The defeat of the odious Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement shows that the people can win against entrenched corporate and political power. The way the TPP was defeated shows how the people can win against entrenched power.
A couple of years ago, the passage of the odious Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement seemed inevitable.
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Republican leaders in Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and most big newspapers and broadcasters were in favor of it. The public knew little about it because it was literally classified as secret. Congress passed fast-track authority, so that it could be pushed through without time for discussion.
Today it is a dead letter. President Obama has given up his plan to join with Republicans and push it through a lame-duck session of Congress. Leaders of both parties say there is no chance of getting it through the new Congress.
If you don’t know what the TPP is or why a lot of people think it is odious, don’t feel bad. If you depend for your information on the largest-circulation daily newspapers or the largest broadcasting networks, you have no way of knowing.
It is in theory a free-trade agreement among the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan and seven other countries. It is actually a corporate wish list in the form of international law, giving corporations new privileges in the form of patent and copyright protection and new powers to challenge environmental, health and labor laws and regulations.
The TPP was negotiated in secret, with inside information given to selected corporate “expert” consultants. In the USA, the text was literally classified information.
But a few brave whistle-blowers and journalists, most especially including Julian Assange of Wikileaks, made some of the texts public. Activists in different countries and with different philosophies collected and spread information through social media and on Internet news sites.
Disparate organizations came together in a common front. Conservatives opposed it because it infringed on national sovereignty. Liberals and progressives opposed it because it infringed on democracy.
Labor unions, consumer advocates and environmentalists opposed it because it gave foreign corporations the right to appeal against any labor, consumer protection or environmental law that unfairly deprived it of “expected” profits. The appeal would go to an Investor State Dispute Settlement panel which would have the power to levy large fines on governments on behalf of international corporations.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation opposed the TPP because its members thought its copyright provisions would undermine Internet freedom. Doctors Without Borders opposed it because its members thought patent provisions would increase drug prices.
By the time the 2016 election campaign began, Hillary Clinton had changed her public position and opposed the TPP. So did Bernie Sanders. So did Donald Trump—I’ll give him some credit on this, but I don’t think he would have opposed it if it hadn’t already been unpopular.
The Atlantic version of the TPP—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP—also seems to be dead, because of opposition in Europe. At least one more bad agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement, is in the works. Citizen activists shouldn’t let down their guard.
The TPP victory is a model of how to fight for the public interest against bad legislation.
Inform yourself about the issue. Don’t depend on the mass media to provide all the facts. Find your own sources of reliable information. Disseminate the information among people who are likely to be hurt by the bad legislation. Then put pressure on legislators and candidates.
You don’t have to have overwhelming support—just a critical mass of people numerous enough to offset the power of big money. It’s important to put defenders of the public interest in public office, but you can win without them. All you absolutely need is the power to influence public opinion and tip the balance in the next election.