Erik Loomis Profile picture
Aug 7, 2018 41 tweets 8 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
I have a new piece @BostonReview on how the left needs to take global trade seriously, avoiding nationalism and protectionism and embracing global solutions that we can also implement at the national level. I'm going to tweet some points and solutions.…
First, the global trade system is disastrous for the world's workers, both in the U.S. and overseas. The reason is that capital mobility and international legal regimes and disconnected companies from any responsibility to anywhere or anything but shareholders.
Like the late 19th century, recent changes in capitalism have slapped us in the face and we don't really know how to respond. One of those changes is extreme capital mobility wrapped up in neoliberal trade agreements. How do we respond on the left?
Too often, the response on the left to trade agreements is just "NO!!!!" But that's not really a response. Globalization is not going away. Global trade agreements will exist. In fact, they need to. And we need legal regimes to adjudicate disputes.
The lack of any real response to global trade also means that the left political response pretty much devolves back to the protectionism promoted by some unions. That's where even our best leaders such as Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown are now. We have to do better.
First, protectionism does not work politically. Unions and union-friendly politicians have embraced protectionism as a response to free trade for decades and they basically have never won.
With unions, especially in the private sector, the weakest they have been in a century, they simply lack the power to create a protectionist agenda that would succeed.
Moreover, the economy has become so global and interconnected now that any tariffs at best have a mixed result for U.S. manufacturing workers, as demonstrated by Trump’s agricultural subsidies.
That protectionism also can so easily bleed into racism is also a problem. Most people on the left today consider themselves global citizens. And that's a good thing. Demonizing foreign workers isn't something we are cool with. We should want to build alliances with them.
Industrial unions are never going to go along with a program that eschews protectionism. But industrial unions are also largely irrelevant now outside of just a couple of states. The vacuum is there for the left to articulate different progressive agendas of worker justice.
But there are problems as well. First, trade policy is boring. As the historian Richard White once wrote (and I'm paraphrasing here), the more boring the details you find, the closer you are to the centers of real power. Let's face, yelling "Solidarity" and marching is more fun.
Trade is hard to find a sexy slogan for, such as #MedicareForAll and #AbolishICE. Yet fixing the global trade regime is just as critical a justice issue for the poor, nationally and globally, as those issues.
But so long as we on the left don't take the real details of trade seriously and offer alternative agendas, we cede the whole field to capitalists and their lawyers and bought politicians. So this is really important!
Now, it's not as if there aren't people working on global trade. The most important shout-out has to be to United Students Against Sweatshops, but their heyday was 20 years ago now and the energy of the left hasn't been there to support that mission since 9/11.
Moreover, USAS never had the power to really force companies to change. Monitoring organizations unconnected to real life consequences for companies can only do so much. Hoping companies do the right thing is laughable. You have to have real legal consequences for killing workers
The left cannot continue to cede the field on trade policy to corporations. Nor can it embrace tired old protectionist policies. Instead, the left must understand that there is no national solution to global trade.
Better lives for Americans cannot be won by demonizing Chinese workers for “stealing our jobs.” Any trade solution from the left must embrace globally inclusive values.
Moreover, it must use a strategy that seeks to roll back the fundamental problem the United States and the rest of the global working-class face: that corporations have created international legal systems to govern trade while citizens remain constrained by national law.
So what should we on the left be advocating to instead of protectionism? What can we do to tame companies while advancing values of justice and empowering workers globally? These next set of tweets will lay out my ideas.
First, U.S. law can be used to hold corporations accountable for actions they commit or are committed in their supply chain. Other nations can do the same. We simply have to hold our own companies accountable for how their products are made.
So my top solution is what I call the Corporate Accountability Act, which would bind U.S. companies, wherever they operate, to a set of labor and environmental standards, and which would allow impacted parties to sue for damages in U.S. courts. And that includes supply chains.
The Corporate Accountability Act should include a global minimum wage; a ban on known toxins; a ban on sexual harassment and forced pregnancy tests for women workers; workplace safety standards; provisions against wage theft; and a guarantee of the right to form a union.
These provisions are based largely upon International Labour Organization conventions, many of which the United States has never ratified, but which would provide legitimacy to progressive demands.
For such a law to work, it would require a complex set of mechanisms, but it is not impossible. Because it would allow affected people access to U.S. courts, the problem of recalcitrant global governments could be avoided.
The Cambodian government may support the exploitation of its workers, but U.S. consumers do not have to and can work with apparel workers to file suits.
The United States has every right to set standards of production upon its imports and has done so throughout its history, so there is legal precedent.
Much of the modern economy, pioneered by Walmart, is reliant upon increasingly complex supply chains that push production costs down onto subcontractors, giving them incentive to wring every cent of profit out of workers and protecting large corporations from responsibility.
This must end. Companies claim they cannot patrol their supply chains but this is a choice. They do a great job of controlling for cost and quality, yet when it comes to labor standards, they plead ignorance.
If a Walmart supplier refuses to pay its workers the minimum wage, then Walmart is responsible for that by choosing that contractor. Holding Walmart financially accountable for its supply chains through U.S. courts would alone raise global workplace standard
The second major strategy is to demand that trade agreements have truly enforceable labor and environmental standards that open up ISDS and other international courts to workers and citizens.
This uses the tools of neoliberal globalization against neoliberalism’s chief beneficiaries. In other words, the aim should not be to reject trade agreements, but to gain control over them, creating a legal regime that is as international as corporate trade law.
There is nothing inherently wrong with an international legal system, but it is completely unacceptable that corporations can use it to supersede national laws meant to protect citizens, and thus undermine democratic control.
Trade agreements must be negotiated with international standards that are not simply side agreements with corporate self-monitoring, which never works. The enforcement mechanisms for labor and environmental standards must be as serious as any other part of the treaty.
Now, I'm not saying any of this is easy. All the obvious caveats apply--corporate control over politics, right-wing courts, etc. But we are in a moment where leftist ideas unthinkable a year ago are now going to be central to winning the Democratic primary in 2020.
In November 2016, who could have imagined a federal job guarantee and #AbolishICE as something that Democrats who want to win the nomination would be endorsing? Yet here we are. Now is the time to get a leftist trade platform on the agenda!!!
Moreover, we have to give our pro-labor politicians like Bernie and Sherrod and Jan Schakowsky an alternative to protectionism. Right now, all they are hearing on these issues are from unions who want dead-end protectionism. If we can offer real alternatives, we can fight that.
Now, I am not saying that all my ideas are the best. Nitpick them at your pleasure. But we aren't even having the conversation on what a left globalism looks like around trade. I want to start that conversation. Because it is critical, as more Bangaldeshi workers will die.
All I can hope here is to move that conversation forward. I hope my @BostonReview essay does that. What do you think a leftist version of global trade should look like? What should we do?
I will go ahead and mention that my first book explored the horrible impact of unfettered capital mobility on the global working class and global environment. I started laying out the ideas for solutions here too. In case anyone is interested.…
The last thing I will say is that while this might seem impossible and hopeless, it's certainly no more so than how workers felt 125 years ago facing corporate domination of America. Much of the 20th century story is how we tamed corporate power.
The late 20th century story and 21st century story is how corporations went global to avoid all responsibility to anyone. We can use the same regulatory model to tame them again. It's not reinventing the wheel. It's about taking power and then using it to fight for global justice

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More from @ErikLoomis

Oct 6, 2018
The other thing to note about where the left finds itself vis-a-vis the worst Democrats like Manchin is that right-wingers have spent 50 years turning the Republican Party into what it is today. It will take the rest of our lives to turn this wreck of a nation around.
We have to play the very long game while also focusing on the short-term battles. We have to run as many Ocasio-Cortez-like candidates as possible when we can, replace a generation of lame Democrats, and organize to win in areas we haven't. That takes decades.
That means winning the House and Senate in November, the White House in 2020, destroying the Republican Party, primarying bad Dems when we can, organizing in the field around non-electoral issues, and keeping the structure of the nation's government in mind always.
Read 4 tweets
Oct 6, 2018
The Idaho Republican Party is literally trolling Idaho reporters because this is all the Idaho Republican Party stands for. Well, that and racism.
.@IdahoGOP finds out about Native and other downwinder people in Idaho dying from radiation poisoning from nuclear blasts 50 years ago and finds it to be an ideal policy for the future.
.@IdahoGOP actively wishes for a return of the white supremacists in northern Idaho so they can find some good candidates to run on its White Power platform.
Read 7 tweets
Oct 4, 2018
This Day in Labor History: October 4, 1978. Nine Ellis Prison inmates in east Texas went on strike against the unpaid labor they had to do every day, refusing to pick cotton in hard labor. Let's talk about how prison labor was and remains a huge problem in this country.
Prisoners at Ellis Prison, located twelve miles north of Huntsville, were expected to pick between 200 and 300 pounds of cotton a day. The fields were racially segregated, with black, white, and Mexican-American work crews.
Like the stereotype of an antebellum cotton plantation, a prison guard, called by the inmates the “cap’ain.” rode a horse through the fields armed with a shotgun. The Texas prison system was modeled on slavery and had largely been since the period of slavery.
Read 37 tweets
Oct 2, 2018
There's not much that's cooler than book release day. Amazingly, this book, which was much harder for me to write than anticipated, is actually released. And more amazing, people seem to like it.…
I am celebrating in the most glamorous way possible--spending the day preparing for tomorrow and Friday's classes. But let me take a quick break from that for a few words on what this book means to me and I hope can mean to you.
I initially started working on this in 2015, so well before the tragedy of 2016. What that election did, with the rise of fascism in this nation under Trump, is underscore how important it was for a hard look at workers' struggles when the media was distorting who workers are.
Read 28 tweets
Oct 1, 2018
This Day in Labor History: October 1, 1910: Leaders of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers blow up the Los Angeles Times building because it is so anti-union. Let's talk about this strange moment in the American labor movement.
In the early 20th century, Los Angeles was arguably America’s most conservative city. An hotbed of anti-union extremism, organized labor was almost entirely nonexistent. No one did more to push this policy than Harrison Gray Otis.
In 1896, Otis took over the city’s Merchants Association and turned it to an virulently anti-union organization. Using his powerful newspaper as a mouthpiece for antiunionism, Otis spent the next two decades as the nation’s most important anti-union advocate.
Read 36 tweets
Sep 29, 2018
This Day in Labor History: September 29, 1917. The Army sends Colonel Brice Disque to the Northwest to solve the labor problem in the forests. Let's talk about the government intervened in this labor conflict to crush the IWW during World War I.
Disque was a military officer who enlisted in 1899, playing a role in capturing Filipino freedom fighter Emilio Aguinaldo. He retired from the military in 1916 to take a position as warden of the Michigan State Penitentiary but reenlisted when the nation entered World War I.
Pershing gave Disque the authority to recruit a division of soldiers to log spruce for the military. This was necessary because conditions in the logging camps around the Northwest were so horrendous.
Read 55 tweets

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