As we’re watching Maquilapolis this week and thinking about the effects of globalization on the world’s workers, let’s also think about the current debate over fast-tracking the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, in the U.S., a multi-country trade and investement agreement.
In many cases, major news media like the BBC have focused primarily on the macro-level politics of the TPP, analyzing how the agreement might affect countries and their respective economies. Put simply, reporting has reinforced the idea that such an agreement has little to do with workers on the ground and more to do with international relationships between governments.
Many of these articles discuss “strengthening economies” and “creating jobs.” While such promises seem appealing on the surface, they often mask how globalization has, and continues, to harm workers, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Washington Post reporter Katrina vanden Heuvel explains how such an agreement will affect workers:
“Our global trade and tax policies have been and still are controlled by corporate and financial interests. They, not workers or consumers, write the rules…In theory at least, workers in both nations might benefit from larger markets and increased trade. But now a significant portion of our trade is intra-corporate trade, an exchange between one branch of a multinational and another. Multinationals have different interests than national companies. They profit even if U.S. workers suffer. Increasingly companies choose to report their profits or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards where the legal position of companies is the strongest. Companies like Wal-Mart set up global distribution systems designed to drive down wages here and abroad.”
This is a pattern we witness with the maquiladora workers in Mexico in the early 2000s, who worked for companies like Panasonic and Sanyo, corporations that benefited from an older trade agreement, the 1994 North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. NAFTA was also sold to American workers as a way to help the economy and create jobs. In reality, it has had the opposite effect.
The TPP has been privately negotiated by elite CEOs and bankers, and the terms (before information was leaked to Wikileaks) have been inaccessible to workers and voters – a good sign that the agreement is rigged in the favor of those with the greatest power and privilege. In short, Heuvel concludes, “The TPP is a classic expression of the way the rules are fixed to benefit the few and not the many.”
LABOR IS A WOMEN’S ISSUE TOO: ANTI-CAPITALIST FEMINISM
This might be a good place to revisit bell hooks’s definition of feminism, which emphasizes “a commitment to reorganizing U.S. society, so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires” (1981). If we follow hooks’s definition of feminism, a feminist critique of economic expansion and globalization must likewise be a critique of capitalism and profit-driven policies.