DISCLAIMER: the author is a member of the Labor party, convenor of ANU Labor Left and an employee of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
The announcement of the renewed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP-11) purports to usher in a brand-new era of globalisation and free trade, aiming to promote Australia’s status in the region and strengthen our geopolitical influence – or so we are led to believe.
In fact, the truth of the TPP-11 for the average Australian is far bleaker. The reality is, this deal will provide trade protection for large multinationals and safeguard the interests of billionaires, whilst leaving Australian workers in the lurch. This deal carves a new precedent for free trade, whilst leaving healthcare, the environment and labour laws in tatters.
The TPP-11 – which recently passed through the Lower House – is set to create a slew of anti-worker laws, deregulating the labour market by removing the need for labour-market testing for various countries. This means that employers will no longer be required to test the Australian labour market for available employees before hiring migrant workers, who are often employed at lower pay rates and with less entitlements. This will result in many Australians who are willing and able to work being excluded from employment, whilst vulnerable migrant workers will be open to continuous exploitation in the temporary labour market.
The deal also creates ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ clauses, which essentially allow a foreign investor to sue the Australian government for creating laws which the investor claims to have an impact on their profit margins. Not only does this decision have huge impacts on Australian sovereignty, it also puts laws pertaining to the environment, health, and labour standards (that are in the public interest) under threat. This is a deal that puts the interests of working Australians far below the profit margins of big businesses and multinationals.
From the deal’s inception, the Australian trade union movement has stood in staunch opposition to the TPP. Whilst unions around Australia are calling the proposed agreement a “disaster for workers”, the federal Labor party – the political wing of the Union movement – has failed to show any solidarity to working Australians. Instead, the federal ALP caucus has moved to support the trade deal, betraying workers around Australia and undermining decades of tireless work and activism by trade unionists. This disloyalty not only damages the ALP’s relationship with affiliate unions, but inherently contravenes their own national platform – a platform intending to put working people at the core of their political agenda.
As both a trade unionist and a member of the Labor party, this move towards neoliberalism and away from the party’s primary socialist agenda is extremely disheartening. To see a political party built by unionists who wanted a better deal for working people utterly betray and repudiate the core principles of that party is unacceptable. The hard work of unions to eliminate wealth inequality, stop wage theft and the exploitation of workers, prevent multinational tax evasion, secure renewable energy schemes and provide a strong welfare system could all be seriously undermined with the ratification of this deal.
Whilst several members of Labor’s Left faction remain strongly opposed to the TPP, this has not been enough to prevent the deal moving forward. The right faction – spearheaded by Labor’s trades spokesperson, Jason Clare – has remained steadfast in its commitment to bipartisan support for the TPP. This decision sees federal Labor turn its back on all it once stood for, including the millions of hard-working Australians who put their faith in the ALP.
The TPP represents everything the Labor party was built to oppose, and the ratification of this deal fundamentally undermines the core principles of the ALP. If the Labor Party ever wants to secure government, it must do so on the values it was founded on. Labor cannot be a party that bends to the whims of capitalist demand, and it cannot be a party that abandons its values for the sake of votes. As Jim Cairns once said, “The purpose of Labor is not to make governments, but to make better social conditions… Labor will long be prepared to remain in opposition rather than give up its policy by identifying with the parties of big business and other conservative organisations.”
For Labor to truly become a party that represents the many rather than the few, it must remain true to its core values of standing up for working people. A good place to start is tearing up the TPP and blocking its passage through the Senate.