The combined effect of structural adjustment programmes, increased capital mobility and the globalisation of production has resulted in mass job losses and precarious employment in many countries over the past 30 years. Attacks on social welfare, healthcare and education, as well as privatisations, high unemployment and strong arm tactics against trade union organising, have rolled back many of the hard-won fruits of struggle. In the name of global competitiveness, workers are set against each other in a race to the bottom which only the bosses can win.

International free trade and investment agreements are an important vehicle for the transfer of power from labour to capital. As transnational corporations are granted ever greater rights to trade and invest across the global economy, workers are increasingly cast as commodities in global value chains over which they have no control. The transnational capitalist elites that sit on top of these global networks of production can freely switch suppliers in search of lower labour costs or higher productivity, leaving behind a social devastation from which successive generations are often unable to recover.

The new generation of twenty-first century FTAs are now seeking to intensify this imbalance still further by removing the social standards and market regulations that have traditionally served to limit the power of transnational capital. The elimination of these regulatory ‘barriers’ to trade forms a central pillar of the most recent wave of FTAs, through which transnational corporations will be freed from any restrictions which might have allowed labour to participate in the benefits of trade or investment. Workers will create the wealth, and corporate elites will accumulate it.

One strategy previously advocated by trade unions in the global North was to press for social chapters in FTAs as a means of mitigating the worst effects of market liberalisation. This strategy is now widely recognised as ineffective, since such measures could never compensate for the devastation caused by bringing domestic enterprises into unequal competition with transnational corporations. The record of deindustrialisation and mass unemployment in the wake of trade liberalisations imposed on the peoples of Africa and Latin America shows just how high a price workers have paid for such policies. The negative experiences of US, Canadian and Mexican workers as a result of NAFTA are a reminder that workers in richer countries are also vulnerable.

Trade unions in the global South have long played an important role in mass movements of resistance to free trade and investment agreements. In Korea, many thousands of KCTU members participated in national mobilisations against both the US-Korea and EU-Korea FTAs. Workers in Central America actively opposed CAFTA, such as those from the state power and telecommunications sector in Costa Rica and education workers in Guatemala. Now Northern trade unions are joining these movements of resistance: all major European trade union federations have come out against CETA and TTIP, for example, just as the AFL-CIO called for a halt to the TPP negotiations for fear of the impact on US workers. The global union federation PSI has also spoken out against service liberalisation agreements such as TiSA, which threaten to undermine public services and public sector jobs alike.

Migrant workers’ associations have also formed part of the movement against FTAs. Free trade and investment agreements have resulted in social dislocations that have forced people from their farms, jobs, families and communities into exploitation as migrant workers, either internally within their own states or in other countries. At the same time, the growing number of FTAs that include provisions on temporary labour mobility have been condemned for endangering workers still further, driving people to migrate while still denying them basic rights in countries where their presence is highly precarious and often used by employers to undermine existing labour standards still further. Only when workers are no longer relegated to the status of commodities serving the economic strategies of capitalist elites can there be any hope of their liberation from such exploitation.

Contributed by John Hilary, War on Want

last update: December 2015


     EN   ES   FR 
  • 1-May-2007 Govt accused of selling out workers for free trade deals
    Labor activists on Monday accused the government of selling out Indonesian workers by signing free trade agreements with foreign countries.
  • 20-Apr-2007 CSI Réalisation d’un guide syndical conjoint
    La Confédération européenne des syndicats (CES), avec le soutien de la Confédération syndicale internationale (CSI), a présenté aujourd’hui un guide syndical dans le cadre d’un projet ayant pour but “le renforcement des capacités des organisations syndicales des pays Afrique, Caraïbes et Pacifique (ACP) face aux Accords de partenariat économiques (APE)”.
  • 17-Apr-2007 IPS El Salvador: Spanish firm advocates, then breaks labour laws
    The Spanish tuna-fishing and processing company Grupo Calvo has been accused of serious anti-union practices in El Salvador. The paradox is that Calvo had insisted that this Central American country approve labour laws required by the European Union for the purpose of obtaining tariff exemptions, as a condition for continuing to invest here.
  • 5-Apr-2007 Gulf Times Indo-Qatari labour pact to be amended soon
    Sacking Indian employees at will could be reduced drastically in Qatar, if not eliminated, when a 1985 bilateral labour agreement is amended soon.
  • 7-Mar-2007 Washington Times AFL-CIO aims to recast trade authority
    The AFL-CIO yesterday announced its plans to defeat renewal of "trade promotion authority," which allows President Bush to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment.
  • 6-Mar-2007 Reuters Lawmaker rejects USTR proposal on trade pacts
    A Bush administration proposal aimed at winning Democratic party support for free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama falls short of what is needed to strengthen the labor provisions of those pacts, a Democratic lawmaker said on Monday. It "misses the point" and shifts the focus from improving conditions for workers to a legalistic debate over whether a foreign country’s law are equivalent to those of the United States, he said.
  • 5-Mar-2007 Workday Minnesota Don’t repeat NAFTA disaster, trade experts warn
    The North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, has been a disaster for workers and families, and even social institutions, in the three participating nations — the United States, Canada and Mexico — labor experts from the three countries told Congress. Not only that, they warned that the pending US-Korea Free Trade Agreement would be a repeat of that NAFTA fiasco.
  • 9-Feb-2007 People’s Weekly World Newspaper Another fast track to the unemployment line?
    President Bush has asked Congress for approval of "fast track" authority. For most workers, "fast track" is the code word for giving the capitalists the opportunity to move more jobs out of the country.
  • 6-Jan-2007 Labor rights not optional
    Some 230 years ago, King George III taught the American colonists an important lesson: Because taxation without representation is tyranny, the public must have a voice in the making of trade policy. The new Congress should keep that lesson in mind as it attempts to devise trade strategies to promote labor rights (and other human rights) overseas.
  • 2-Jan-2007 AFP Free trade deals to put 100,000 South Koreans out of work: survey
    Free trade agreements with the United States, Japan, China and Southeast Asia would put more than 100,000 South Koreans out of work over the next 10 years, according to a government estimate.
  • 0 | ... | 20 | 30 | 40 | 50 | 60 | 70 | 80 | 90 | 100 | 110