The Next Battle: MAI

The good news is that the move to stop "Fast Track" for international freebooters in the House of Representatives has gotten the attention of the Washington elites. The bad news is that the corporate lobby not only will make another run at the House to pass Fast Track this spring, but it will seek to belittle us, divert our attention and neutralize our leaders before the next big battle, over the Multilateral Agreement on Investments.

Already we are being dismissed by the State Department as "the flat earth and black helicopter crowd." The government has deposed Teamsters President Ron Carey and is gunning for AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Secretary Richard Trumka, who helped mobilize the anti-Fast Track insurgency; and Congress is aiming to defund unions and other progressive groups that might organize a populist movement.

What is at stake with MAI? Ronnie Dugger, co-chair of the Alliance for Democracy, which has made fighting the treaty its top priority, raised the alarm at a public forum in Austin on December 3: "This secretly concocted MAI treaty is all-out war by the transnational corporations on democracy itself. It is the second Cold War."

The treaty would protect the rights of international investors, but it also would make it easier to shift production to low-wage countries, without setting standards for fair treatment of employees, environmental protection or anti-competitive practices. It would accelerate the "race to the bottom," as nations would be pressured to lower living standards and weaken environmental safeguards in order to attract capital.

Most importantly, the treaty would allow corporations to sue governments if they believe a national, state or local law violates the MAI or poses a barrier to investment. And the corporations could bypass regular U.S. courts and take their complaints to international tribunals or arbitration according to rules set by the International Chamber of Commerce.

"We should never give up our right to pass national laws, state laws or local laws in our own interest, but if and when this treaty is adopted, that is exactly what we shall be doing," Dugger said. "GATT, NAFTA, the World Trade Organization [are] steps along the road. MAI is the shoe dropping."

Over the past two years the treaty has been drawn up secretly in the basement of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group that represents 27 of the richest nations and two Third World nations -- South Korea and Mexico. Yet it was only in January 1997, when a preliminary draft of the document was leaked to the Third World Network, that MAI became semi-public.

I say semi-public because although it got some notice in publications such as The Nation, in these pages and on the Internet, it had received scant mention in the corporate-controlled big-city dailies through November. It was ignored during the debate on what sort of trade agreements might get "Fast Track" treatment by Congress.

After the Fast Track retreat from the House, Peter Beinart analyzed MAI in the December 15 New Republic as "The Next NAFTA" and R.C. Longworth wrote of MAI in the Chicago Tribune of December 4.

Beinart noted that the story has gone "wholly unnoticed in the elite press." Longworth also noted the lack of attention it has received, and observed, "This obscurity seems deliberate." He noted that the Clinton Administration has done nothing to promote public interest.

Apparently, if they didn't issue a press release, neither the New York Times, the Washington Post nor the Los Angeles Times, much less the network news, were interested. We really hate to sound like conspiracy theorists, but there is very little in the conduct and reporting of these treaty negotiations to inspire confidence that U.S. trade officials or media moguls are acting in the best interests of the American people.

For more information on MAI, as well as a draft of the treaty, see the Public Citizen web site at [www.citizen.org] or contact the Preamble Center for Public Policy, 1737 21st St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009; phone 202-265-3263. For the text of Dugger's remarks, see the Progressive Populist web site at [www.eden.com/~reporter]

AS FOR THE BACKLASH to the wreck of Fast Track, we don't think it is too much to say the government is retaliating against unions for the more aggressive advocacy of working people's issues. Republicans are sponsoring legislation in Congress and in the states to require unions to get written approval from individual members every year before that member's dues could be used for political purposes.

The disqualification of Ron Carey as Teamsters president for alleged fundraising improprieties would be easier to take if the government had pursued his rival, James Hoffa Jr., with equal vigor. But after a probe of Hoffa's fundraising was ordered, investigators claimed they were running out of money and would have to shut down the office. Hoffa, who is closely aligned with the union's corrupt old guard, has shown no signs that he would buck the corporate bosses the way Carey has.

THE SENATE VOTED 69-31 on November 4 to cut off debate on S. 1269, the Fast Track legislation. That was the record vote that showed a solid two-thirds support for the corporate lobby. After the President was unable to round up enough Democratic votes to pass the bill in the House, the corporate lobby at least was consoled that it could submit trade agreements to the Senate as treaties and bypass the House.

Voters need to keep up the pressure on their House members, since the corporate lobby is pushing for another vote on Fast Track this spring. But also put the pressure on senators. First thank the 31 senators who voted against Fast Track; make sure they keep standing up for fair labor and health standards; and make darn sure they oppose MAI.

Then let those 69 who went along with Fast Track know that we are watching them. Urge them to rethink their position. Those marked with a "98" are up for re-election next year; put their feet to the fire; this is the best time to do it. If we turn three senators who voted for Fast Track the first time (21 are up for election) and hold the 31 senators, then there is hope for killing MAI and other ill-conceived trade giveaways.

Voting in favor of Fast Track were:

Abraham, R-Mich; Akaka, D-Hawaii; Allard, R-Colo.; Ashcroft, R-Mo.; Baucus, D-Mont.; Bennett, R-Utah 98; Biden, D-Del.; Bingaman, D-N.M.; Bond, R-Mo. 98; Breaux, D-La. 98; Brownback, R-Kan.; Bryan, D-Nev.; Bumpers, D-Ark. 98; Chafee, R-R.I.; Cleland, D-Ga.; Coats, R-Ind. 98; Cochran, R-Miss.; Collins, R-Maine; Coverdell, R-Ga. 98; Craig, R-Idaho; D'Amato, R-N.Y. 98; Daschle, D-S.D. 98; DeWine, R-Ohio; Dodd, D-Conn. 98; Domenici, R-N.M.; Frist, R-Tenn.; Glenn, D-Ohio 98; Gorton, R-Wash.; Graham, D-Fla. 98; Gramm, R-Texas; Grams, R-Minn.; Grassley, R-Iowa 98; Gregg, R-N.H. 98; Hagel, R-Neb.; Hatch, R-Utah; Helms, R-N.C.; Hutchinson, R-Ark.; Hutchison, R-Texas; Inouye, D-Hawaii 98; Jeffords, R-Vt.; Johnson, D-S.D.; Kempthorne, R-Idaho 98; Kerrey, D-Neb.; Kerry, D-Mass.; Kohl, D-Wisc.; Kyl, R-Ariz.; Landrieu, D-La.; Lautenberg, D-N.J.; Leahy, D-Vt. 98; Lieberman, D-Conn.; Lott, R-Miss.; Lugar, R-Ind.; Mack, R-Fla.; McCain, R-Ariz. 98; McConnell, R-Ky.; Moynihan, D-N.Y.; Murkowski, R-Alaska 98; Murray, D-Wash. 98; Nickles, R-Okla. 98; Robb, D-Va.; Roberts, R-Kan.; Rockefeller, D-W.V.; Roth, R-Del.; Sessions, R-Ala.; Smith, R-Ore.; Thomas, R-Wyo.; Thompson, R-Tenn.; Warner, R-Va.; Wyden, D-Ore. 98

Voting against Fast Track were:

Boxer, D-Calif 98; Burns, R-Mont.; Byrd, D-W.V.; Campbell, R-Colo 98; Conrad, D-N.D.; Dorgan, D-N.D. 98; Durbin, D-Ill.; Enzi, R-Wyo.; Faircloth, R-N.C. 98; Feingold, D-Wisc. 98; Feinstein, D-Calif.; Ford, D-Ky 98; Harkin, D-Ia.; Hollings, D-S.C. 98; Inhofe, R-Okla.; Kennedy, D-Mass.; Levin, D-Mich.; Mikulski, D-Md. 98; Moseley-Braun, D-Ill. 98; Reed, D-R.I.; Reid, D-Nev. 98; Santorum, R-Pa.; Sarbanes, D-Md.; Shelby, R-Ala. 98; Smith, R-NH; Snowe, R-Maine; Specter, R-Pa. 98; Stevens, R-Alaska; Thurmond, R-S.C.; Torricelli, D-N.J.; Wellstone, D-Minn.

Call your senator toll-free 1-800-522-6721 or write c/o The Senate, Washington, D.C. 20515.

-- Jim Cullen

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