Labour

The International Labour Organisation’s World Labor Report 2000 showed that increasing trade liberalization and the effects of globalization have resulted in job losses and less secure employment in both industrialized and Third World countries. Attacks on social welfare, healthcare and education, as well as privatizations, labour market deregulation, higher unemployment and strongarm tactics against union organizing are rolling back many of the hardwon fruits of struggle for workers around the world, and are being locked in by international free trade and investment agreements.

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In the name of global competitiveness, labour laws are being dismantled. Deindustrialization, as small- and medium-sized producers are crushed by floods of duty-free imports or by transnational rivals setting up shop nearby, has led to massive job losses.

The policies of liberalization and privatization have marched hand in hand with the restructuring of work and especially casualization and flexibility. As public spending is cut, many in the public service sector are laid off. This has led to the erosion of fulltime jobs, the growth of casual and contract labour positions and the intensification of work. Industry strategies of contracting out and outsourcing work, and the casualization have eroded the unionized workforce, along with the resurgence of temporary foreign worker programs in a number of countries. Bosses are able to threaten relocation of the workplace to a location with a cheaper, non-union workforce to bully workers trying to organize.

Such neoliberal policies force people from their farms, jobs, families and communities and into exploitation and precarity as migrant workers in other countries. Deindustrialization and the downsizing and privatization of essential services — accompanied by increasing user fees — are other “push factors”, forcing growing numbers to seeking work abroad. Health and education professionals in shattered public sectors are forced to migrate in search of work. Free trade, its advocates (like the US Administration) promise, will supposedly lead to a reduction of immigration because countries will become more prosperous. Washington proclaimed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would lead Mexico to export goods, and not people to the US, yet so-called illegal immigration to the US has risen.

Some FTAs include provisions or agreements on labour mobility, such as deals which Japan has signed with Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines which allow for a limited number of nurses and caregivers into Japan on a temporary basis, prompting critics to argue that such deals merely institutionalize the commodification, exploitation and international trade in workers.

In many countries, trade unions and workers are playing important roles in struggles against FTAs. In Korea, for example, many thousands of KCTU members participated in demonstrations against the US-Korea FTA. Workers throughout Central America countries actively opposed CAFTA, such as those from the state power and telecommunications sector in Costa Rica and education workers in Guatemala.

last update: May 2012


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  • 25-Jun-2009 L’ObsE Un chômeur sur deux est victime de la naïveté libre-échangiste de l’UE
    Alors qu’avant la crise le taux de chômage en France était de 8,3%, l’effet net du libre-échange représenterait ainsi au moins la moitié de ce taux (4% à 4,5% de la population active).
  • 8-Jun-2009 Atlantic Community Striking a proper match: Strategies to link trade agreements and real labor rights improvements
    This article makes recommendations for a template for linking trade and labor rights.
  • 14-May-2009 OneWorld EU policies deepen jobs crisis
    European free trade policies will continue to drive up job losses in the European Union and worldwide, said a British social justice group following an European Union summit to address the economic crisis’ impact on employment.
  • 14-May-2009 The News-Sentinel Unions urged to make a stand
    The United Steelworkers and other US union activists are touring the Midwest by bus advocating foreign trade and health care reforms and a “buy American” mentality, saying increasing poverty and long lines at food pantries are a result of jobs lost to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement and other free trade policies.
  • 13-Apr-2009 WoW Trading away our jobs
    War on Want’s latest report, ’Trading Away Our Jobs: How free trade threatens employment around the world’, investigates the impact of free trade agreements on jobs.
  • 18-Feb-2009 PWW Free trade, jobs and democracy — a look at Singapore
    Given the evaporation of 533,000 American jobs last November, the largest downturn in thirty-four years and the prospects for even greater losses, it is vital that we have a public discourse on the cost of free trade and its twin — runaway corporations.
  • 8-Feb-2009 AFP Swiss say big yes to EU labour
    The Swiss shook off right-wing fears over job losses on Sunday, voting resoundingly to prolong an EU free labour agreement and extending the policy to workers from bloc newcomers Bulgaria and Romania.
  • 29-Jan-2009 AFL-CIO Bush deals last-minute insults to workers’ rights
    In Bush’s final hours in office, he implemented a trade agreement with Peru despite calls by Congress, unions, environmental and human rights groups to delay action to ensure that Peru’s laws meet its commitments before the agreement enters into force. At the same time, the Bush Labor Department’s Office of Trade & Labor Affairs rejected a petition, the first of its kind, under the labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Act (CAFTA).
  • 21-Sep-2008 NACLA Displaced people: NAFTA’s most important product
    Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, the US Congress has debated and passed several new bilateral trade agreements with Peru, Jordan and Chile, as well as the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Congressional debates over immigration policy have proceeded as though those trade agreements bore no relationship to the waves of displaced people migrating to the United States, looking for work.
  • 9-Aug-2008 Islands Business Viewpoint: Labour mobility deals
    Under pressure to sign on to new free trade agreements, Pacific Islands governments interested in securing positive outcomes for their peoples see deals on labour mobility as potential development gains. But is this the right approach? And what are the potential costs?
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