Stateside,  Vote 2016

Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!

Hillary Clinton just got a challenger for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced that he is entering the race.

Although I fully expect Hillary to win the nomination, and I fully expect to vote for her against whoever the Republicans nominate, my reaction is: Good.

I’ve been an admirer of Sanders ever since he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981. He has since represented Vermont in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. I’ve posted admiringly about him here and here.

Sanders, who has always run as an independent until now, is the only member of Congress who describes himself as a democratic socialist. He is in fact a socialist more in the tradition of such “reds” as Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt than of Karl Marx.

Note his position that the US needs to “fundamentally change our trade policies, so that corporations don’t shut down in this country and move to China or Vietnam or other low-wage countries.”

Yes, the socialist candidate for US president is talking about keeping American jobs from migrating to the “socialist” countries of China and Vietnam.

This is a not-so-veiled (and deserved) dig at President Obama’s push for a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and his insistence on “fast track” authority to negotiate it.

Obama insists that the TPP will set strict environmental and labor standards and protect American jobs. President Clinton said much the same about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But as Matt Stoller noted in 2012:

The TPP continues a direction set by Bill Clinton when he passed NAFTA, helped create the World Trade Organization and gave China new permanent access to the U.S. market. This policy can best be characterized as making the world an easier place to do business for multinational corporations. Aside from reducing tariffs, a global policy the U.S. has encouraged since the Roosevelt administration, NAFTA-style agreements have provisions that constrain domestic food safety, environmental and health regulations, shield foreign investment capital from domestic laws, and generally transfer sovereignty from the government to the corporate sector. Consequences of these kinds of trade agreements include offshoring of U.S. manufacturing and service-sector jobs, inexpensive imported products, expanded global reach of U.S. multinationals, and less bargaining leverage for labor. The debate over this direction in trade policy was particularly acute in the early 1990s, and NAFTA serves as an effective symbol of agreements that follow the basic model.

In 1992, NAFTA was highly controversial for a number of reasons; third-party presidential candidate and businessman Ross Perot argued that it would cause a “giant sucking sound” of American jobs heading to Mexico. Today, the U.S. has lost one out of every four manufacturing jobs that existed before NAFTA – over 5 million with 42,000 factories closed. A modest trade surplus with Mexico was replaced with a large, persistent deficit. As documented in “The Selling of Free Trade,” NAFTA’s new investor protections dramatically increased the ability of corporations to outsource entire factories to Mexico, which reduced union bargaining leverage. The era of wage declines and pension cuts did not begin with NAFTA, but the agreement and a wave of similar pacts that replicated its terms were contributors to the decline of bargaining power of the American worker.

One of the things that makes me most skeptical of the TPP is Vietnam’s participation. As in China and Cuba, there is no such thing as an independent trade union in Vietnam, and workers who dare to organize independently are likely to end up beaten and imprisoned. Is there really any chance that the TPP would be able to enforce genuine trade union rights in Vietnam? And with Vietnam suppressing workers’ rights, what chance is there of a remotely fair deal on trade?

Hillary Clinton herself has waffled on her position on the TPP, although she strongly advocated it as secretary of state.

If Sanders’s campaign can help move her off the fence on this and other issues of inequality and excessive corporate power, it will have served a worthy purpose.