|As I have reported in my ongoing coverage of The Secret Trade Deal of 2007, this deal was a backroom pact cut by a handful of senior Democrats and top Bush administration officials over the 2006 election mandate where candidates who ran and won on fair trade platforms delivered the congressional majority to Democrats. The dealmakers publicly claim this agreement is aimed at improving labor and environmental provisions in a package of proposed trade pacts with Colombia, Peru, Panama and South Korea, but what it really is is an effort to sugarcoat a raft of new NAFTA-style agreements so that they can be rammed down the American public's throat.
Since this deal was announced about two months ago, we have seen an incredibly powerful coalition of labor, agricultural, human rights, religious, anti-poverty, consumer protection, conservation, domestic small business and progressive pan-issue groups at the state level come together to oppose it. Each part of the coalition has an interest in opposing the NAFTA trade model:
- Labor wants better rights for workers
- Family farmers want subsidies reformed so that they aren't targeted exclusively to corporate agribusinesses that are driving smaller producers out of business
- Human rights groups want sanctions against countries like Colombia whose government executes union organizers
- Consumer protection groups want a trade model that has serious safeguards against the kinds of problems we've seen with Chinese imports
- Anti-poverty groups want pharmaceutical patent rules that help impoverished people get medicines they need
- Conservation groups want better protections for the environment
- Domestic, mid-sized business groups want a trade policy that doesn't encourage outsourcing and off-shoring
- Progressive pan-issue groups at the state level want progressive legislatures to have a larger say on issues that usurp state power in the name of corporate profits.
This is a similar coalition that came together to oppose NAFTA and China PNTR, only now this coalition is much better empowered by the Internet - a tool that is one of the best at to shining a light on the backroom deals that K Street lobbyists rely on to get their way in Washington, D.C. And the coalition has had some pretty big success. Just last week, the same Democrats who were trumpeting this deal decided to delay it in the face of the coalition's opposition, and in the face of opposition from congressional rank-and-file Democrats who are emboldened by the coalition's power and cohesion.
It's been the same at the state level. Thanks to local organizing efforts by Public Citizen and the Progressive States Network (on whose board I serve), we have seen groups come together to pass state resolutions demanding Congress reject President Bush's request to reauthorize so-called "fast track" authority - the authority that lets him eliminate labor, human rights and environmental provisions from trade pacts.
These resolutions have made a real impact, but not without a fight. As just one example, after the Montana State Senate overwhelmingly passed its anti-fast-track resolution, the agribusiness-owned Farm Bureau penned a statewide op-ed attacking the resolution, invoking the old "trade is great for small farmers" lie to make its case. The Progressive States Network quickly joined with a local agriculture group to publish an op-ed of our own debunking the propaganda, and soon the progressive group They Work for Us aired a series of radio ads in Montana trumpeting the resolution. Soon, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D) announced he was delaying fast track reauthorization from coming through his committee - a big move, considering Baucus has long been one of the most ardent supporters of K Street's "free" trade agenda (Baucus, by the way, may already be starting to revert back to his regular form - just this morning, Reuters reports that he announced he is planning to use his chairmanship to pass the Colombia Free Trade Agreement over the objection of the coalition and his own Democratic colleagues).
Obviously, the fight to stop The Secret Trade Deal of 2007 and to more generally reform America's trade policies is far from over. Some Democrats are signaling their intention to push the trade deal forward, and the fight over the immigration bill promises to include a corporate-backed push to continue allowing Corporate America to abusing the H-1B program as a tool to drive down domestic wages (see the video clip above for how that plays into all of this).
But in just the last few months, this fight shows the potential power of the Progressive Movement when it prioritizes fights that build the largest coalitions across the most geographical regions (which, of course, the trade issue does - From New England and Midwest manufacturing centers devastated by NAFTA, to hard-hit Deep South textile towns hard-hit by China PNTR to the information sector economies of the West being slammed by job outsourcing, trade and globalization affects everyone).
As I said to begin, there are an infinite number of fights that are important, but because our resources are not infinite, we have to choose which fights to wage. Those selection decisions are therefore some of the most important choices we collectively make, both because if we select properly we can win in the short-term, and because by winning in the short-term, we develop long-term infrastructure to fight more fights in the future.
Trade is one issue that brings together a huge coalition, if we in the Progressive Movement are willing to face down the Wall Street/Clinton wing of the Democratic Party and embrace the new populism that puts the middle-class first. The War in Iraq, health care, and Net Neutrality are three other huge fights that also build broad, diverse and geographically wide coalitions. If we can prioritize these kinds of issues, we will start to have a Movement ready to address all issues.
Cross-posted at Working Assets