Tester Votes Against “Free” Trade, For American Workers

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.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Always the natural instinct to believe what is said to be the genuine reason for the sentiment expresed. However, it should be noted that the trade agreements will pass with or without Tester, and he is up for a vote while Audie is not.

    I don’t buy it. I think he got a get out of jail free card on this one.

  • Sure seems like Tester can’t win among some progressives. If he votes against their position, it’s evidence that he is a corporate sellout. If he votes their position, we can’t trust him.

    • What Montana farmers know is that dropping tariffs is good for business: http://www.greatfallstribune.com/article/20111015/NEWS01/110150314/Baucus-lauds-free-trade-agreements-good-Montana?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Frontpage

      Sen. Max Baucus said the new free trade agreements between the United States and Colombia, South Korea and Panama will be a boon for Montana farmers and ranchers.

      Baucus, a Democrat, told reporters that the Korea FTA — the nation’s biggest free-trade agreement since the 1994 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico — will phase out that country’s 40 percent tariff on U.S. beef imports over 15 years.

      Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees trade. He said he insisted that the United States also takes steps to expand beef market access in Korea.

      The Panama and Colombia FTA will immediately eliminate those countries’ duties on high-quality Montana beef, wheat and barley, giving farmers and ranchers more value for their products, Baucus said.

      And it’s not just Montana farmers cheering free trade: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/14/BUJ21LHQ9F.DTL

      California farmers got a boon this week.

      Congress approved free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. This means farmers, growers and ranchers can ship everything from dairy to produce to these three countries without having to pay tariffs.

      “We’ll be able to ship more products into these markets cheaper than our competition,” said Chris Garza, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, a nonpartisan group that represents farmers and ranchers across the nation. Garza added that tariffs for shipping products to South Korea ranged anywhere from 5 to 500 percent of the price of the export. In Colombia and Panama, the average tax was 25 percent.

      President Obama is expected to sign the agreements next week.

  • this is a good vote, and I’m happy Tester made it.

    but i find it disgusting that Obama is pushing these free trade agreements, though i’m not surprised. so what if Panama is a corporate tax hideout, and Columbia kills a few labor activists?

    am i wrong in assuming, Don, that you will still hold your nose and vote for Obama? if so, this entire post is meaningless.

    • I’m assuming you never vote, Lizard. Is that right? Can you honestly name me a single politician you’ve been able to vote for? I can’t imagine anyone meeting your exacting definition of an acceptable candidate.

      It must be reassuring to be right about every issue, in every moment.

      • you didn’t answer the question, but i will answer yours. yes, i vote, for Obama in 2008, and for Tester in 2006, and i don’t expect perfect adherence from a candidate to all my personal opinions about what i would hope a “Democrat” would fight for once elected. that said, i don’t see how any supporter of “candidate” Obama can reconcile what “president” Obama has done (and, more importantly, not done) in the last 3 years.

        i’m not right in every moment, but i gotta say my concerns three years ago when Obama was putting together his cabinet, placing neoliberal tools like Timmy in control of the economic levers, placing hawks like Rahm in power, and retaining Gates at the Pentagon, were all pretty obvious signals that Obama was not going to be able to deliver on his campaign promises of hope and change. were my concerns baseless? no, they weren’t.

        i am still planning on voting for Tester, although i don’t expect that to accomplish much, but like so many other people now recharging on an infusion of the democratic spirit we have felt disenfranchised from, i am now looking outside of the political system for ideas, hope, and inspiration.

        • Imagine this crazy idea. I haven’t decided if I will vote for Obama in 2012. I suspect I will, purely out of utilitarian reasons.

          I think you might be more successful if you gave some thought to the tone with which you comment. It’s a perfectly legitimate argument about whether or not people should vote for Obama without jumping in to scream about my pointless post.

          Want to make the movement against corporate greed and government collusion broader? Maybe stop treating allies like enemies.

          Just a thought.

          • thanks for the lecture on tone.

            the issue i have is your cheerleading for Tester is only half the story here. the other half is why Obama is pushing these free trade agreements in the first place. but you don’t ever seem to want to go there, because that would mean acknowledging how corrupt the Democrats are when it comes to taking care of the 1% and fucking over the rest of us.

            what would Obama have to do to lose your support, Don?

            • Has anyone ever actually seen Tokarski and lizard in the same room? It seems like the only difference between them is that one has posting privileges at 420 and worse grammar in general.

            • Are you really so obtuse that you can’t see that at least two of the people who comment on Tester over and over again have clearly moved past policy considerations into just personal animus?

              Downward twinkles, dude.

            • You of all people, Lizard, know that I have received more than my share of “blowback” from the “personal animus” on display towards Jon Tester and any who would support him. It is not a matter of tone. It is obvious. Please do not feign ignorance.

              I have no problem naming names. Matthew Koehler only appears in the Montana online anymore to attack Jon Tester, attempt to discredit those who would support his re-election and post oppositional advertisements against Jon Tester. If that isn’t “personal animus”, how would you describe it?

          • Wait a second. Aren’t you the bunch that keep caterwauling that there is nobody to vote for? Then why in the hell are you challenging anyone about who they would vote against? Please clarify.

        • lizard: ” i don’t see how any supporter of “candidate” Obama can reconcile what “president” Obama has done (and, more importantly, not done) in the last 3 years.”

          Frankly, that reads like a personal problem to me. If you don’t see it, then might I suggest you’re not looking? Many have attempted to present arguments to you that a) President Obama has not deviated all that far from Candidate Obama in his first term, and b) there remain significant reasons to re-elect President Obama, the ‘Supreme Court argument’ of which you have been remarkably dismissive being one of the better ones. Unless you are also looking outside of the law for ideas, hope and inspiration, I would think that argument rather compelling for you.

          Regardless of whether you can accept that elected representatives (or executives) can deviate from your will, your pronouncement here shows a very low tolerance for the supporters of those officials disagreeing with your thinking. That is remarkably self-defeating. Without a mechanism to instantiate it, the “democratic will” is about as useful as the Holy Ghost. That mechanism is voting, regardless of whether people are are electing representatives or voting for a new Constitution. (There are other mechanisms, like violence as Dave Budge adequately and succinctly pointed out. But let’s accept that non-violence is the path. Voting is what you have.) Now, I have a very serious and simple question to ask. You will no doubt find it to be rude, but there is no insult whatsoever implied. If you can’t find ways to get people to vote for progressive candidates who favor your “ideas, hope, and inspiration”, then how much success do you expect in getting people to replace an entire political system?

  • “He’ll get my vote, I guess”

    Was there ever any question? As I see it, you basically have three choices – Vote for Tester, Vote for Rehberg or not vote. It sounds like Lizard will selectively not vote, or hold his nose and vote for Tester.

    The bottom line here is obvious. Either you won’t vote (which does not help anyone including yourself), you vote for Tester (who has a proven track record of voting for the People of Montana – even when he pisses off the Democrats by doing it) or voting for Richy Rehberg. If you don’t vote, you are helping Rehberg, as Tester is currently the favorite in this race.

    For me the choice is simple. I could care less which letter follows Tester’s name. A representative is suppose to represent the State he was elected in. When Tester was elected, he acted as a representative, even when his votes pissed off the vocal Democratic minority on certain issues. Rehberg has NEVER been representative of the majority of people in Montana. The choice is clear. I am sick and tired of the posturing. There is nothing wrong with being unhappy with a representative’s decisions, but don’t act like you have some kind of all encompassing choice here. Vote for Tester, Vote for Rehberg or shut the hell up because you aren’t voting and giving up your right to influence the decision.

  • @Lizard: The lecture on tone was wasted. I have no doubt about that. Keep up your smug personal attacks on anyone who has the temerity to disagree with you. That certainly seems opposed to the consensus model the Occupy movement has adopted, doesn’t it?

    Downward twinkle, dude.

    Look, you’ve carved out an unassailable position for yourself which is quite admirable. Everyone you oppose is supporting fascism and every decision with with you disagree is part of the corporatist death march. There’s no reasoning with you, no discussion possible. Instead, you attack people for “cheerleading” when there’s nothing you support aside from your infallible perception of justice.

    You guys seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to jump on every vote made by a Democrat that isn’t in line with your narrow vision of truth. I’d argue that posting a positive story is just as legitimate.

    Finally, reading is fundamental. In your haze of self-righteousness, did you someone fail to see that I’m not sure if I intend to vote for Obama?

    • If you don’t vote for Obama, then you’re aiding the enemies of your party on the right. is that not the constant refrain we hear from party loyalists like you?

      sorry Don, you appear to be trapped, and i seriously doubt you’ll risk being culpable in electing whatever corporate tool the right will finally decide to run against the corporate tool we have now.

      boy, we sure do live in interesting times, don’t we? did ya hear that Obama is now sending combat troops to Uganda? i say let’s quit fucking around, and just start bombing Iran. WWIII will be a nice distraction from our domestic decline, and all those dirty hippies protesting wall street can either fight for corporate America, or be declared enemies and assassinated by predator drones.

      • Does saying things like “corporate tool” really substitute for argument in your mind?

        As amusing as it is watching you argue against “the man” in your self-righteous crusade is, there’s nothing there. You’ve got no coherent ideology other than attacking whichever politician you want to focus your ire on at the moment.

        Do you have anything resembling a coherent vision for the future that can be attained or are you merely satisfied with attacking the Democratic Party for being insufficiently leftist for your value system?

        It’s morally bankrupt and pragmatically absurd to sit on the outside throwing stones. Keep at it.

        Turning and turning in the widening gyre
            The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
            Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
            Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
            The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
            The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
            The best lack all conviction, while the worst
            Are full of passionate intensity.

        • say what you want about me, but i’ve been pretty consistent with my criticism of US imperialism and the corporate rot of our two party political system.

  • This was a mistake by Tester, that really could have hurt Montanans if it wasn’t for the fact it passed ANYWAY!

    This was one of the few bills, that is actually wickedly good for the USA and Jobs, and heres why: The part in the bill were it says something to the fact that Any Americans displaced by this bill…. which in this case it shouldnt displace, but if it did…. will be taken care of! This is a nice little fact-tiod some of our way too left or way too right folks and Pundits don’t want you to hear about!

    Columbia and Korea are some of our biggest trading Partners and they had to lower tariffs and play fair for the first time in Hundreds of years! That means lots more money stays home and can be reinvested!

    Right now, there is quite a few ranchers sending over herds of Angus, and Angus studs they can get double the money for…. to restock Russian cattle operations that are no longer run by the state since they embarrassed Capitalism and disbanded state farming operations. a 4000 dollar Angus bull in Montana gets 8000 dollars for the Montana seller there in Kiev! That’s a good thing right?

    This is the first good bi-partisan bill written by both sides we can and should live with! All politics aside this bill is how our Government should work… and even if the Unions whine about it they will except it, cause I think they are gonna put more new dockworkers under their wing with this!

    This is a win win Bill folks! I would like to see all our trade bills like this, jobs might start coming home!

  • I guess that I have more faith in unions to represent the interest of workers than you do. I certainly don’t think it’s fair to characterize their views as “whining.”

    In fact, these agreements will hurt American workers:
    The Economic Policy Institute calculates that the South Korean FTA alone will cost 159,000 U.S. jobs. Department of Commerce data shows that over the past decade of free trade policy multinational corporations cut their U.S. workforce by 2.9 million and increased overseas employment by 2.4 million. Under these trade and investment regimes, U.S. workers clearly suffer, which is why voters have supported candidates critical of NAFTA-style free trade. Although job displacement is frequently viewed as a zero-sum system where workers of different nations compete, the reality is that decent jobs — with dignified working conditions and real labor rights — are lost everywhere. FTAs turn the world into a global labor bazaar for corporations to bargain-hunt.

    The bill is going to provide a lot of opportunity–for workers in Korea, Panama, and Colombia, just not in America.

  • Though this is a big bandage, for the massive flow of jobs we have continually been losing to trade with other countries. It is the kind of Bandage that allows the patient to heal! I have read articles from Bloomberg and Moodys that say something quite different to what you linked me too!

    For example, the average South Korean tariff for U.S. exporters is more than four times the average tariff that South Korean products face in the U.S. market.

    According to the International Trade Commission, these agreements are worth $13 billion in increased sales opportunities for manufacturers, farmers, and the service industry and would add $10 billion to our gross domestic product. By President Obama’s own calculation, these agreements could support up to 250,000 new American jobs.

    So I guess it all comes down in who we trust to read… and then lead us to the right places in Life! I am gonna stick with my thoughts and gut reaction on this bill!

    Like I said before I will still be voting for Tester this time cause Rehberg is an Idiot… but after his election I start my search anew… there is a lot hes done I am happy about but these last two major bills he poo pooed?

    Hes gonna need some more democratic spine adjustments to keep me happy!

    • I don’t understand how opposing a “free” trade bill means Tester doesn’t have Democratic spine. He’s standing up for workers.

      I have no doubt that big business will benefit from these agreements, but there’s precious little evidence that workers will.

        • We might have to disagree on this one. I think Tester is right about these kinds of agreements. They offer benefits to multinationals, but not to American workers–or workers in other countries.

          The fact that Democrats held up the deals for five years tells me something, too.

  • Well have to disagree for sure cuz, dems aren’t angels either for holding things up!

    2. Nancy’s house passed it easily, In fact they passed over 500 bills and 3/4 are still in the senate for the last 5 years because that part of government is broken too on both sides too. I make no allusions that our political party doesn’t play games. And Ill take Nancy’s idealism over Harry any day of the year!

    • When a site is on your blogroll, it generally means that you want your readers to visit the site for more information. I don’t think 4and20 blackbirds does that any more, for the most part. Instead, it’s often a site more interested in attacking Democrats, some excellent posts notwithstanding.

      You guys choose to have a more inclusive blogroll–left and right–which is your choice. I choose to promote sites that encourage support for the politics I believe in.

      That you would presume to lecture anyone about maturity might be the most absurd thing I’ve read today.

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