Lost in the outrage over Senator Tester’s sensible vote on the Obama Jobs bill was a series of votes that demonstrate the Senator’s commitment to American workers in general—and those in Montana specifically.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that Senators Tester and Baucus split their votes, with Senator Tester rejecting the “Free” Trade Agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, Representative Rehberg voted for the bills.
Senator Tester’s statement makes clear why he opposed the agreements:
“The NAFTA-style trade agreements like these have only led to the outsourcing of American jobs and resulted in the loss of our manufacturing base, and we ought to be doing everything we can to prevent those jobs from going to other countries.”
Tester was absolutely correct to oppose these agreements, which are free in name only. These “free” trade bills only harm American workers while giving legitimacy to lax environmental standards and abuse of workers abroad.
They won’t do anything for American workers, as Representative Bill Pascrell notes:
This past week, the remaining three trade agreements came up for votes in the House of Representatives. The non-partisan U.S. International Trade Commission had reported that the impact on American job growth from the agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama would be, respectively, “negligible,” “minimal” and “very small.”
Labor representative Stan Sorscher makes one of the most compelling arguments about reason pacts like these should be opposed. I recommend reading his whole piece, but this excerpt captures its essence:
We need policies for foreign trade that look like the policies that industrialized America, Korea, Japan, Singapore and much of Europe. Those policies were designed to create strong communities, opportunity and fairness, shared prosperity and investment in the future. For the most part, those policies focused on domestic investment and respect for the environment, human rights, labor rights, public health and financial regulation.
Free trade makes sense to market ideologues and it works sensationally well for the top 1% in each country, at least in the short term. Free trade is bad for workers, bad for communities, bad for long-term prosperity, and bad public policy.
The agreements are bad for workers in the countries in question as well. As the Communication Workers of America note:
CWA is extremely disappointed that the House of Representatives has approved the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, rewarding a system that abuses workers and ignores the violence against those who fight for union rights. This seriously flawed agreement will not improve conditions for workers in Colombia and lacks the accountability and the ability to enforce its call for the protection of workers’ rights.
Despite the passage of the agreements, Senator Tester certainly did the right thing, standing by American workers who are the real losers when Washington serves the interest of corporations by extending free trade to countries who will not protect labor standards, environmental regulations, or even human rights.
Sounds like a pretty progressive position to me.