On 24 July, more than 300 unionists and community members attended an enthusiastic rally outside the Labor Party National Conference in Melbourne to oppose the China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The rally was organised by a recently formed TPP – Unions and Community Roundtable Coalition and joined by several unions campaigning against the China Free Trade Agreement. The TPP Roundtable Coalition was formed at the ACTU National Triannual Conference on 26-28 May and brought together many unions and diverse community groups, including environmental organisations, GetUp and Choice.
The rally outside the ALP National Conference was chaired by Samantha Castro from Friends of the Earth, while the opening speaker was ACTU President Ged Kearney who called on the ALP to oppose the China Free Trade Agreement and the TPP that attack the rights of workers, local jobs and living standards of Australia’s working people.
Other speakers included Labor politician Kelvin Thompson, Dr. Deborah Gleeson from LaTrobe University School of Psychology and Public Health, CFMEU National Secretary Dave Noonan, Transport Workers’ Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon, GetUp Campaigns Co-ordinator Erin McCallum, Pat Ranald from AFTINET, AMWU National President Andrew Dettmer, Fran Murrell from MADGE and ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks. (see https://youtu.be/R6jpU9A6gDw )
Unions, including manufacturing workers (AMWU), construction union (CFMEU), transport (TWU), electrical (ETU), AWU and Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCFU) were particularly angry at clauses in the ChAFTA which allowed Chinese capitalists and corporations with investments in Australia above $150 million to bring in their own workers and employ them under low standards of pay and conditions, pushing aside Australian workers with the necessary skills. The Agreement does not include labour market and skills testing requirements. They had serious concerns that this imported source of cheap labour will not only take away badly needed jobs from local workers but will also be used to drive down the wages of Australian workers and introduce lower standards of skills, training and safety, that had been won in hard and long battles by Australia’s working class.
The unions condemned Trade Minister Andrew Robb’s hypocrisy in attempting to discredit unions’ opposition to ChAFTA as racist and xenophobic.
There were no approaches by the Chinese officials seeking consultation and discussion with the Australian union movement on any of the unions’ concerns about workers’ rights, jobs and living standards of Australia’s. Regrettably this is not the behaviour of a genuine socialist country in its relations with the working class of other countries. In contrast, US government officials have been tireless in their efforts to “discuss” with the Australian union movement and sell the “benefits” of the US imperialist driven Trans Pacific Partnership.
The combined unions and community rally on the TPP and ChAFTA called on the ALP to “stand with our unions and community and demand that the Abbott government immediately releases the text of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or withdraw from negotiations, Oppose Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in all trade agreements, and demand labour rights in the TPP and China-Australia Agreement.” The rally called on the ALP to “oppose and reject all trade agreements that undermine local jobs, includes ISDS and which fail to prioritise the environment, health, citizen and workers’ rights over the interests of corporations and foreign investors.”
Also included in the ChAFTA is an Investor State Dispute Settlement clause (ISDS) which allows Chinese corporations to sue the Australian government if it enforces laws or regulations which encroach on the Chinese corporation’s capacity to profit from its investment – for example, laws that protect the environment (mining), guarantee workers’ wages and conditions, or regulate food standards. ISDS is an imperialist tool trampling on the independence and self-determination of nations, and workers’ rights. It removes any restrictions and obstacles to the intensification of exploitation of workers and the environment.
The ChAFTA was signed off by Trade Minister Robb and the Chinese Commerce Minister on June 17, but has yet to be ratified by the Australian parliament. Speakers called on the Labor Party to join with the Greens and some independents to block the ChAFTA bill in the parliament.
The other focus of the rally was the TPP, which is in the final stages of negotiation with a meeting of trade ministers to be held in Hawaii on July 28-31. It too contains the sinister ISDS clause and is being pushed on 12 Pacific Rim countries by the US government on behalf of multinational corporations.
Union opposition to the TPP had already been escalating, following the passing of a strong resolution at the ACTU Congress in May – it called on the Australian government to release the secret text for public scrutiny or else withdraw from negotiations and it also opposed the inclusion of the ISDS clause. The resolution at the ACTU Congress arose from a unions and community fringe event on the implications of the TPP and which set up an ongoing Community and Unions Roundtable Coalition to carry forward the campaign.
The merging of the union campaign against ChAFTA and the Roundtable campaign against the TPP was a logical step and resulted in the combined rally outside the ALP National Conference. An important objective of the rally was to alert delegates at the ALP National Conference to the Abbott government’s selling out of national sovereignty and the dangerous impact these trade agreements will have on the Australian people.
These dangers were highlighted by the appearance of an impressive “Trojan Horse” contributed by Friends of the Earth. It was plastered with corporate logos and the grim warning “ISDS”.
It certainly exposed the real beneficiaries of the TPP and the economic and political domination of US imperialism.