Yves here. This post makes an important point: neoliberals often like to depict America as having no choice but to participate in a race to the bottom in worker wages “because markets,” as Lambert likes to say. But in fact, as Dan Fejes points out, America is conveniently playing a leading role in the erosion of wage and environmental protections relative to key advanced economy (and in the case of Mexico, not so advanced) trading partners.
By Dan Fejes, who lives in northeast Ohio. Cross posted from Pruning Shears
One of the more memorable turns of phrase I’ve heard in the past few years came during the effort to unionize an Ikea plant in Virginia. In the same way that Mexico became an attractive location for American capitalists because of lower wages and less stringent environmental standards, some European employers began finding America more to their liking. Or, put more colorfully:
During its successful campaign to organize the Danville workers, the International Association of Machinists (IAM), through its Machinists News Network, produced a web video called “Same Rules, Same Respect.” It charged that “when on American soil, IKEA is playing by a very different set of rules than when at home.” In the video, IAM Woodworking Division director Bill Street says, “We’ve become Sweden’s Mexico.”
That isn’t Europe’s approach across the board, of course; heaven knows Volkswagen did its best to give its American workers more of a voice. But there has definitely been a willingness for other Western nations to take advantage of America’s willingness to put itself at risk or a disadvantage. This has been especially pronounced with fossil fuels.
For instance, Canada has been at best ambivalent about building pipelines for its Alberta tar sands. On the one hand, its political and media elite is not only firmly in favor but vigorously lobbying for them. On the other, the combination of grassroots activism and court challenges has made building them in-country dicey. So it looks like Ottawa might just decide it’s easier to build what Charles Pierce called a death-funnel down the spine of the United States. Since Keystone has the enthusiastic support of climate science-denying cretins in both the House and Senate, it just might succeed.
(Post intermission #1: Canadians’ flattering image of themselves as unfailingly reticent and polite is wearing a bit thin lately. The actions above are not those of a reserved and self-effacing people but an aggrandized and obnoxious one. Please own your new identity and stop insulting our intelligence, thanks.)
A similar dynamic is playing out with fracking. It turns out there is a new trade agreement under negotiation called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), not to be confused with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) except to the extent that both are awful. The TTIP would, among other things, greatly increase American energy exports to the European Union. Since Europe is still acting like Hamlet on fracking, the effect is basically this: Let America bear all the hazard with unconventional extraction and let EU countries get the benefit. And since fracking enjoys roughly the same political constituency as Keystone, there are plenty of takers in Washington.
(Post intermission #2: These international pacts have gone from going from “free trade agreements” to “partnerships.” Maybe that’s because free trade agreements now have such a foul odor, but in any event the change of nomenclature is useful. Monstrosities like TTIP and TPP have less to do with trade than with forcing all participants to abide by individual signatories’ worst practices.)
Incidentally, the push to get Europe off of Russia’s energy supply line is also leading to some fairly scary developments in Ukraine. While it would be lovely to think Hunter Biden’s recent employment with a Ukrainian gas giant is a noble attempt to beat back creeping isolationism in the States, there is unfortunately a more plausible and disturbing explanation.
Since neither Keystone XL nor fracking are long term job creators, it isn’t even like the US is selling out on these issues. “Selling” would imply some kind of profit. American workers will have virtually nothing to show for either, and the economy will be similarly unmoved. Extraction industry executives will make out like bandits, and that’s about it.
Anyway, let me conclude by being very clear on something: The point here is not to demonize Europe or Canada. Neither Keystone nor TTIP will happen without the substantial, ongoing support of America’s political system. No one is pulling a fast one on us here. We know exactly what’s happening. But here’s what I find curious: There are a whole lot of “my country right or wrong” types who bristle with indignation if they believe America is being taken advantage of – yet they have been silent on both of these issues. Apparently it’s no longer a stain on the national honor to play us for a fool. I’ve never been a fan of that antediluvian notion, but it sure picked a bad time to fall by the wayside.