Despite labor's opposition, House OKs trade relations with China

A $12 million advertising and lobbying blitz by big business groups convinced enough members of the U.S. House of Representatives to give up annual review of China's human and workers' rights record and grant China permanent Normal Trade Relations on May 24, the AFL-CIO reported.

The vote, in effect, gives China a blank check to continue its systematic and widespread abuse of human and workers' rights. Although disappointed with the permanent NTR vote, the AFL-CIO said the debate has focused heightened world attention on China's behavior, and unions will work even harder to educate and mobilize working families around global fairness - and to hold corporations responsible for their treatment of workers everywhere.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney noted that three-quarters of the House Republicans and one-third of Democrats "bowed to big money" and voted to approve unconditional trade with "a human rights violator of epic proportions."

The 237-197 vote came after a months-long battle that pitted U.S. business groups, corporate lobbyists and their expense accounts against a broad grassroots alliance of working families. Along with the flow of corporate money aimed at influencing the vote, President Clinton dangled economic development plums to wavering lawmakers to win votes.

"It's sad that the president secured his 'legacy' by forging an alliance with the very members of Congress who tried to destroy him and our working families' agenda a year ago," Sweeney said.

In the days before the vote, working families flooded congressional offices with phone calls - many generated by worksite cell-phone actions - and e-mails from their home computers and through their unions' political action web sites. They also held rallies and demonstrations to sway undecided representatives.

But the profits from the cheap labor of China's exploited workforce were exactly what motivated Big Business' multimillion-dollar campaign for permanent NTR, opponents said.

While the main focus of the fight against permanent NTR was China's abuse of workers' human and religious rights and its use of forced labor, opponents also stressed the flawed deal's potential impact on U.S. jobs. An Economic Policy Institute study predicted U.S. job losses could near 900,000 under the trade scheme.

Proponents claim permanent NTR will open China's markets for U.S. products. But as Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger pointed out, "This China proposal is about factories, not markets. We cannot survive as a world economic power as long as we continue to export our capital, our technology and our jobs to low-wage countries."

 

2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers