Bieler 2012: 9).
The WTO Doha negotiations have stalled for years. And yet, free trade agreements (FTA) continue to be pushed in bilateral negotiations by the USA and the EU with developing countries and emerging markets. Importantly, these FTAs no longer only concern trade in manufactured goods, but as part of an expanded trade agenda now also include issues of intellectual property rights, trade in services and investment. Unsurprisingly, the tensions within the international labour movement persist. In this contribution, I will discuss the obstacles but also possibilities for establishing transnational solidarity in relation to tensions over trade liberalization.
Liberal economic theory and developmental reality
|by Christopher Dombres|
In short, capitalist development has been highly uneven and so-called ‘free trade’ policies have extended this unevenness. Free trade is only one component in the process of uneven and combined development. And yet, especially after the expansion of the trade agenda during the GATT Uruguay Round and the WTO Doha negotiations into areas of intellectual property rights, trade in services and investment, free trade has taken up an ever more central position in the current attempt to continue the accumulation of surplus value on a global scale. In a way, the expanded free trade agenda is a mechanism of reconstituting the exploitative relationship between the core and periphery afresh.
Free trade and transnational labour solidarity
by Alejandra H. Covarrubias
And yet, the fact that different national labour movements are located in different positions in the global economy does not imply that transnational solidarity is impossible. The experience of trade unions in the Americas is illustrative in this respect. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force on 1 January 1994, there was no common trade union position. While the Canadian Labour Congress had been opposed, the main Mexican trade union confederation supported the agreement. The US trade unions presented a mixed picture. As a result of experiences with NAFTA, however, a common position has emerged over time. This new position does not only include a rejection of neo-liberal free trade agreements such as the defeated Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) initiative. As Bruno Ciccaglione, the European co-ordinator of the Seattle to Brussels Network makes clear in his report, it also ‘seeks to design a model of integration that is an alternative to free trade, not only because it proposes alternative trade rules, but because it aims at moving away from neoliberalism by giving a new centrality to the State, and to a new democratic and participatory process’ (Ciccaglione 2009: 30). The related strategies include both cross-border co-operation with trade unions as well as alliances with other social movements and, thus, provide the basis for a common consciousness at the transnational level. Hence, as a result of concrete struggles against free trade initiatives in the Americas, labour has moved towards transnational solidarity. Such forms of transnational solidarity may in turn provide the basis for developing new ways of how trade is organized between countries. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), for example, is already one practical example in this respect. At its beginning in 2004 was a treaty between Venezuela and Cuba with the former providing petroleum to the latter at very favourable prices in exchange for doctors and teachers from Cuba, working in some of Venezuela’s poorest states. Direct negotiations between the two countries had replaced a reliance on prices set by the market.