions and activists have been demanding.

Many unions were represented at the rally, including the National Association of Letter Carriers, United Food and Commercial Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48 and the unions for stagehands and painters, along with Jobs with Justice and other activist organizations.

Chamberlain and many other speakers lambasted Wyden in front of the 500 or so union members and other activists in the crowd. But none of them addressed how much longer organized labor will continue to support the Democrats even as they support trade deals like the TPP that will further destroy unions, both in the U.S. and abroad.

One speaker pointed out that local unions gave the Democrats over $150,000 while big corporations gave over $6 million.
But no one called for unions to stop funding a party that pushes policies that are detrimental to the working class, and instead use those resources for organizing and independent political projects.

The anger and willingness to fight were obvious in the crowd, but there was little indication coming from the unions that organized the protest about what the next steps will be in the fight against the TPP. Activists and union members will have to figure out ways to push this fight forward against politicians in both parties, and push union leaders to step up the fight.

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