UNIONS SET DRIVE AGAINST FAST TRACK
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — Organized labor is using the Congressional recess this week to rally grass-roots opponents of President Clinton’s fast track request as it moves toward a vote in Congress.
Downtown rallies under the auspices of the AFL-CIO are to be held today near Philadelphia City Hall and Thursday on Wall Street in Manhattan. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.), the Democratic leader in the House and the chief Congressional opponent of fast track, is to speak at both rallies, along with local officials from unions and environmental and citizens groups.
For Friday, UNITE plans press conferences in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., to decry fast track and its affect on workers. These events are aimed at raising grass-roots opposition in the Congressional districts of Democrats Bob Etheridge, David Price and W.G. Hefner. Hefner and Price voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. Etheridge is untested on major trade issues, having just been elected to Congress in 1996.
In addition to UNITE members, speakers at the press conferences are to include environmental and consumer activists.
Labor’s chief beef with the fast track plans that have been approved by key House and Senate committees is that they don’t provide strong enough links between trade negotiations and labor and environmental protections. For months across the country, organized labor has mounted media and grass-roots campaigns against fast track. Workers have been met at factory gates and break rooms by union officials with cellular phones programmed for quick dialing to Congressional offices, 650,000 postcards have been mailed from fast track opponents to Congressional offices, and a one-million-piece direct mail campaign to grass-roots opponents was orchestrated by labor two weeks ago to urge recipients to contact their representatives.
“I think we ought to be fighting for a new trade policy that recognizes labor and environment,” Gephardt told reporters last week. One of the most prominent allies of organized labor on Capitol Hill, Gephardt has repeatedly harped on the terms of fast track and says the House and Senate bills don’t do enough to force U.S. trading partners to enforce their trade policies.
“For the life of me, I don’t know how anybody can say we shouldn’t ask another country to enforce their own laws that are on their books; that they say they want to enforce,” Gephardt said.
Gephardt wrote letters to all 16 Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee last week on the eve of its vote for the House fast track plan that was devised by Republicans and the Clinton White House and urged them to oppose it. He charges that it limits progress on labor and environmental issues, permits countries to lower their labor and environmental protections and gives business a say in whether labor and environmental protections will be negotiated.