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Vol. 80/No. 35      September 19, 2016

(front page, commentary)

What is stake for workers in rulers’ debate on
trade pact?

The debate in ruling-class circles and between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, candidates of the two big capitalist parties for U.S. president, over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact is over how best to advance the interests of Wall Street and the boss class against their competitors abroad.

Today there is a slow-burning worldwide capitalist economic depression for which the rulers have no solution, other than more attacks on workers here and abroad. They’re driven to ratchet up competition against their capitalist rivals for markets and financial penetration. And the strongest national capitals — in today’s world that has been U.S. imperialism — benefit the most.

Their public claim is they are for what is best for “America” and saving “American” jobs. But there are two Americas: one of the wealthy capitalist class and the other of workers and working farmers. And a division between the imperialist world and the semicolonial world. Our interests lie with our fellow workers around the world, not with the bosses who get rich by exploiting our labor power.

That’s why class-conscious workers don’t support any of these pacts, or the nationalist campaigns against them. Under free trade or protectionism, as Karl Marx put it more than a century ago, workers go to the wall.

Clinton, Trump, and Bernie Sanders too, all say they oppose the TPP advanced by the administration of President Barack Obama — a 5,500-page agreement that includes 11 other governments: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Obama, acting for a big section of the U.S. ruling class, has made approval of the TPP a central part of his “pivot” to Asia. He wants to put together a coalition to slow China’s rising economic and military power and pave the way for deals with Beijing. At the behest of U.S. steel bosses, backed by United Steelworkers union officials, the Commerce Department announced it was imposing a 266 percent tariff on steel imports from China.

The anti-China Trans-Pacific pact would eliminate or reduce tariffs and quotas on some 18,000 products for its 12 member states, especially benefiting the more powerful U.S. capitalists. For example, the Vietnamese government has agreed to eliminate or slash a host of tariffs on U.S. products, including a 34 percent tariff on beef and 30 percent on fresh fruit.

Start with working class, not ‘we Americans’

“The American worker is being crushed,” Trump wrote in a March 14 USA Today column, and it will be worse “if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not stopped.” If elected, he added, “We will finally stand up for American workers and make America great again,” including threatening China with higher tariffs.

Clinton initially supported the proposed pact, saying in 2012 it “sets the gold standard in trade agreements” and would institute “the rule of law and a level playing field.” Under pressure of some capitalist backers and nationalist-minded union officials, she now claims it doesn’t meet her standards for “good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans.”

Sanders said he opposed the pact because it would “force American workers to compete against desperately poor people all over the world. American workers should not have to compete against people making pennies an hour.”

Under capitalism workers always compete with each other for jobs. The only course that can counteract competition among workers, trade pacts or not, is: Organize the unorganized, fight for working-class solidarity across borders and for higher wages and better working conditions at home, and build a growing proletarian movement to take political power out of the hands of the profit-driven rulers.

Communists “start with the interests of the working class, which is an international class,” Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, said in “Our Politics Start with the World,” a speech reprinted in New International no. 13. “Under the banner of free trade, the U.S. government uses so-called antidumping clauses, ‘environmental’ and ‘labor standards’ restrictions, ‘human rights’ demagogy, and other measures to carry out brutal and aggressive trade wars not only against its imperialist rivals but with special ferocity against the semicolonial countries.”

Workers should oppose all tariffs and other barriers on goods coming into the United States and other imperialist nations. The workings of the world capitalist market guarantee the plunder of the semicolonial world, Barnes notes, not primarily due to “unfair” terms of trade, but as a result of “the differential value of labor power and the gap in productivity of labor between the imperialist countries” and those oppressed and exploited by imperialism.

Working people need to chart a course independent of the bosses and their parties, reach out in solidarity to workers around the world and refuse to be sucked into the nationalist anti-free trade campaigns that would pit us against each other.  
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