I seconded a motion on world trade governance, the motion welcomed Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which legislates for a Keynesian reflation and implements a state aid scheme which may be in contradiction to the World Trade organisation rules. The motion calls for reforms that will make the WTO treaties ‘worker centred’, oddly quoting the US Trade Representative, a role not well known as being in favour of workers or consumer rights. In my speech, I called this out, by saying, “We should be careful of the initiatives of the US in the areas of international trade, its commitments to workers’ rights abroad are to say the least variable. “

Heather and I worked on a proposing speech, but Heather was asked to use a speech written by the person that proposed the motion at the branch. I think ours was better, and some of what was said I disagree with. It’s a bit too autarkic.

Below/Overleaf is are a link to the video, the words of the motion and my notes for the speech.

The Motion


Congress welcomes the change in international trades policy spelled out by Katherine Tai, United States Trade Representative in the Biden Administration when she said that We need a new world economic order, with a global trading system that is worker-centred.”

The Biden administration with subsidy regime to promote local US based supply chains in the Inflation Reduction Act has in effect bypassed the neoliberal inspired World Trade Organisation (WTO)which seeks to impose international trade rules that cannot be changed by democratically elected Parliaments.

The multi-lateral WTO rules have allowed a race to the bottom and social dumping. Multinational companies moved production from developed nations with strong employment laws and union organisation into thousands of free trade zones in developing countries where hundreds of million workers- mainly rural workers moving to cities – are employed. In these free trade zones trade union organisation is actually outlawed, workers are oppressed while the multinational companies are given all sorts of preferential access to services and are exempt from the national laws and taxation.

Some 20% of world trade originates from free trade zones. Household name companies manufacture nearly all the merchandise for sale in our UK high streets and online there. Any spontaneous industrial action that takes place on any free trade zones has been ruthlessly suppressed by lock outs with the contracts moved to another free trade zone.

Setting up the WTO rules was a severe political defeat for the labour movement in the neoliberal period- when globalised international trade rules were adopted that embedded pro employer protections in these treaties that are not susceptible to changes at national level after democratic elections.

The WTO regime which allowed the free trade zones to trade with the developed countries without challenges to this social dumping has had serious consequences for trade unions

organisation across the globe. It has led to the suppression of the growth in the tens of millions of new trade union members who would have been instrumental in promoting economic and social justice and prosperity in developing countries across the globe.

Congress sheds no tears for this erosion and undermining of the WTO. Congress calls for the TUC and the Labour Party to recognise this fundamental change in the international trade system.

An incoming Labour Government must resist attempts to turn the clock back to restore the multilateral WTO rules without fundamental changes to safeguard against social and environmental dumping.

Until such a multi-lateral trade regime is agreed trade policy for the UK should be determined by the UK Parliament and like the trade policy of the US it should be worker-centred.

Congress cautions the Labour Party to recognise that the EU is a very big supporter of the

WTO. Congress calls for an incoming Labour Government in its dealings with the EU to not tie the UK into supporting by the back door any restoration of the WTO rules without the workers centred changes in trade rules called for by the Biden Administration.

The CEC issued a qualification, as usual,

SUPPORT WITH QUALIFICATION: We welcome the Biden administration’s call for fundamental reform of the WTO, which Congress endorsed in 2021 through the Special Report on Procurement and Spending. We support the motion’s call for international law to address the problem of free trade zones. Our qualifications are to note that offshoring and free trade zones both pre-date the creation of the WTO. Prohibitions against union organisation are a matter of national law and vary by free trade zone. The creation of the WTO in 1995 mostly carried forward the provisions of the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which remains in force. Reform of the WTO as a body is unlikely to resolve the fundamental challenges raised by the motion. The motion also calls for trade policy for the UK should be determined by the UK Parliament. The Conservative Government has signed the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, which replicates several of the functions of the provisions of the WTO treaties. The Commission remains (as the motion notes) a committed enforcer of those rules. Unilateral departure from them risks the swift imposition of tariffs on the goods produced by our members in exporting industries. We call instead for the UK Government and Labour Party to work with the Biden administration to secure worker-centred reforms of the international trade treaties.

The notes from which I spoke follow, I know I ad-libbed in the sentence about the lethal repression in Columbia.

Congress, President, Dave Levy, London Region, seconding Motion  160 “A global trading system that is worker centred”.

The proposer has explained that the designed and effective role of the World Trade Organization is in regulating world trade in the interests of capital and contrary to the interests of workers and democracy.

The World Trade Organization unlike some trade agreements such as the EU’s single market, has no popular democratic oversight and globally most trade policy developments are the domain of governments and conducted in secret. This is certainly so in the UK.

There is no doubt that the WTO is part of the legal infrastructure which permits the offshoring of jobs to locations with poor employee protection laws and weak and often brutally supressed unions. This is also one of the reasons that international trade union solidarity is so important; their fight is our fight.

The outlawing of employment protection law, even when guaranteed by international treaty is being pursued by so called free trade zones, which are coming to the UK soon amd have already started in the North East. The evidence that these even meet the needs of their supporters is scant, and the evidence that they are a sink for crime significant, usually smuggling, but latterly corruption.

We should be careful of the initiatives of the US in the areas of international trade, its commitments to workers’ rights abroad is to say the least variable.

The need for workers rights to be at the centre of world trade governance is obvious and just.

I second, please support the motion.

This article was written or assembled on 11th June and backdated to ensure the reports from Congress, appear in the correct chronological order.

GMB ’23, Workers and the World Trade
Tagged on:                     

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: