Sunday, August 06, 2017

Empowering Labour

NAFTA is going to be re-negotiated. That's fine with Linda McQuaig, so long as workers get a piece of the action. She writes:

In reality, NAFTA has been key to the transformation of Canada over the last two decades, enabling corporations to become ever more dominant economically and politically, while rendering our labour force increasingly vulnerable and insecure.

Indeed, the much-lamented rise in income inequality and feelings of powerlessness among working Canadians aren’t mysterious consequences of participating in the global economy. Rather, they’re the predictable consequences of our country signing a trade deal that greatly empowers corporations and their investors at the expense of everyone else.

The agreement's twenty year history makes it abundantly clear that corporations are in the driver's seat:

Gus Van Harten, an Osgoode Hall law professor and expert in international investment law, says NAFTA provides “Exhibit A for how rules of the global economy have been rewritten to favour large corporations and the superrich at the expense of the general public.”

Van Harten is referring to NAFTA’s Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement (ISDS) mechanism which, amazingly, allows foreign corporations to sue governments over laws that interfere with corporate profitability — even if those laws are aimed at protecting the public from, say, environmental or health risks.
These corporate lawsuits are adjudicated by special tribunals — notoriously sympathetic to corporate interests — that can force governments to pay the corporations compensation (out of our taxpayer dollars!) There’s no cap on the size of the awards.

Canada has already been sued this way 39 times, and paid out more than $190 million, with the money mostly going to major corporations and extremely wealthy investors, notes Van Harten. In addition, we don’t know how many times governments have backed off from introducing laws, to avoid provoking a NAFTA lawsuit.

The problem is that the push to empower labour won't come from the Americans: 

But proposals that ISDS be eliminated are unlikely to win support from, for instance, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil, which won $14 million from Canada in a NAFTA lawsuit.

And Trump, a billionaire whose companies (along with daughter Ivanka’s fashion business) routinely outsource work to low-wage jurisdictions, clearly has no interest in tampering with the wildly pro-corporate rules of NAFTA.

And Justin Trudeau doesn't advocate changing the balance of power -- despite his rhetoric. So the push to empower labour will have to come from elsewhere.

Image: SlidePlayer


Lorne said...

It always disheartens me, Owen, that those who have a slavish and almost cultish devotion to Justin Trudeau never seem to question that he and his government are big supporters of the Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement mechanism, the very one that has not yet been ratified by CETA countries which, apparently, choose to engage in a little bit of critical thinking. Too bad that skill can't be exported to Canada.

Owen Gray said...

Justin likes to have things both ways, Lorne -- bitumen and stopping climate change, middle class prosperity and corporate governance. Life is full of difficult choices. Apparently, Justin still hasn't learned that lesson.

Steve said...

we should not have free trade with a narco state.

Owen Gray said...

There's no doubt that drugs are a significant part of the Mexican economy, Steve. But Mexico is much more than a narco state. The issue is the power of corporations in all three countries -- the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Toby said...

The most insidious result of ISDS is that it prevents governments from making real, effective, enforceable environmental regulations.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't know that it's helpful to make NAFTA the whipping boy for a problem that's endemic to all globalized free trade deals. Which nation will champion labour rights? Canada? Have you seen any sign of that sort of concern from this government or its predecessor? I haven't. What has Trudeau done to rehabilitate the role of labour in Canada?

Roosevelt and Lincoln recognized government's obligation to balance the constant struggle between labour and capital, Lincoln stating that, of the two, labour must always be superior. Have you seen any sign of that thinking in the Liberal or Tory ranks. Even the NDP has gone mute.

What McQuaig years for is change of a seismic dimension, something that cannot happen without a great deal of public support. Building that public appetite requires a "whole of government" effort that's nowhere to be seen.

Owen Gray said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Toby.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Mound. Labour will only make its voice heard through mass mobilization. And, at the moment, there are absolutely no signs of that.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Mound. Labour will only make its voice heard through mass mobilization. And, at the moment, there are absolutely no signs of that.

I'm not surprised.
What with false news, deals with private enterprise and the media ( Post Media) Fox News (ug!) and the Republican Party ; who in this credit saturated world where it often takes two jobs to make ends meet, enabling a serfdom of the masses who have little time or knowledge to understand the world around them!
Ever wonder why so few of our young go out and vote?


Owen Gray said...

They know the game is rigged, TB. But their mass mobilization could make the difference.