Labor, capital and the Korea- U.S. ‘free trade’ agreement
Published Feb 6, 2011 9:05 PM
Sometime in the first half of this year Congress will be voting on KORUS, the
south Korea-U.S. “free trade” agreement. With the support of not
only the Obama administration but also two major unions — the United Auto
Workers and the Food and Commercial Workers — passage of this NAFTA-like
agreement seems likely.
The ruling class could not be more ecstatic.
“Manufacturers congratulate President Obama,” stated John Engler, a
former Michigan governor who is now president of the National Association of
“Now it’s time for the new Congress to make passage of KORUS a top
priority in January,” stated U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO
Thomas Donahue. “We will do everything in our power to round up the
More statements of corporate solidarity came from AT&T, Caterpillar,
Chevron, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, UPS, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Honeywell,
Boeing, Intel, Amway and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of
The American Meat Institute and the National Pork Producers Council have come
out in favor of the latest version of KORUS, modified to eventually allow U.S.
food monopolies to flood the south Korean market. Beef exports could increase
tenfold from their current value of around $200 million if the agreement
becomes law. Support from the Food and Commercial Workers is tied to industry
claims — which no union should ever treat as fact — that 26,700
jobs will be generated.
However, it is not creating jobs but maximizing profits sweated out of both
Korean and U.S. workers that is behind the enthusiasm of big business.
General Motors, Chrysler and Ford issued a joint statement of support. Changes
to the 2007 KORUS — which Ford and Chrysler opposed — could make it
easier for the Detroit Three to sell vehicles in south Korea. GM, the parent
company of Korean car manufacturer Daewoo, was neutral at that time. Ford CEO
Alan Mulally reportedly wrote the actual language, with input from UAW
President Bob King. King’s support for this FTA contrasts sharply to the
UAW’s staunch opposition to NAFTA and other trade agreements. The
argument is that exports to south Korea will create jobs for UAW members. But
how many and for how long? Sales of 100,000 vehicles might translate into 3,500
union jobs. The union’s membership has fallen from 766,000 to 355,000
since NAFTA went into effect.
The tariffs on Korean-made vehicles will be phased out eventually, eliminating
Detroit’s trade advantage. Even in its current version KORUS has the
strong support of Hyundai Kia Motor Corp. The militant Korean Metal Workers
Union remains steadfastly opposed.
Those in labor favoring this FTA have advanced another argument: If labor
doesn’t support this version, the new Republican-dominated Congress will
pass a worse version. Yet voices on both sides of the congressional aisle have
joined the chorus for KORUS. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who
attacked the UAW during the 2008 bailout hearings, proclaimed that “with
a more balanced Congress we will see renewed support for this and other trade
agreements that have languished for the past two years.”
McConnell’s spouse, Elaine Chao, who was Bush’s labor secretary and
is a staunch opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act, concurs.
NAM, the Chamber of Commerce and many of the above-mentioned companies are
major Republican donors. The ultraright Heritage Foundation put out a statement
‘This agreement must be stopped’
The unions that have gotten behind President Obama on this issue argue that it
is good for their membership. But what about the rest of the working class? The
Economic Policy Institute estimates that 159,000 jobs will be lost in the U.S.
if KORUS goes through; south Korean farmers fear the loss of 200,000
livelihoods when the barriers to U.S. agricultural products fall.
The AFL-CIO and some of its member unions — notably the Steelworkers,
Machinists and Communication Workers — have let Washington know that they
still oppose this FTA. The strongest statements, underscoring the need for
class-wide solidarity, have come from the independent International Longshore
Workers Union and the United Electrical Workers.
In a December letter to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ILWU President Robert
McElrath stated, “By all accounts, the Korea-United States Free Trade
Agreement (KORUS FTA) will increase trade between South Korea and the United
States, which will result in an increase in cargo movement between the two
countries. An increase in cargo movement is good for dockworkers. However, this
fact alone is insufficient to overcome the vast deficiencies of the KORUS FTA.
The KORUS FTA will cost jobs, lower environmental, labor, food and product
quality standards, and empower corporations from the United States and South
Korea to challenge public interests in both countries.”
In its own statement the UE pointed out that, “while the Administration
has touted KORUS FTA as promoting jobs, our experience with NAFTA has convinced
us that these agreements do far more to increase corporate profits than to
create jobs or put food on the tables of working families. ... This agreement
must also be viewed in light of the increased tensions between North and South
Korea, as an attempt to shore up South Korea’s president and broaden the
national security relationship with South Korea. The need to declare a victory
by political leaders cannot come at the expense of increased militarization and
the wellbeing of working people in the U.S. and Korea.
“Not only is it seriously deficient, but it will likely grease the wheels
for similar agreements with Colombia and Panama — both countries with
egregious records on labor rights.
“This NAFTA-like bill must be stopped.”
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