Hightower: Lessons From Confronting The Global Goliath

A plucky (and smart!) grassroots coalition has pushed the dastardly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership to the edge.

By Jim Hightower

Hightower Lowdown (August 2015)

Progressive forces battling that God-awful gob of global corporate gobbledygook, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, encountered an odd problem: Incredulity.

As the Lowdown has detailed (August 2013, January 2015), the 1,000-page TPP trade scam is an unprecedented power grab by corporate elites. It is so unbelievably bad for workers, consumers, the environment, and our democracy that people literally can’t believe what they’re hearing.

While the deal is crammed with uglies, two impacts are downright nasty.

One: Consistent with every “free trade agreement” of the past 20 years, TPP provides US corporations more and bigger incentives to export shiploads of our remaining middle-class jobs to low-wage countries. Still throbbing from Bill Clinton’s 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, the US majority no longer swallows the myth that free trade is invariably good for us. So people fume with disbelief and outrage when they learn that, far beyond Bill’s three-nation agreement, they’re about to be pounded with a 12-nation, nuclearized NAFTA, pitting our workforce against exploited labor in such repressive regimes as Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam (where some workers get 59 cents an hour).

Two, and worse, TPP would sanction direct attacks on US sovereignty bytens of thousands of foreign corporations. The real intent of this agreement isnot to eliminate trade protectionism, but to protect global corporations from you, me, and any elected officials who stand up for us. BigPharma, BigOil, BigFood, BigFinance, and all the other Bigs would get sweeping new “profit rights” that would trump our people’s democratic rights. Of the 30 chapters that comprise this agreement, 24 don’t deal at all with trade, but instead provide new privileges to multinational corporations. Incredibly, TPP provides the authority and means for global corporate profiteers to attack directly our democratically enacted laws and regulations. All of this happens outside US courts.

The audacity and enormity of this power grab is mindboggling. Indeed, my mind boggled when I first learned about the proposal some three years ago from Lori Wallach, the hard-charging bundle of brains and energy who heads Public Citizen’s ever-vigilant Global Trade Watch (GTW). Holy Thomas Paine, I thought, she’s describing a coup d’etat by the jefes of CorporateWorld! Surely this couldn’t be. If it was true, wouldn’t Obama and even the corporate-hugging, Boehner/McConnell Tea Party Congress be in an uproar?

No, explained Wallach. They’re in on the deal, which has been in the works since the Bush-Cheney regime. You haven’t heard about it, she pointed out, because the schemers shut out the media and public with a shroud of secrecy-even officially classifying parts of the proposal as “national security” secrets. This “partnership,” Wallach added, is solely between top government officials of the 12 member nations and representatives of about 500 multinational corporations. It is, in fact, a carefully calculated conspiracy.

My friend Lori and the indefatigable GTW diggers, along with a network of US and international allies, have steadily unearthed the truth of this coup, including the smoking gun: a leaked copy of the draft language of TPP’s corporate supremacy mechanism, called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement.”

ISDS sets up a secretive, supra-national, private government that would use corporate-run tribunals to enforce the “right-to-profit” doctrine that the agreement fabricates. Through these unelected, autocratic, foreign tribunals, corporations from any member nation that has set up shop here could sue our sovereign governments (national, state, and local) to eviscerate any domestic laws-such as those protecting health, food safety, labor, “Buy American,” and clean air-that, they claim, might potentially pinch their future profits.

Wrestling the world from fools

QUESTION: How do you battle the bosses, bankers, bastards, and bullshitters who have bribery money, mammoth amounts of political muscle, and most of the mass media behind their push to further empower and enrich themselves through artifices like TPP? ANSWER: Take it to the people.

I can tell you from experience that we populists win big legislative battles not by going inside capitol buildings, but by going out to the countryside. I learned this 30 years ago when, as Texas agriculture commissioner, I took on the prodigious clout of the chemical lobby by proposing strong pesticide protections for farmworkers, farmers, and consumers. Facing a wall of opposition from industry-funded legislators, I said to a group of allies: “You realize the odds are against us, don’t you?” To which one replied: “Some of the evens are against us, too.”

We ended up winning, but only because we got the hell out of the capitol city, took the issue directly to the grassroots, and rallied the outsider majority to stand against the self-dealing insiders. That approach, on a larger scale, is how we’ll stop the global elite from hanging this TPP albatross around democracy’s neck.

It would seem to be a hopeless undertaking to inform, organize, and mobilize (in a very short time) a grassroots rebellion so massive that it can stop passage of a deal that (1) masquerades as arcane trade policy, (2) is written in corporate gibberish, and (3) is officially hidden from public view as a state secret. Yet that’s exactly what a plucky, populist coalition is doing, to the utter consternation of the corporate and political powers that are used to getting everything they want. The conventional media have missed the story entirely due to their corporate aloofness, lack of journalistic curiosity, and their own membership in the global corporate club. They have been blind to the BIG news that a new expression of anti-corporate power is on the rise and on the move.

For example, in May, when the coalition shocked The Powers That Be by initially defeating the process for railroading TPP through Congress, theNew York Times blared on its front page that this comeuppance was a product of “Labor’s Might.” But wait. The media establishment also says unions have shriveled to political irrelevance. So how did “little labor” suddenly become so mighty that it could deliver a devastating blow to Obama, the entire GOP leadership, and all those brand names marching under the banner of the “US Business Coalition for TPP”? [Find out more about these folks here.]

Well, surprise! Labor is nowhere near as weak as the sneering corporate swells would have us believe, especially when they unite and focus their grassroots members on a pivotal goal. For more than two years, unions have been educating their members; holding TPP teach-ins and rallies; calling, emailing, and visiting members of Congress; and going door-to-door, creating videos, and running social media campaigns. Pushed by a few smart and fiery leaders like the indomitable Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America, diverse and sometimes discordant unions have unified into one cohesive force. The AFL-CIO’s executive council even cast an unprecedented vote to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire by withholding all campaign donations until after key votes on the trade flimflam. (The Dems’ shrieks of horror could be heard on Pluto!)

Labor certainly is showing “might” that far exceeds the labor v. bosses conflict simplistically portrayed in the media. It rises from the millions of Americans in thousands of grassroots organizations who have come together from across the political spectrum to create a diverse, majority coalition. Ironically, TPP-designed to be the wet dream of the multinational corporate order-has spawned the establishment’s nightmare: the beginning of a genuine people’s uprising against the arrogant overreach and insatiable avarice of the over-moneyed class. …

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