In the Shadow of Impeachment, Neoliberal Democrats Hand Trump a Victory With USMCA (“NAFTA 2.0”)

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at DownWithTyranny!

Donald Trump discussing the new NAFTA trade deal (source)

If Trump gets re-elected, if Big Tech continues to evade accountability, if imperial adventures continue abroad, if migrant farmworkers cannot feed their families, you can trace it back to this Tuesday, and the actions a House Speaker took while nobody was paying attention.
—David Dayen, The American Prospect (emphasis added)

As the Impeachment Drama lumbers to a 2020 conclusion, morphing into its variant selves and sucking life from every other story the media most folks attend to are inclined to tell, unwatched things are happening in its shadow.

Nancy Pelosi has used end-of-year urgency and the impeachment distraction to pass four pieces of major legislation, three of which will become law, all on the same day.

NAFTA 2.0 is one of them. Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, agreed under pressure to approve Pelosi’s House version of NAFTA 2.0, rebranded “USMCA,” or United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, for obvious reasons. This is a deal he should never have made, yet he made it.

Consider who Trumka is — a bridge between the neoliberal mainstream of the Democratic Party and the (presumably further left) labor movement that supports and sustains it. In other words, he’s the person who blesses neoliberal policies as “progressive” (thus retaining mainstream Democratic Party approval) while modifying those policies in the margins to be less terrible (thus retaining the approval of progressives, who want to think of him as opposed to neoliberalist policies).

He’s the person, in other words, who makes the labor movement look less like a puppy of the Democratic Party establishment to progressives, while keeping the labor movement (and himself) firmly in the Party establishment tent. The drama of “Will Trumka approve USMCA?” we recently witnessed exemplified this role.

To anyone with two cells in their brain, it was obvious as soon as the question was asked that he would approve USMCA. The stage was set; his arrival on it announced; the spotlight was ready and bright. Would he really walk onto this stage at this late date and say no to Party leaders? Of course not.

Would he have been able to stay in his lofty perch if he had? His job was to bless the cake after it had been baked, not to unbake it.

What pressure was Trumka under? First, obviously, from the Democratic Party and its billionaire donors, to give them what they and the Republicans — and Donald Trump — all wanted, a neoliberal-lite trade deal that could become in Nancy Pelosi’s words “a template for future trade agreements … a good template.”

Second, Trumka was under pressure from his union base itself (so say some, including David Dayen in the piece linked below), many of whom are Trump supporters, to give President Trump a signature first-term victory, just in time for the start of his second-term campaign.

Do I believe this latter explanation? No, but I believe Trumka believes it. And if indeed it is true that Trumka has to serve Trump, at least in part, in order to serve his own base, it’s further evidence of the careerism of his actions, in contrast to behavior from actual labor-movement principles.

Here’s Dayen on this sordid tale (emphasis added):

Pelosi got AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka to sign off on the U.S.–Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), handing Trump a political victory on one of his signature issues. Predictably, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham immediately gushed, calling USMCA “the biggest and best trade agreement in the history of the world.”

It’s, um, not that. Economically, USMCA is a nothingburger; even the most rose-colored analysis with doubtful assumptions built in shows GDP growth of only 0.06 percent per year. There’s one good provision: the elimination of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision that allowed corporations to sue governments in secret tribunals over trade violations. There’s one bad provision: the extension of legal immunity for tech platforms over user-generated content, put into a trade deal for the first time. This will make the immunity shield, codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, much harder to alter in the future. Pelosi has called this deal a “template” for future agreements, though trade reformers have called it a bare minimum floor.

Pelosi tried to remove the immunity shield, but abandoned the request. She did succeed in removing a provision for Big Pharmathat extended exclusivity periods for biologics. The Sierra Club has termed the deal an “environmental failure” that will not have binding standards on clean air and water or climate goals. But the threshold question on the USMCA was always going to be labor enforcement: would the labor laws imposed on Mexico hold, improving their lot while giving U.S. manufacturing workers a chance to compete? There was also the open question of why the U.S. would reward Mexico with a trade deal update when trade unionists in the country continue to be kidnapped and killed.

In his statement, Trumka lauds the labor enforcement, noting provisions that make it easier to prove violations (including violence against workers), rules of evidence for disputes, and inspections of Mexican facilities, a key win. But I’ve been told that the AFL-CIO did not see the details of the text before signing off, which is unforgivable, especially on trade where details matter. There was no vote by union leaders, just a briefing from the AFL-CIO.

At least one union, the Machinists, remains opposed, and others were noncommittal until they see text. The Economic Policy Institute, which is strongly tied to labor, called the agreement “weak tea at best,” a tiny advance on the status quo that will not reverse decades of outsourcing of U.S. jobs.

Meanwhile, back at the Trump re-election ranch:

While the economics are negligible (and potentially harmful on tech policy), on the politics activists are losing their mind at the prospect of a Trump signing ceremony, with labor by his side, on a deal that he will construe as keeping promises to Midwest voters. “Any corporate Democrat who pushed to get this agreement passed that thinks Donald Trump is going to share the credit for those improvements is dangerously gullible,” said Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America, in a statement. Only a small handful of Democratic centrists were pushing for a USMCA vote, based mostly on the idea that they had to “do something” to show that they could get things done in Congress. Now they’ve got it, and they’ll have to live with the consequences.

I guess helping re-elect the “most dangerous president ever” pales in comparison to passing bipartisan-approved neoliberal trade deals.

One of Richard Trumka’s jobs, if he wants to stay employed, is to make sure neoliberal Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi are happy and well served while simultaneously keeping progressives thinking that Big Labor is still in their corner even on issues the donor class most cares about.

At that he does very well, and did so here.

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  1. Brooklin Bridge

    Boris Johnson, Tories, NAFTA 2.0, NLRB delivers victory to McDonnalds, as Lambert might say, “Everything’s going according to plan.”

    Two disjoint thoughts; Pelosi was never fooled by the impeachment bubble (perhaps Russia-gate). In handing a victory, possibly an election, to Trump with USMCA, it strongly suggests/confirms to me that impeachment has always been little more than red meat to obscure the usual shenanigans taking place under our noses such as trade deals over-riding laws made by government, and the remarkable ongoing efforts to thwart the Sanders campaign or more generally the democratic process.

    Second disjoint thought is that regardless of their value, for me at least, particularly during the Brexit tragedy, acronyms are the bosom friend of opacity.

    1. 1 Kings

      Amen and Amen. Per usual, the left-hand Dems give away store while right’hand R pubs distract. Or vice-virsa.

    2. Barry Fay

      Nice to see someone else calling out the absurd use of acronyms! They only serve to give a kind of phony intellectual credence to commentors with small egos. And, together with all the typos from people who obviously do not re-read their posts before “sending”, truly diminish the comment section.

    3. ewmayer

      Not to detract from a well-deserved ragging-on-the-swamp, but USMCA is actually an initialism, not an acronym. It’s only an acronym if it’s usable as an actual word, e.g. laser, radar. Nafta qualifies because it’s pronounceable as a word and used so, by alas, ‘USCMA’ does not roll off the tongue with wordlike ease, unless one is used to glibly spouting Welsh place names and vowel-less eastern European constructions. :)

      Maybe we can petition the parties involved to re-order things as USCAM, that would yield a proper acronym, and an accurately descriptive one at that.

  2. lyman alpha blob

    …the extension of legal immunity for tech platforms over user-generated content…

    Would this also cover ads? Because if it does, then the Russia nonsense is even more useless than my cynical self had previously thought.

    And does content include items offered for sale? If it does, you’d think WalMart would be fairly upset that it can’t also sell popular illegal items.

    This was a chance for the Democrat party to show it really opposed Trump. Instead they proved what we already know – they just want to get rid of him so their faction can take credit for keeping their corporate masters happy.

  3. Kevin McCormick

    In handing a victory, possibly an election, to Trump with USMCA, it strongly suggests/confirms to me that impeachment has always been little more than red meat to obscure the usual shenanigans taking place under our noses such as trade deals over-riding laws made by government, and the remarkable ongoing efforts to thwart the Sanders campaign or more generally the democratic process.

    Add this to Australian politics and the drought + bushfire situation there, Brazil, the Bolivian coup, Venezuela siege, etc. Yes, if not everything, at least most things, are going according to plan.

  4. NoBrick

    When I was back there in grade school. There were teachers there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the power lords with prayers (“takes”).

    **…did not see the details of the text before signing off…**

    FWIW, Back in the ’70s, “my” Union Rep. broke it down for me:
    It doesn’t matter WHAT you think the wording (text) means, or HOW “it” should be applied.
    You are not in charge. Your “take” on the matters has nothing to do with “who” cuts the checks. Until YOU cut the checks, wait on the bunny trail for Peter cotton tail, or whatever
    fantasy gets you through the daze…

    Santa is coming to town…

  5. inode_buddha

    Mean while, the local bird cage liner ( is hailing this as a good thing, because Jawbs. Of course, I don’t read them anymore, because I notice that 90% of their bylines and articles are straight from the NY Times.

  6. Ashburn

    Even more egregious than this deal is the House approval of Trump’s “Space Force” under the $738 billion NDAA. This is a major victory for Trump and he will use it for maximum bragging rights to his base. In return, Democrats got a family leave benefit–just for federal workers–something that the rest of the country will certainly come to resent.

    Despite an accelerating climate crisis, rising inequality, a broken healthcare system, and new fresh evidence that we’ve been lied to about the war in Afghanistan since the beginning, the Democrats agreed to give “the most dangerous president in history” new spending authorization to begin the militarization of space. Space being a near perfect vacuum, it will suck trillion$ into this newest feeding trough for the MIC.

  7. smoker

    With a now fully matured AI Technocracy, the Bipartisan, Fascist US government lets its populace know that they no longer need to even pretend like they represent them.

    Nancy Pelosi will be labeled the Shadow Government President

    Bill Gate’s and Microsoft will do what it’s always done, act like a creepy, Antisocial, yet Benevolent™, God

    Amazon will be the new Employer and Doctor

    Google will be an entire Alphabet of horrors.

    Palantir is Santa who sees you when your sleeping, and knows when your awake. PayPal, knows your bank account number and everything you spend, or receive, ‘money’ on/from.

    Jeff Bezos and Zuckerberg’s Faceboook will be the main news purveyors

    Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk will be filing Lawsuits over Mars MIneral Rights


    AI Technocracy Endnote: Bill gate’s Microsoft 2007’s Word™ Spellcheck™ did not know how to spell surveillance (e.g. NSA Microsoft Backdoors), though it did know how to correct someone who spelled Paypal, versus PayPal.

    I increasingly find myself wishing I had bought a gun – though I know why I never wanted one, for very valid reasons, I don’t like blood shed, mine or anyone else’s – so I could escape this increasing horror show before it gets as bad as it seems destined to.

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