The People Versus the TPP

It’s not every U.S. presidential race that trade turns out to be a hot-button issue but there’s a brewing populist mood in the country and with it an intensifying scrutiny of free trade agreements and how they have detrimentally affected the American worker. This antipathy has made itself felt on the campaign trail and in Washington D.C as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and most of Congress are all opposing the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement—basically NAFTA for East Asia. The election-year posturing may prevent President Obama from getting the TPP passed before he leaves office but ultimately his economic centerpiece will be approved since, as Mark Weisbrot writes, it “has the most broad and fervid support imaginable among this country’s most powerful corporate and “national security” elite.”

Most of the opposition already supports the TPP but won’t feel comfortable voting in favor of the pact until a few tweaks are made to it. As for those politicos who oppose it no matter what, even they will reluctantly come around because they know perfectly well that the U.S.’s capitalist economy demands access to such a significant market or it will face a depression. There is an additional reason why capitalism needs the TPP and other free trade agreements to survive and that’s because it needs to expand to guard against workers getting the upper hand in the domestic class struggle, as explained in section D5 of the Anarchist FAQ:

“In addition, imperialism allows big business to increase its strength with respect to its workforce in the imperialist nation by the threat of switching production to other countries or by using foreign investments to ride out strikes. This is required because, while the “home” working class are still exploited and oppressed, their continual attempts at organising and resisting their exploiters proved more and more successful… As such, imperialism (like capitalism) is not only driven by the need to increase profits (important as this is, of course), it is also driven by the class struggle–the need for capital to escape from the strength of the working class in a particular country. From this perspective, the export of capital can be seen in two ways. Firstly, as a means of disciplining rebellious workers at home by an “investment strike” (capital, in effect, runs away, so causing unemployment which disciplines the rebels). Secondly, as a way to increase the ‘reserve army’ of the unemployed facing working people in the imperialist nations by creating new competitors for their jobs (i.e. dividing, and so ruling, workers by playing one set of workers against another). Both are related, of course, and both seek to weaken working class power by the fear of unemployment. This process played a key role in the rise of globalization. Thus imperialism, which is rooted in the search from surplus profits for big business, is also a response to working class power at home. The export of capital is done by emerging and established transnational companies to overcome a militant and class consciousness working class which is often too advanced for heavy exploitation, and finance capital can make easier and bigger profits by investing productive capital elsewhere. It aids the bargaining position of business by pitting the workers in one country against another, so while they are being exploited by the same set of bosses, those bosses can use this fictional “competition” of foreign workers to squeeze concessions from workers at home.”… Globalisation cannot be understood unless its history is known. The current process of increasing international trade, investment and finance markets started in the late 60s and early 1970s. Increased competition from a re-built Europe and Japan challenged US domination combined with working class struggle across the globe to leave the capitalist world feeling the strain. Dissatisfaction with factory and office life combined with other social movements (such as the women’s movement, anti-racist struggles, anti-war movements and so on) which demanded more than capitalism could provide. The near revolution in France, 1968, is the most famous of these struggles but it occurred all across the globe. For the ruling class, the squeeze on profits and authority from ever-increasing wage demands, strikes, stoppages, boycotts, squatting, protests and other struggles meant that a solution had to be found and the working class disciplined (and profits regained). One part of the solution was to “run away” and so capital flooded into certain areas of the “developing” world. This increased the trends towards globalisation.”

So when President Obama, Paul Ryan, or any other gung-ho supporter of the TPP says it will open up markets and help the U.S. compete in the region what they are really saying is that the TPP will buoy capitalism by providing it with a safety valve and ensure the economic and political elites keep winning the class war. And, make no mistake, that conflict is very much real, as Warren Buffett admits: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”