Miller: Colombia Trade Deal Fails to Promote American Jobs and Values

Oct 11, 2011 Issues: Labor

 

WASHINGTON – Below are the remarks of Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on the consideration of the proposed free trade agreements during a debate on the House floor this afternoon:

“One of our most important responsibilities as elected officials is to promote and protect American jobs and values. When it comes to trade, jobs and values go hand in hand. To promote American jobs, we must promote American values.

“We do this by ensuring that our workers are protected from unfair competition with countries that keep wages artificially low by repressing essential democratic rights: The right to speak out, the right to organize, and the right to bargain for a better life without fear of reprisals. 

“And so we now consider a trade agreement with Colombia.

“What do you get when you exercise your rights in Colombia today? You get death threats and death squads activities against you and your family. 

“Colombia is the most dangerous place on Earth for workers who dare exercise their rights. During the last Colombian president’s eight years in office, 570 union members were assassinated. To date, only 10 percent of the thousands of killings over the last 25 years have been resolved.

“The problems here are undeniable.

“So I appreciate that the U.S. and Colombia governments have finally brought labor rights into the equation. They have agreed to a Labor Action Plan, requiring Colombia to change some labor laws and commit more resources to fight violence and impunity. 

“But, that plan is fatally flawed. It only demands results on paper. It does not demand real change. Colombia could have a record year of assassinations and still meet the requirements of the plan. And sure enough, real change has yet to come to Colombia.

“Since President Santos took office last year, press reports indicate at least 38 trade unionists have been murdered—16 since the Labor Action Plan was announced.

“In mid-June of this year, I met a Port Workers Union leader from Colombia in my office about his concerns with this FTA. He told me that he was not provided protection, and that the abusive cooperative system was still in place despite commitments made by the Colombian government to remedy both. In July, I spoke directly to his concerns on the floor of this House.

“And two weeks later, this leader received death threats via text message.  The text said that “If you…continue to create problems and denounce things, you will die in a mortuary union...”

“It’s under these conditions that we are asked to approve this deal.

“If we approve this deal now, any incentive for Colombia to truly improve will vanish. Now is not the time to reward violence and impunity with the seal of approval from the United States.

“The deal with Colombia is neither fair nor free. Telling Colombian workers that, if they speak out for higher wages, they will die – that’s not freedom. Telling American workers to compete with that kind of repression – that’s not fair to our workers or our values.

“Stand for American values and reject the Colombia Free Trade agreement.”