Tag Archives: fast-track

Big gulp: GOP advances water privatization

“Aqua America” sounds like a water park on the shore of a great lake.

Rather, Aqua America is the second-largest publicly traded water utility company in the United States, and some day the company — or Veolia or Suez — could take control of municipal water systems in Wisconsin. 

Republican lawmakers fast-tracked AB 554/SB 432, legislation that would diminish public influence and make it easier to privatize local water supplies.

Environmentalists in the state call the measure the “Water Privatization Bill.” The Assembly approved AB 554 on Jan. 12. A Senate floor vote had not been held as WiG went to press on Feb. 10.

Current state law allows for the privatization of systems provided citizens have a say.

The process currently works like this: A municipality must adopt an ordinance authorizing privatization, then secure approval from the state Public Service Commission and then put the proposal to the voters in a referendum.

In 2008 and 2009, Milwaukee officials considered privatizing the city’s water. A coalition of community leaders, environmental groups and unions — KPOW/Keep Public Our Water — fought the plan, which would have privatized Milwaukee’s water system for up to a century.

The new privatization bill puts the burden of bringing a referendum on citizens. A municipality would adopt an ordinance but a referendum wouldn’t be held unless citizens wage a successful petition drive. And, with no referendum, the PSC would approve privatization.

Democratic lawmakers worked through January to counter the measure and try to improve the bill. In a Senate committee vote in January, Sens. Chris Larson and Julie Lassa offered several unsuccessful amendments that would have reserved some control for local citizens.

Larson, in early February, also was working with Reps. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton, and Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, to advance a measure — LRB 4602/1 — intended to keep water and sewer utilities under local control.

“I am appalled that my colleagues across the aisle are trying to take Wisconsin down the dangerous path of privatizing water,” Brostoff said. “A one-time privatization scheme payoff pales in comparison to risking our public safety.”

Pushing privatization

Most Americans get their household water from publicly owned and operated service. 

The polls show most Americans want to keep these services and, in Wisconsin, there’s been no public outcry from city and county officials for legislative change.

“As a member of the Assembly Committee on Energy Utilities, I did not hear testimony from any municipal leader asking for expanding the ability of corporations to take over their water,” Stuck said. “Instead, what we heard was a desire to keep control of these vital utilities local, so that decisions about how to keep a cost-effective and safe water supply are made by the local community and not by the profit-seeking shareholders of private companies.”

So, what’s driving a legislative push for privatization?

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported in late January that AB 554, authored by Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, and SB 432, written by Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, is akin to draft legislation — the Water/Wastewater Utility Public-Private Partnership Act — circulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a special interest group of businesses and politicians that has advanced a series of anti-immigrant, anti-voter, anti-choice and anti-environment measures. Much of ALEC’s funding comes from trade groups, corporations such as Exxon Mobil and right-wing organizations like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Proponents argue privatization is a solution for municipalities burdened by capital improvements to systems that have been under-funded due to years of deflated rates.

They also maintain that water utilities are businesses and companies can serve consumers better than government.

Some proponents of privatization illustrate their arguments by pointing to the water crisis in Michigan, where officials at nearly every level of government failed the people of Flint.

Those arguments, however, unleash a flood of opposing positions from those who see the cost-cutting profit motive as the underlying cause of the Flint crisis.

“The residents of Flint were stripped of their democratically elected authority and, in the name of saving a few dollars, have been forced to sacrifice their health in the process,” said the Rev. Allen Overton of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, part of a coalition seeking federal court intervention to secure safe water in Flint. “The community deserves accountability, transparency and justice, in addition to water that is safe to drink.”

Opposing privatization

“Government has a level of accountability to citizens that private companies do not,” stated Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. 

She continued, “Think about when you have a problem with your phone service. You typically spend hours being passed from faceless person to computer system and back to another faceless person who could be anywhere in the world. Sometimes it takes days, weeks or more to solve the problem.

“Now imagine that water starts coming out of your tap brown, your family starts getting sick and you have to attempt to get help from a faceless, out-of-state private corporation that has no accountability to you or other voters living in the community. It’s bad enough running into this lack of responsiveness when you’re talking about a phone plan. The health of your family is certainly more important than phone service, and we should treat it that way.”

The league is on record as opposing the privatization bill, as are other leading environmental, consumer and good-government groups in the state. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Clean Wisconsin, the state Sierra Club, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

“Not just across the country, but across the entire globe, water privatization has failed to increase the access to or quality of water supplies for communities time and time again,” read a statement from Milwaukee Riverkeeper intended to motivate members to urge their senators to reject the privatization bill. 

These groups take the position that access to water is a right and water should not be a source of windfall profits. They, and national watchdog organizations, such as Food and Water Watch and Public Citizen, offer these arguments against privatization:

• Privatization leads to rate increases because corporations seek to maximize profits for investors.

Investor-owned utilities typically charge 33 percent more for water, according to Food and Water Watch.

After privatization, water rates increase at about three times the rate of inflation, with an average increase of 18 percent every other year.

• Privatization undermines water quality, because the motivation for companies is profit, not public good. Aqua America, headquartered in Pennsylvania, took in $769 million in revenues in 2013 for a $221 million profit. The company’s CEO received $3.2 million in compensation that year.

• Privatization reduces public rights and allows the local government to abdicate control over a public resource.

• Private financing costs more than public financing.

• Privatization leads to job losses as companies minimize costs to increase profits. Food and Water Watch, which opposes any commodification of water, said privatization typically leads to a loss of one in three water jobs.

• Privatization contributes to corruption because companies can restrict public access to information.

• Privatization can contribute to sprawl because companies are motivated to expand infrastructure and extend services.

• Privatization could lead to bulk water exports or changes in water use, including sales to the oil and gas industry for hydraulic fracturing.

• Privatization is difficult to reverse.

The crisis in Flint prompted people across the nation to focus on the quality of the water that comes out of their tap and the management of their utility.

There’s also a global big-picture to consider: The World Bank predicts that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will run short of fresh drinking water. 

Wisconsin will not run short of drinking water by 2025, but who or what will control how much water costs — or where it goes?

‘Fast track’ chugs through Senate

The Senate on June 24 handed the president a major victory by approving the controversial “fast track” authority to negotiate trade agreements in Asia and elsewhere.

The 60-to-38 vote clears the way for the president to seek final language on a trade agreement with Japan and 10 other Pacific-rim nations. Congress can ratify or reject such agreements but not change them.

The Senate granted Obama the same fast-track authority that previous presidents have enjoyed. The GOP-controlled House passed it earlier with help from 28 Democrats.

The vote was a stinging defeat for environmental groups and for unions that say free-trade agreements kill U.S. jobs.

The president and Republican leaders say U.S. producers must reach more global markets.

Floor speeches, reaction to House vote on trade bill

The House of Representatives on June 12 voted to derail a high-profile trade bill pushed by President Barack Obama.

The vote was a significant defeat for the president, with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and dozens of Democratic lawmakers going against the administration.

The vote also was a defeat for GOP leaders in the House, who worked with Obama in an effort to advance the package. The vote, which was 302-126, left the legislation in limbo.

Reaction to the development:

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin: “I support President Obama and share his vision for enhanced economic growth and greater access to global markets, but I categorically disagree with my Republican colleagues regarding how we can achieve such goals. We must find a better way to support American jobs and secure our collective financial future without compromising our country’s critical labor, safety, and environmental standards.

“American workers deserve an equitable deal. Growing our nation’s exports is important, but we cannot afford to do so at the expense of our working and middle class families.”

U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs: “The defeat of The Trade Act is a big step towards stopping the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership. Today’s victory belongs to people who rely on Medicare, union members, environmental organizers and every single working family in America.  

“The fight is far from over. President Obama and the Republican majority will not stop pushing until they get the rubber-stamp they need to sign another bad trade deal. The Progressive Caucus will push too, but on the side of Americans who are already struggling to make ends meet. We will oppose any trade deal that lowers wages, endangers our air, land and water and supports human trafficking.” 

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, candidate for the Democratic nomination for president: “I applaud the House of Representatives for the vote today.  While the fight will no doubt continue, today’s vote is a victory for America’s working people and for the environment. It is clearly a defeat for corporate America, which has outsourced millions of decent-paying jobs and wants to continue doing just that.”

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka: “The House of Representatives has done the right thing, but the fight isn’t over. This is a significant day.  American workers came together and spoke with one voice about the path their country and economy should follow. We are very grateful for all the activists, families, community leaders, and elected officials who worked so tirelessly for transparency and worker rights in international trade deals.

The debate over fast track so far has been a marvelous contrast to the corporate money and disillusionment that normally mark American politics today.  This was truly democracy in action — millions of people exercising their free rights to inform their elected representatives.  We should all draw from this experience to help replenish our democracy at every level on every issue.”

The conversation now should turn to putting a raising wages agenda in motion.  Let’s discard the old ways of arranging corporate trade entitlements, and open a path to revitalizing our economy on the basis of real growth, worker rights, higher wages, and shared prosperity.  We look forward to working with any Democrat or Republican committed to a raising wages agenda, including pro-worker trade deals that will transform the American economy and lift up all workers.”

350.org executive director May Boeve:“Today’s votes to stall fast-track and TPP are a major win for anyone who cares about climate change. This disastrous deal would extend the world’s dependence on fracked gas, forbid our negotiators from ever using trade agreements in the fight against global warming, and make it easier for big polluters to burn carbon while suing anyone who gets in the way. That message clearly broke through today, as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi got up, bucked enormous pressure, and rallied against the deal, specifically citing concerns about its impact on climate change. Today was a big win, but the thousands of climate activists across the country who stood up and linked arms with fellow progressives to get us here won’t rest until fast-track and TPP are dead for good.”

Democracy for America chair Jim Dean: “The hundreds of thousands of hardened, grassroots activists who have been brought together by the fight against this job-killing trade deal will not rest until the TPP and Fast Track are dead, buried, and covered in six-inches of concrete.”

Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica: “Today’s move to delay final decision on the trade package represents a significant victory in the fight to ensure that toxic trade agreements like the TPP do not get bulldozed through Congress.

“The political deals that President Obama cut with Republicans to slash Medicare funding and undermine action on climate change revealed how low Obama is willing to go in selling out ordinary Americans and the environment.

“Today’s victory, while important, is not decisive. Friends of the Earth and others will remain vigilant to ensure that future efforts to pass Fast Track and climate-destroying trade agreements are defeated.”

During a floor speech, U.S Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, said: “I grew up in an auto town where almost everyone had a family member who worked in the industry. But today there are no cars made there anymore. To me, trade deals should be about whether or not we’ll fight for American jobs and American worker’s wages. Bad trade deals cost us both.

“Unless we have a say, unless the American people have a say, this trade deal will do exactly the same and cost us more jobs.

“I’ve read the text and I know where we’re at with it as of now. I would like to see a deal that has better, real protective teeth for labor and environmental law, strong protections for American sovereignty and better protections for food safety and more. 

“Bottom line, I want a trade deal that protects American jobs and lifts our wages right here at home. If we vote for TPA, we will have no ability to make it better. For this trade deal, or any other trade deal in the next six years under any president, if we want the American people to have a voice, a real voice, we must retain our authority to impact trade deals and vote against TPA. and all votes that affect it today.”

During a floor speech, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said, “Mr. Speaker, the question before us today is pretty simple. Is America going to shape the global economy? Or is it going to shape us?

“Mr. Speaker, 95 percent of the world’s consumers—they don’t in the United States. They live in other countries. So if we want to create jobs in America, we need to make more things here and sell them over there.

“In fact, one out of every five American jobs already depends on trade. And that’s a good thing. Because they pay more—18 percent more on average. But while the world has been moving full steam ahead, we’ve been standing still.

“We haven’t completed a trade agreement in years. There are now 262 FTAs in force all over the world.  The U.S. is party to only 14.  Since 2007 (when TPA expired), there have been more than 100 trade agreements signed.  The U.S. is party to none.

“And in the global economy, if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind. Because other countries are negotiating trade agreements without us. They’re tearing down barriers to their products and putting up barriers to our products.

“For instance, between 2000 and 2010, the countries of East Asia negotiated 48 trade agreements. We were part of just two of them. As a result, our share of their imports fell by 42 percent. Meanwhile, China is negotiating trade agreements all over the world.

“So the rules of the global economy are being written right now. The question is, are we going to write the rules . . . or is China? That’s why H.R. 1314, the Trade Act, would establish TPA or trade promotion authority.

“There’s been a lot of confusion out there about what exactly TPA is. Let’s get right to it. TPA is not a trade deal; it’s a process for negotiating trade deals.  Why should we care about a process? Because a good process will get us a good result.

“TPA will give us the leverage we need to win a fair deal for the American worker. Because when other countries know the deal they agree to is the deal Congress will vote on, they’ll put their best offers on table.

“Here’s how it works. Congress says to the President, ‘When you submit a trade deal, we’ll give it an up-or-down vote on three conditions.’

“First, you’ve got to pursue specific negotiating objectives—nearly 150 of them.

“Second, you’ve got to regularly consult with Congress. Let us read the negotiating text. Give us regular briefings on the talks. Let us attend negotiating rounds.

“Third, and perhaps most importantly, this bill requires the President to make the text of every trade agreement public 60 days before he signs off on it.

“So the American people can read it themselves. This bill, for the first time ever, would put that requirement into law. And then at the end of the day, Congress gets the final say. No trade deal goes into effect unless Congress says so.

“Now I understand a lot of our members don’t trust the president. Neither do I. That’s precisely why I support this bill. TPA puts Congress in the driver’s seat.

“Mr. Speaker, the world is watching. If we don’t do this, we will send a signal to the world that America is not reliable. But if we do establish TPA, we will show the world that America is once again taking the lead.”

Groups to suspend Run Warren Run campaign

The groups behind Run Warren Run are suspending their push to draft Elizabeth Warren to run for president on June 8. That day, six months after launching the campaign to draft the U.S. senator into a run for the White House, the groups are delivering a petition with 365,000 signatures from supporters.

MoveOn.org Political Action and Democracy for America launched the Run Warren Run campaign in December 2014 with a commitment to invest at least $1.25 million after supermajorities of both groups’ members voted in support.

Over six months, hundreds of thousands voters joined the call for Warren to run. So too did dozens of nationally prominent progressive leaders, including Van Jones, Larry Cohen, Zephyr Teachout, Annie Leonard and Lawrence Lessig, who headlined a Run Warren Run event in New York in April.

The petitions will be delivered to Warren’s office in Washington, D.C.

A news release said, “The groups will then rest their case and suspend their draft effort, pivoting their focus to working alongside Sen. Warren and other progressive populists on issue fights like defeating Fast Track negotiating authority for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.”

Highlighting the progressive campaign’s accomplishment, MoveOn and Democracy for America said with Run Warren Run, they 

 • Signed up more than 365,000 Americans who believe Warren’s vision and track record would make her a great candidate;

• Opened field offices in Iowa and New Hampshire, hired field organizers in both states and built a network of local, grassroots leaders in these key early states committed to encouraging Warren to run.

• Recruited more than 60 state legislators and local party leaders from Iowa and New Hampshire to join the effort.

• Held more than 400 events, including rallies, house parties, teach-ins, honk-and-waves and other events in nearly every state.

• Been endorsed by dozens of prominent organizational leaders, elected officials, celebrities and other progressives.

• Generated coverage in thousands of news stories elevating Warren’s voice and demonstrating a groundswell of grassroots support for her leadership — setting the stage for the presidential race and changing the dynamics of important debates in Washington. 

“Even without her in the race, Elizabeth Warren and the Run Warren Run campaign she inspired have already transformed the 2016 presidential election by focusing every single Democratic candidate on combatting our country’s income inequality crisis,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America. “We still think there’s plenty of time for Sen. Warren to change her mind, but now that we’ve shown that she has the support she would need to mount a winning a campaign, we’re excited to take the grassroots juggernaut we’ve built with our members and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Warren in the battles ahead.”

“The Run Warren Run campaign has changed the conversation by showing that Americans are hungry for Elizabeth Warren’s agenda — an agenda that rejects the rigged status quo in Washington and puts working and middle-class Americans over corporate interests,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action. “We’ve assembled a grassroots army and demonstrated the substantial support Sen. Warren could expect if she were to enter the race. Now it’s time to suspend our active draft efforts and pivot to standing alongside Sen. Warren on the big fights ahead, starting with stopping Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Public Citizen: ‘Fast-track’ train went off the rails

The “fast track” train went off the rails. The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for fast track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrat and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.

The only reason to upend the required procedures for a “revenue bill” and bring up fast track in the Senate first was to get a huge victory to build momentum in the House.

But that strategy backfired and Democrats in the House remain committed to standing up for their beliefs that the trade package would do a lot more harm than good.

President Barack Obama would now enjoy broad support for a forward-looking trade agenda if only he had implemented the reforms he announced as a candidate, including to “replace” the fast-track procedure created by Richard Nixon with a more inclusive, democratic mechanism.

Instead, Congress is unlikely to revive the 1970s fast-track trade authority Obama seeks.

Congress has denied fast track for all but five of the past 21 years, with 171 Democrats and 71 GOP rejecting President Bill Clinton’s request in 1998. Since 1988, only Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have convinced Congress to delegate Fast Track authority.

Fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an especially bad idea. After six years of negotiations, the text is almost complete. Yet under the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill, the pact would remain secret from the public until 30 days after its text is locked. That this would occur 60 days before the formal signing ceremony is irrelevant, because it would be too late to fight for needed changes.

The rhetoric being used to sell the trade package is really far off from the reality of what is in it. It is like being in the twilight zone. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know the TPP includes an expanded version of the investment provisions found in the North American Free Trade Agreement that incentivize the offshoring of high-wage American jobs and the investor-state dispute settlement system that exposes U.S. policies to attack in foreign tribunals.

The administration chose to use the weak labor and environmental standards that President George W. Bush included in his last trade deals. It was the 2007 Peru Free Trade Agreement, not the TPP, that was the first U.S. trade agreement to have labor and environmental standards it in core text enforceable by the same terms as the commercial provisions. A 2014 Government Accountability Office investigation found these labor and environmental standards now also used for the TPP failed to improve working conditions.

What has leaked out already is deeply troubling. Many members of Congress who — unlike the public — are allowed to read the TPP are warning us that this is a bad deal.

At Nike, Obama said that those concerned about the TPP rolling back food safety, environmental or financial regulation “are making stuff up” and no trade agreement can do that.

In fact, that already has happened repeatedly under past pacts. The “sovereignty” provisions found in Section 8 of the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill are nothing new and appear in implementing legislation for past U.S. trade agreements under which U.S. food safety and environmental policies have been rolled back already. Examples of rollbacks due to trade deals include:

• Gutting rules about importing only food that “meets or exceeds” U.S. safety standards, so we now import food that does not meet U.S. standards; and

• Rolling back environmental laws and regulations — from Clean Air Act regulations to U.S. labeling of dolphin — tuna and more.

Lori Wallach is the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

2,000 groups urge Congress to oppose fast-track authorization

A coalition of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom and other organizations this week escalated the campaign to defeat fast-track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A letter endorsed by 2,009 groups was sent to members of Congress.

The letter said TPP threatens American jobs and wages, food safety, affordable medicines, the environment, financial stability and more. The pact also replicates the labor and environmental framework first established in George W. Bush’s final trade agreements, which recent U.S. government reports reveal has proven ineffective. This, according to the coalition, has generated wide opposition to the agreement and undermined the White House effort to characterize it as “progressive.”

“Fast track is rigged to give special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We’ve seen this before and it has led to massive job loss. We cannot get better trade agreements until we get our priorities straight.”

“While we are not currently permitted to see the terms of the new trade deal, what we do know is the fast-track process enables trade deals that hurt everyday Americans and stack the deck in favor of corporations,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It limits public and congressional oversight and does not allow effective enforcement. We need trade policy that strengthens our country — ensuring the rights of workers, and protecting consumers and the environment. We need a democratic and transparent trade process that offers a fair shake for American workers. Fast track fails these standards and should be rejected.”

The legislation would allow the president to sign and enter into the TPP before Congress approves its contents with a guarantee that the done deal would then be voted on within 90 days after it is submitted with ordinary congressional review, amendment and debate procedures forbidden.

If enacted, the legislation also would allow a president to unilaterally select trade partners, launch new negotiation, set the terms and sign and enter into any and all agreements before Congress approves pacts’ contents or trade partners.

“President Obama may believe the TPP is good for America, even if from what we have seen of the text we strongly disagree, but who knows who will be president next, and if Congress approves this fast-track bill that unknown president would get unacceptable powers to unilaterally dictate trade policies that are do or die for American jobs and wages and the consumer and environmental safeguards on which all of our families rely,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The opposition to fast track has been fueled, in part, by the administration’s admission that the TPP is modeled after the Obama administration’s biggest trade agreement to date: the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. That pact was sold with the claims that it would lead to more exports and more jobs. However, U.S. exports to Korea have declined 5 percent and the goods trade deficit with Korea has climbed 84 percent, which equates to the loss of an estimated 85,000 American jobs using the same trade-jobs ratio that the administration used to claim the pact would create 70,000 jobs.

Leaked texts first published by the Citizens Trade Campaign and more recently by WikiLeaks, further reveal U.S. negotiators pushing investor-state dispute settlement and intellectual property provisions for the TPP that, according to opponents of the agreement, would jeopardize environmental protections, consumer safety standards, Internet freedom and access to medicine in the United States and throughout the Pacific Rim.

“We have serious environmental concerns about the pending trade agreements which is why we oppose giving a blank check to turn those into law,” said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These agreements could undercut many of our bedrock environmental and public health protections.”

Other organizations to sign the letter include 350.org, Action Aid USA, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Sustainable Business Council, Consumers Union, Defenders of Wildlife, Electronic Frontier Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, Presbyterian Church USA, NAACP, National Nurses United, Presente.org, SEIU and Union of Concerned Scientists.

The letter notes that the Hatch-Ryan bill’s much-touted negotiating objectives “are entirely unenforceable,” that its transparency provisions “fail to match even the level of transparency found in past practice,” that “provisions that would ostensibly enable Congress to strip Fast Track authority from trade agreements … are, in fact, more difficult for Congress to trigger than simply voting down a Fast Tracked agreement in the first place,” and concludes that, “Put simply, this is the same failed Fast Track process that has delivered harmful trade agreements again and again.”

1,000 rally against ‘Fast Track’ and Trans-Pacific Partnership proposals

More than 1,000 protesters assembled in Washington, D.C., over the weekend to demonstrate against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and so-called “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority.

Protesters carried a banner reading “Don’t Trade Our Future” and a 15-foot Trojan Horse from Lafayette Square in front of the White House to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who has indicated an interest in running for president, addressed the crowd. He said, “The TPP is another corporate-backed agreement that is the latest in a series of failed trade policies which have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs, pushed down wages for American workers and led to the decline of our middle class. The TPP must be defeated.”

Before the rally, activists from National People’s Action, Campaign for America’s Future, Alliance for a Just Society and USAction occupied the lobby of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The group included workers, students, immigrants, family farmers and small business owners. They demanded to meet with President Thomas J. Donohue and called on the U.S. Chamber to join a multi-national coalition of workers, environmentalists, and human rights advocates in opposing Fast Track Authority and the Trans Pacific Partnership.

“Working people are rising up against backroom deals that destroy our democracy and threaten our communities and the environment,” said George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action, which organized the action along with Campaign for America’s Future, Alliance for a Just Society, and USAction.

Goehl said, “We won’t stand idly by while our government trades worker protections for corporate profits and democracy for secret agreements. We’ve seen this movie before and we know it does not end well.”

The TPP would expand the NAFTA agreement to 11 Pacific Rim Nations and, if approved, would become binding U.S. law. Protesters say this would limit the ability of Congress and state and local governments to regulate food safety, set financial rules, protect workers and labor bargaining rights and limit how governments regulate public services.

The negotiations have included more than 600 corporate lobbyists but have excluded human rights and labor groups, according to NPA.

“The TPP isn’t a trade deal. It is a corporate coup d’etat that is about to be rammed down the American people’s throats.  It would make us poorer and less free and we the people aren’t going to stand by and let it happen,” said political commentator Jim Hightower, who addressed the rally.

Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, also spoke against the trade agreement.

He said, “Fast Track is not what democracy looks like. We are shut out of the debate and the consequences are horrible for the environment, workers here and abroad, for our cities devastated by abandoned factories, and for public services underfunded with trade deficits leading to greater public deficits.”

The event drew activists more than 30 states.

The rally was part of the AFL-CIO’s nationwide week of action against fast- tracking trade deals.

On the Web …

For background on the Trans Pacific Partnership, see: http://action.npa-us.org/page/-/TPP%20CWA%20fact%20sheet.pdf

Right-to-work hearing today at Capitol, along with protests

Opponents of a Republican push to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state planned to converge on the Capitol on Feb. 24 to hold a rally and testify in opposition of the measure on a fast track in the Legislature.

Gov. Scott Walker, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, has said he will sign the bill into law once it clears the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers made a surprise announcement late last week that they were going to push the bill through in a matter of days, giving union opponents little time to organize against it.

There are 24 other states with a right-to-work law prohibiting companies from reaching labor agreements in which workers have to pay fees to the unions as a condition of employment. Indiana and Michigan were the two most recent states to pass such a law, in 2012.

Supporters say it’s about giving workers the freedom to decide whether to join unions. The state Chamber of Commerce has been one of the most vocal proponents, arguing that passing the law will open Wisconsin up to jobs and investment that now are going elsewhere.

But opponents say that the measure is really about weakening the power of private-sector unions and that passing it will ultimately lead to lower wages for workers.

The issue comes to Wisconsin after Walker in 2011 pushed through a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, as well as prohibiting the automatic withdrawal of union dues.

Walker didn’t propose right-to-work then, and in a series of statements over the past four years he’s said the issue wasn’t a priority, it wouldn’t come up this session and it was a distraction from his agenda that could lead to protests like those in 2011 that would hurt the state’s economy.

Memories of those massive rallies four years ago, as well as the failed 2012 recall effort against Walker that grew out of them, are still fresh in the minds of union members who are coming together again to take on right-to-work.

“Is labor in solidarity to fight right-to-work?” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, on Monday. “The answer is a resounding `yes.'”

Still, Neuenfeldt said he had no idea how many people may show up for the Tuesday rally. There is also a public hearing before the Senate Labor Committee on the bill.

Another rally was planned for Wednesday, the day the Senate was expected to begin debate. The Assembly hopes to take it up next week.

Neuenfeldt and other union leaders said they were urging their members to contact state senators and push for them to vote against the bill. Republicans hold an 18-14 majority in the Senate, and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said he has 17 votes to pass it.

With an even larger 63-36 Republican majority in the Assembly, along with Walker’s support, some union organizers are resigned to defeat.

“I think it’s inevitable,” said Sally Feistel, a United Steelworkers union leader from Menasha.

Pocan launches campaign on ‘harmful effects’ of free trade agreements

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., says he’s launched a two-week long campaign to highlight the negative effects free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, have had on the U.S. economy and the environment.

The congressman said his goal is to raise awareness about health, safety and economic risks associated with fast-tracking trade deals through Congress using Trade Promotion Authority.

“Wisconsinites have seen what happens when these types of free trade deals are rushed through Washington: contaminated food and toys, closed factories, and lost jobs,” said Pocan. “If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes of the past.  I am launching this campaign to raise awareness about the serious health, safety and economic risks associated with massive trade deals.  Congress must have the time to conduct thorough and careful oversight of trade agreements that could have serious consequences for our constituents.”