Labour Side Accords: Trojan Horse for Unions

By Bickerton, Geoff | Canadian Dimension, March 2001 | Go to article overview
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Labour Side Accords: Trojan Horse for Unions


Bickerton, Geoff, Canadian Dimension


Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that Corporate America was rethinking its opposition to including labour and environmental accords as part of the myriad of new trade agreements now being negotiated on a hemispheric and global basis. Shortly afterwards, Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail echoed the same thoughts. Criticizing the NDP Members of Parliament for supporting the anti-FTAA protests in Quebec, Simpson argued that their energies would be better spent trying to build upon existing agreements and widen them to include measures governing labour standards and environmental issues.

There are many reasons why the establishment may now be ready to discuss the inclusion of "social clauses" or "workers' rights" clauses within the negotiations process of the trade agreements. Each of them should set off alarm bells for labour activists.

One of the objectives of appearing to address some of labour's key concerns would be to divide the resistance to globalization and the trade deals. The massive protests which have accompanied the major international meetings of the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and the OAS have clearly shaken business leaders and right wing politicians. The fact that the labour movement is an integral part of these demonstrations has not been lost on corporate leaders. Despite media efforts to marginalize the protests by focussing on isolated acts of property destruction the protests continue to draw large numbers of working-class people, many of whom are demonstrating for the first time in their lives. A significant involvement of labour leaders in the negotiations process would cause confusion and divisions, both within labour and between labour and its allies.

Another objective of involving labour leaders in the negotiations of labour side accords would be to further mystify what these agreements are about. These agreements are no longer about encouragement of trade. The elimination of trade barriers, to the extent they still exist, only serves to provide a political cover for a process designed to expand the areas reserved for capitalist investment and limit the powers of governments to intervene in the economy. Adding the negotiation of labour side accords within this process would only distract attention from the real substance of these negotiations.

The fact that business may be reversing its longstanding opposition to labour side accords may also reflect their understanding that, where they have been negotiated, such agreements have proven useless.

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