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From today public meetings and rallies against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will pave the way for a national day of action this Saturday.
It is exactly a year since negotiations on this so-called free trade pact were begun between the United States and the European Union.
Our politicians have been very quiet on the details of agreements being thrashed out in secret between US and EU officials, but they have failed to pull the wool over the eyes of the labour movement.
Mass opposition to the deal is real and growing — as World Development Movement head of campaigns and policy Polly Jones wrote in yesterday’s Morning Star, the government is running so scared that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has pleaded for people to stop writing to it about TTIP.
“Free trade,” a mantra of British imperialism since the 18th century, is one of the most misleading terms in economics.
It has always been used as a means for the strong to bully the weak, for powerful corporations to rip open new markets — by force if necessary.
As Britain’s trade unionists understand, TTIP is not being signed for the benefit of European or US citizens but to extend even further the unaccountable power of corporations.
That means giving them the power to overrule governments if they do not appreciate their decisions — for example if a country enacts rules which interfere with their profits.
The same logic that led Britain to unleash the opium wars on 19th-century China — your right to enact protective legislation is trumped by our right to flog what we want to who we want — is at the heart of the TTIP deal.
Corporate courts operating under what is termed the “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) will take governments to court if they think their “investments” are threatened.
The courts in question will not be subject to the legal systems of the country responsible for the “threat.”
We know exactly how this power will be used, since ISDS already operates between a number of countries.
Most notoriously, in 2012 Ecuador was ordered to pay a $1.7 billion (£990 million) fine, plus interest amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds more, to US firm Occidental Petroleum after its government cancelled the oil giant’s contract.
The contract was cancelled because the firm stood accused of breaking Ecuadorian law by illegally shifting shares to another company.
The future for Britain, where dodgy multinational firms regularly snap up lucrative contracts to run vital public services, would be bleak if the TTIP deal goes ahead.
The God-awful track records of the likes of Serco, G4S, National Express and others show they are hardly reliable contractors.
Our current government will not hold them to account anyway, of course. But under the proposed new rules any government that did could be taken to court.
The threat to public services such as the NHS is even more serious. Again the likes of Cameron and co are happy to sell NHS contracts to dodgy privateers, but TTIP would tie the hands of future governments even if they are specifically elected to kick the parasites out of our health service.
TTIP is part of a long-running trend, the subordination of democratic institutions to big business, the erosion of national sovereignty by global capital.
It has to be stopped, for all our sakes.
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