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¡®Congress Must Defeat Korea Free Trade Deal¡¯
by James Parks, Jun 13, 2007

Korean workers joined with a bipartisan group of members of Congress today to make it clear that unless the Bush administration reworks the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement to include basic protections for workers in both countries, the deal will not pass this Congress. As Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) told a Capitol Hill press conference:

The Korea-U.S. FTA [free trade agreement] has been concluded with no regard for the mass opposition from the Korean people, their allies throughout Asia and American organized labor and civil society.

The press conference culminates three days of discussion and actions by U.S. and Korean workers to stop the trade deal in its present form. After a People¡¯s Forum on the trade deal Monday at the AFL-CIO building in Washington, D.C., the workers spent two days lobbying members of Congress to reject the agreement.

U.S. and South Korean negotiators worked down to the wire to seal the deal, known as KORUS, so it could meet a 90-day required notice period for Congress. By meeting the deadline, the Bush White House can have the deal considered under Fast Track trade promotion authority, which expires June 30.

Korean workers are strongly opposed to the agreement, says Young Koo Heo, vice president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

This agreement is simply to maximize profits. Its whole effect is to put the working class in poverty and exploit us.

The deal is an extension of the failed model of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), he says, which has harmed the interests of working people. When the deal is signed at the end of this month, he says, the KCTU will ask workers to join a general strike to oppose passage in the national assembly.

Myoung Ja Ban, first vice president of the Korean Government Employees Union, says because the agreement does not include strong workers¡¯ rights protections, it would make it more difficult for public-sector workers to join unions and speak out against policies they oppose.

The Korea agreement is one of several trade deals the Bush administration is pushing that provides no protections for workers and are skewed in favor of Big Business. Deals currently on the table or being negotiated include pacts with Colombia, Panama and Malaysia.

The deal, the largest since NAFTA, does not provide enforceable guarantees to protect workers¡¯ rights or ensure fair competition for U.S. autoworkers or Korean farmers, Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) says.

You cannot have fair trade when the core of the agreement is based on an uneven playing field. In the case of both Colombia and Korea, the position taken by the Bush administration and the nations involved has been ¡°trust us,¡± when it comes to key labor rights, competitiveness and general fairness. With a record of failed trade policies that hurts workers at home and abroad, ¡°trust us¡± is just not good enough.

The issue simply boils down to the failure of the U.S. government to support its workers, says Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), whose home state has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was enacted:

I am sick and tired of our government selling our country out to the detriment of workers here and abroad. It¡¯s time we focus on the American worker. If the president sends Congress a U.S.-Korea FTA, Congress must defeat it.

Opposing the Korea deal is not about protectionism, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) says.

This is just another in a long line of agreements where our government fails to stand up for America¡¯s workers. It¡¯s about helping protect workers here and in Korea.

Or as Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) puts it:

Irresponsible trade policies have cost America jobs. We need fair trade policies that are good for American workers.

Last year, unions in both countries issued a declaration saying KORUS, like other trade agreements pushed by the Bush administration, fails to protect workers¡¯ rights and the environment and undermines governments¡¯ ability to regulate public services while strongly protecting the investments and profits of multinational corporations.

The declaration was signed by the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) and the KCTU.

(AFL-CIO Blog) 6/13/2007