Wednesday, March 17, 2004


...because if the leader of the free world won't do it, someone has to. Yesterday, the AFL-CIO filed an unfair restraint of trade petition with the USTR against China for its egregious human and labor rights violations.

The economic relationship between China and the United States--and the repression on which it rests--has come to define the global economy. Just these two countries accounted for some 40 percent of the growth in world economic output in the past 5 years (according to the IMF World Economic Outlook). As Rich Trumka put it, "China has emerged as a chief violator of workers’ rights, and its workforce is so large and its labor repression so comprehensive, that it is dragging down standards for the entire world."

The petition is a truly momentous occassion; the first time ever that anyone has tried to invoke US trade laws in defense of human rights. In 1988, Congress amended US trade laws to specify that persistent violations of internationally recognized workers’ rights – including freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, prohibitions on forced and child labor, and standards for minimum wages, hours and occupational safety and health – constitute an “unreasonable” practice that is actionable under Section 301.

The Financial Times reports on the petition this morning while Harold Meyerson hones the message:

Critics will doubtless call the AFL-CIO "protectionist" for filing this petition. And if it's protectionist to demand that millions of Chinese women have the right to leave their jobs and apply for better ones, or to unionize their workplace or be allowed at least one day off a year, if it's protectionist to demand that U.S. workers not lose their jobs because they cannot work as cheaply as these repressed Chinese workers, then the AFL-CIO should absolutely plead guilty. What I'd like to hear from the critics -- and from George W. Bush -- is why they're protecting the deal between U.S. corporations and China's neo-Stalinist state to extract profits for them both at the expense of tens of millions of desperate young women.


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