Home > Economics, Politics > What Worker Rights Can Do

What Worker Rights Can Do

Thomas Geoghegan writes in American Prospect:

Why put worker rights in trade bills? At first glance they seem toothless. In the past, when these rights made it into trade bills, the signing countries just had to “strive to ensure” the rights. Now congressional Democrats are crafting a new, tougher trade bill for Panama and Peru with language that would flat-out ensure work-er rights.

Still, as a labor lawyer, I have my doubts. In 1995 when I helped bring a workers’ case against the Mexican government under NAFTA, not a darned thing happened. Why do free traders go into fits over worker rights? So far as I can tell, the rights have yet to stop a thimble’s worth of trade. Indeed, it’s possible that the tougher the sanctions for these rights, the less likely it is that the U.S. will ever apply them. Government is, well, government. It likes the quiet life.

Besides, it seems unlikely the U.S. will complain about violations of worker rights in foreign countries when some of our rivals could make the same complaints about us. I often wonder, why they don’t. Maybe these more unionized countries, like Germany, figure our lower labor standards in some way hold us back from competing as effectively in higher-wage, higher-skilled types of industries.

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Categories: Economics, Politics
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