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The Activist Beat

The Activist Beat – 09/07/11

The Activist Beat with Rose Aguilar, host of Your Call on KALW in San Francisco is a weekly roundup of progressive activism that the mainstream media ignores, undercovers, or misrepresents.

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On Labor Day, 500 activists took to the streets of Chicago to speak out against the US free trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries, including Peru, Chile, and Vietnam. Advocates from labor, environmental, public health, and consumer rights groups took part to demand a “Fair Deal or No Deal.”

The march ended at the Hilton Chicago, where trade negotiators are meeting through September 15 to discuss a new agreement. According to consumer rights group Public Citizen, trade talks have taken place behind closed doors, and no draft texts have been formally released, so there’s no way of knowing what’s on the table.

As President Obama prepares to give a major talk on jobs tomorrow night, trade deals have to be part of the conversation, yet they’re barely even mentioned in the national debate. Look at how much has changed since NAFTA, signed by former President Bill Clinton, went into effect in 1994. That agreement, which removed trade barriers between the US, Canada, and Mexico, destroyed manufacturing in this country.

At the Monday rally, Tom Balanoff, president of the SEIU Illinois Council, said: “Thousands of workers here in Chicago and all over the Midwest are out of jobs because of trade agreements like NAFTA.”

Since 2000, the US has lost a total of 5.5 million good paying manufacturing jobs and 42,400 factories have closed, according to Richard McCormack, editor of Manufacturing & Technology News.

From 1998 to 2008, employment at the foreign affiliates of US companies increased 30 percent, while US employment at those same companies declined eight percent, according to Tax Analysts. Why would multinationals keep their manufacturing plants in the US when they can pay slave wages overseas and ignore environmental laws, if they exist at all?

How much do you own that is made in the US? We recently did a show about the sections of the new Bay Bridge that were made in China. The New York Times reported that a typical workday started at 7am and ended at 11pm. Most people worked seven days a week and made $12 a day. That’s $12 a day.

Because Chinese workers are demanding better wages and some dignity, multinationals are now looking to exploit people in Vietnam, where workers are prohibited from forming a union that’s not controlled by the government.

And yet, when do we ever hear conversations about this crucial issue? It’s getting extensive coverage in Chicago. It’s front page news in most of the participating countries, but it’s received very little national coverage here in the US. Organizers say national reporters aren’t interested. If this deal goes through, it will be the largest trade agreement the US has ever been involved with.

Yesterday, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Friends of the Earth, and others attempted to deliver 10,000 postcards to negotiators urging the US to make sure the deal protects labor and human rights and the environment. The hotel refused to let them in and negotiators said they were too busy to take the cards, so they have to try again tomorrow.

Rev. Tim Yager, an Episcopal priest who attended the rally, told the Chicago Tribune, “Working people cannot afford to have a Pacific Rim trade deal. It just opens up the markets in a race to the bottom. It’s just capitalism run rampant. When that happens, workers in all those countries, and our country, pay the price.”

If it goes through without labor protections, the race to the bottom will continue.

You can take action by expressing your views to your Representatives. Speak out when you go to stores that sell sweatshop made goods, support local businesses, and consume less.

A final deal is expected by November.

Rose Aguilar for Uprising.

 source: Uprising Radio