The Political Economy of Black Opposition to Free-Trade Neoliberalism

President Obama and the corporate democrats continue to press Congress to provide Obama with trade promotion authority (TPA), or so-called fast-track authority to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the first of a series of pernicious so-called free trade agreements.

The Flush the TPP website, a major resource for the anti-TPP movement characterizes the TPP as: “A secret trade agreement…(that) threatens to undermine democracy by entrenching corporate power in virtually every area of our lives, from food safety and the environment, to worker rights and access to health care, the TPP is about much more than trade. It is a global corporate coup.”

In the process of organizing the fight-back to deny President Obama fast-track authority to conclude the TPP and ram it through Congress behind the backs of the people, I wrote about the fact that in some black circles there was uncertainty regarding the priority that the TPP should be given or whether or not it was even an important issue for African Americans.

However, over the last week African Americans organization have rallied in opposition to the TPP and established its defeat as an immediate priority for black people, even as some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are wavering in their initial opposition as a result of pressure from the Obama administration.

Saladin Muhammad, long time union organizer, veteran of Black Liberation Movement and spokesperson for the Black Workers for Justice, captures the view of a number of black activists who are naming neoliberal capitalism as the enemy: “structural policies of global capitalism like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), must be opposed and challenged by the Black working-class as part of the struggle for Black liberation and social transformation.”

The logic of Saladin’s comment is grounded in a critical analysis of the relationship between African Americans and the capitalist political economy that suggest that the debased conditions of black working class existence in the U.S. is produced and reproduced as a result of the inner logic of this system.
And since the degrading and dehumanizing conditions that characterize black working class existence are inherent to this system and cannot be altered through liberal capitalist reforms, an anti-capitalist position is the only logical political position that African Americans can take.

Its Capitalism not Culture:
“Current configurations of so-called “free trade” agreements are at best kinder and gentler, neoliberal versions of more of the same. For the vast majority of Black workers, who languish without relief at the very bottom of the economic rung, such agreements only reinforce longstanding exploitation, visceral racism and denial of good jobs and equal opportunities.” (Jaribu Hill, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights)

Contrary to the culture-of-poverty nonsense being offered by Obama and his neoconservative friends as a way to explain why African Americans are engaged in “unapproved” resistance in places like Baltimore, the real explanation for the conditions that produced that resistance is situated within the context of the very same neoliberal capitalist policies being championed by Obama with the TPP.
A number of scholars have argued that capitalist globalization has had a disproportionately negative impact on African Americans over the last four decades.

The neoliberal restructuring of the national economy that began in the 1970s and accelerated under Reagan in the ‘80s ushered in a period of economic stagnation and decline in black America from which we have never recovered. Not that life was a bed of roses for African Americans who had just migrated from the totalitarian conditions of the South during the Second World War and in the years following. However, there was some relative economic advancement, although uneven, in the immediate post-war period for African Americans able to land a job in the industrial heartland of the country.
However, the always precarious situation of black workers and the relative weakness of the black middle-class became an existential crisis after the capitalist implosion in 2008.

While the destructive impact of the economic crisis was experienced by families and individuals in every sector of society – except the super-rich – for African Americans the crisis was nothing short of catastrophic.
Staggering losses in household wealth, income and labor force participation decimated large portions of the already small and fragile black middle-class and plugged black workers into desperate poverty. The latest capitalist crisis, however, revealed something even more frightening for African American workers.

Not only did the economic crisis strip away the chimera of prosperity created by access to easy credit for most workers who hadn’t experience real wage increases in decades and were living paycheck to paycheck, but it also exposed an unacknowledged and unspoken reality for vast numbers of unemployed black workers: that they had moved from the category of being a part of the “reserve army of the unemployed” – labor ready to be reemployed when the economy picked up – to the category of a surplus work force. That is, it became painfully obvious that black laborers had become a work force and population that was no longer needed in the globalized U.S. economy.
Today the labor participation rate for African American men is the lowest on record. The plight of African American women is ever more precarious, although their employment rate is a little better. However, African American women’s increased participation in the economy is offset by the fact that black women are disproportionately tasked with the responsibility of caring not only for themselves but their children. Linda Burnham points out an additional economic reality that black women face and that is because black women are overrepresented in the low-wage sector they suffer from both the gender and the racial gap in wages.

Confined to unsteady and unpredictable low wage service sector jobs, it should not be surprising that the fastest growing population of homeless in the U.S. is African American women with children.

Neoliberal globalization also had a devastating impact on working people in cities like Baltimore. The shattered communities and pockets of absolute poverty that exist in that city did not come about as a result of fathers not being in the home or black people not taking advantage of opportunities but is a direct result of the 100,000 unionized manufacturing and seaport-related jobs lost in Baltimore when those jobs were shifted out of the U.S. by corporate and finance capital. The closing of Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Works that employed 35,000 people and the dramatic reduction of jobs at Baltimore’s port were body blows that the working class community of Baltimore never recovered from.

The terrible reality facing increasing numbers of African Americans is that as the U.S. continues to shift to a low-skilled, low-wage economy, the labor force is also contracting, with the result being that large numbers of African American workers and the poor are destined to not be able to secure full time employment during their entire lives!

And for those lucky enough to secure a job, the new jobs that are projected in the U.S. will be in such low-paying occupations as fast food, food prep, retail, and healthcare aides.

North-South Solidarity in the Struggle to end Global Oppression:

The systemic capitalist crisis that led the captains of finance and free-market capitalism to line up for rescue by the state in 2008 dramatically exposed the fraudulent nature of neoliberal capitalism as a strategy for long-term, sustainable capitalist progress.
This is true in the capitalist center as well in the peripheries of the global system. That is why black opposition to neoliberal free trade agreements is not just based on the negative impact of those agreements on black people in the U.S. but on the recognition of a common agenda with the exploited and colonized peoples’ of the world in ending global capitalist oppression.

Opposition to the TPP and free-trade must be seen as one front in the resistance to further U.S. imperialist consolidation. Jaribu Hill reminds us that “free is a misnomer for control and a maintenance of a status quo that will always require the sufferers to suffer more while maximum profits are made on their backs and at the expense of their safety and yes, their lives.”

African American oppose the TPP because we understand that the workers in Vietnam, who will be primarily women, are being primed for super-exploitation under the terms of that agreement. We understand that under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), millions of farmers were driven from their land in places like Oaxaca, Mexico and ended up landless urban dwellers in Mexico or working for slave wages as undocumented workers in the U.S.

We oppose the TPP because neoliberal free trade between the U.S. and Colombia has resulted in the accelerated loss land for Afro-Colombians as their lands are stolen for illegal mining and the corporate expansion of palm oil and sugar cane processing for bio-fuel production for the markets in Europe and the U.S.

And even though the elites of those countries who are part of the agreement prostrate themselves before Uncle Sam, we oppose the TPP in the name of the people of the global South.

For those who might ask why African Americans would question and oppose free trade agreements, we point to history and say that if there any people on the planet who should question so called free trade it should be the descendants of the people victimized by the most barbaric trade regime in the history of the planet.

Stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a “Black Issue” *

TPP protest new yorkThe Neoliberal assault on U.S. workers and democracy continues – this time with a slick move on the part of the 1% to sneak by the people a noxious trade bill called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is just one of measures the elite hopes to conclude using Barack Obama – their most effective weapon since Ronald Reagan for convincing the middle-class and working people to support policies that are objectively against their interests.

Like the North American Free-trade Agreement ( NAFTA) concluded under Bill Clinton that promised jobs, balanced economic growth and prosperity but instead created economic devastation in the agricultural sector of Mexico and the loss of jobs in the U.S., the TPP promises more of the same but on a grander scale.

If concluded, the TPP will continue the process of concentrating economic power in the hands of U.S. based transnational corporations and financial institutions. And while the 1% who have no allegiance to any national territory or state will grow richer, the agreement will pit workers in the U.S. — especially Black and Brown workers — into cut-throat competition with exploited workers, this time in Asia, who will be paid slave wages to produce for the U.S. and European markets – this agreement producing increased exports from the U.S. is a blatant lie.

That is why for African Americans as the group that objectively has suffered more than any other group domestically as a result of the turn toward neoliberal globalization in the 1970s and the economic crisis in 2008, we should reject all neoliberal proposals, be it in the form of Obama’s phony urban “promise zones” to trade agreements. Opposition to neoliberal trade agreements, like broad opposition to neoliberal capitalism in general must be embraced as fundamental for our resistance movement and survival as a people.

However, our rejection of the TPP must not be based just on the negative consequence it will have on African American workers but on our movements’ historic commitment to justice and solidarity with the oppressed and exploited, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world.

It is the principles of social justice, self-determination for peoples’ and nations, authentic democracy and people-centered human rights that privileges dignity for the individual and the collective that must continue to inform our oppositional politics and vision for the future, and not loyalty to any individual.

Therefore, even though Barack Obama is now the front-man and making the case for Congress to give him “Fast-track” authority to conclude negotiations on TPP, our history and principles demand that we must stand in opposition.

The Propaganda campaign begins:

President Obama traveled to the Nike headquarters in Oregon over the weekend to argue why he should be given the authority to negotiate not only the TPP but also the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investor Partnership (TTIP).

The mechanism that the Obama Administration and the economic elites want to utilize is Fast-Track Promotion Authority (TPA).

TPA is the legislative mechanism used by the Executive branch of the Federal government to coordinate with the Federal Reserve to remove democratic control over monetary and trade policies. Created by President Nixon to circumvent the treaty-making authority that the U.S. Constitution vested with Congress, it is used as cover to pass trade deals that contain measures that Congress would have difficulty passing through normal processes because of the pro-corporate, anti-democratic and anti-working class provisions contained in them.

The agreement that President Obama and the bi-partisan elites want to finalize first is the TPP, a key element of his strategic “pivot to Asia” to counter the rise of China. The TPP is a secretive agreement being negotiated behind the backs of the people and even members of Congress who have been denied access to the full texts. It was only as a result of information from sources like WikiLeaks that members of the public were able to discover that the TPP was not just about trade but represented an anti-democratic coup that transferred economic and political power from the public in the U.S. and all of the countries involved in the agreement, to non-elected, and thus unaccountable elites in the U.S. who control transnational banks and corporations.

If concluded, the TPP will include the countries of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Mexico and even Canada. It will become the largest trading bloc on the planet, comprising some 40 percent of the world’s economy.

With the revelations that the TPP would allow private corporations to sue governments for damages on future profits if governments enact laws to protect their citizens in areas like the environment, food safety regulations and labor protections and would allow U.S. transnationals to exploit the labor of those counties by paying workers a fraction of the wages to produce products for the U.S. market that they would otherwise have to pay workers in the U.S., there has been growing opposition from groups in the U.S. to stop Obama and the elites by stopping the authorization for Fast-tracking.

We African Americans should be asking questions such as: Why are Obama and the economic elite pushing another neoliberal trade agreement when the failure of neoliberal policies to provide sustainable economic development and security for our communities is so obvious? And if, according to President Obama, the agreement will benefit working people by generating jobs and improving economic conditions, why are the provisions secret and why can’t the representatives of the people in the U.S. Congress be privy to the details of the agreement and be able to examine, reject and/or alter the provisions, as needed?

Stop Fast-Track in its tracks:

There is vote in the Senate this Tuesday where oppositional Democrats are lining up to defy Obama and the bi-partisan coalition representing the corporate and financial oligarchy. You can go to the following sites to get information on the strategy being developed to oppose the agreement and how you can join in beyond the vote on Tuesday.

https://www.popularresistance.org/first-senate-vote-on-fast-track-for-tpp-on-tuesday/

http://www.flushthetpp.org/

http://www.citizen.org/tpp//

It’s Not Culture but Capitalism:

With the resistance fights from Ferguson to Baltimore and the intensifying repression being directed at our communities across the country, it is imperative that we understand how the conditions that we find our communities in today were the result of conscious policy decisions made by powerful interests outside of our communities.

Economic life that was always precarious for black people and the black working class specifically, devolved from a condition best described as a 35 year long recession to full blown depression level conditions with the crisis of 2008.

The reality of Baltimore and all of the urban areas where African Americans are located and experiencing severe economic and social deprivation cannot be understood without establishing the cause-effect relationship between those conditions and the internal logic of the capitalist system and processes like so-called free trade.

Deindustrialization and the flight of capital in the urban core cities where black people are concentrated in places like Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Oakland, and secondary cities like Flint, Michigan , South Bend and Gary, Indiana, and East St. Louis, Illinois to name just a few, tell the story of the capitalisms failure during its neoliberal phase to provide long-term quality employment for workers in general and black workers in particular.

As Barack Obama dutifully carries out his job as the spokesperson and protector of concentrated white power, we must demand that black elected officials represent the interests of the people and not the capitalist oligarchy that Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama represent.

The TPP is an assault on democracy, on the people, on commonsense and a future free of corporate economic domination and ecological destruction. It is an expression of U.S. imperialism, geared toward containing China and with its sister agreement, the TTAIP, Russia. The TPP is a weapon to maintain U.S. global hegemony by denying the fundamental economic, social and cultural rights of millions of people in order to benefit a parasitic white minority ruling class in the U.S. And for that fact alone, African Americans and all people of conscience should opposed it.

*This is taken from “The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Political Economy of Black Opposition.”

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer, geo-political analyst and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and a regular contributor to Counterpunch. Baraka serves as the Public Intervenor for Human Rights as a member of the Green Shadow Cabinet and coordinates the International Affairs Committee of the Black Left Unity Network. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C.

Anti-Black Racism exposed in Israel and the U.S.

Just as the announcement was being made that military forces were being withdrawn and the curfew on the black community lifted in Baltimore, images of another black rebellion exploded in social media and the airwaves of the world, this time from “democratic” Israel.

Last Thursday in Jerusalem Ethiopian Israelis gathered in peaceful protest in reaction to the release of a video that showed Israeli police violently attacking an Ethiopian member of the Israeli army who was in full uniform. Ethiopian Israelis, long the victims of systematic racial discrimination in Israel, evoked the spirit of Baltimore and demanded an end to discrimination and police brutality.

However, on Sunday it was in the liberal bastion of Tel Aviv that the protests turned into a battle zone between the police and Ethiopian Israelis. Like the black middle-class liberals of Baltimore who were incensed that the black rabble would rise up to question their authority, liberal authorities in Tel Aviv decided to violently disperse the largely peaceful demonstrators in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. And similar to the black liberals charged with upholding elite white power in the Baltimore, liberals charged with upholding Ashkenazi elite power in Tel Aviv did not understand that the people had reached a point in which the awesome power of the state no longer generated fear.

Along with the ongoing issue of police brutality, Ethiopians suffer housing and employment discrimination and find themselves at the bottom of Israeli society suffering both race and class discrimination. They are also constantly reminded that despite their Jewishness they are still the “other” and not as valued as other Jewish populations. They saw quite clearly the obvious contradiction in the efforts of the Israeli Prime Minister to persuade the good white French Jews to immigrant to Israel while the “Jewish State” cut immigration of Ethiopia Jews from Africa.

They also saw that their Jewishness did not protect them when reacting to the issue of African migrants to Israel, Israeli right-wing organizations staged a series of demonstrations calling for the expulsion of all non-Jewish African migrants with vigilante groups also carrying out violent assaults against African migrants that did not differentiate between non-Jewish Africans and them.

With the open expressions of anti-black racism and systematic economic and social discrimination, it was only a matter of time before there was an eruption from that community.

As I have written on a number of occasions, it should not be a surprise that anti-black racism has been revealed as permanent feature of the collective consciousness of the populations of both Israel and the United States. As settler-colonial states that imposed themselves on indigenous populations, both projects required the development of a hierarchy of humanity in which the conquerors could justify land expropriation, displacement and dispersal, in the case of Israel, and genocide in the case of the U.S. In both experiences, as in all of the settler-colonial experiences during the era of European/Western colonization, the creation of race served as the basis for that stratification of humanity.

Ethiopians Israeli face a conundrum similar to what African-Americans face. They are demanding that Israeli society recognize that their “lives matter.” However, for a colonial project that has normalized racialism and exclusion as operative values, it is illogical to expect that Israeli society could be morally capable of recognizing and substantially correcting the cultural ideas and discriminatory social policies that black Israelis face in modern Israel.

Black lives don’t matter in Israel or in the U.S. because Palestinian lives don’t matter, Yemeni lives don’t matter, Iraqi lives don’t matter, Syrian lives don’t matter, and even white working class lives don’t really matter, because all of these lives – this humanity – will be and is being sacrificed to maintain the dominance of an avaricious, criminal corporate/ financial elite still centered in the capitals of the West. Israeli is just a colonial outpost in that continuum of global power.

What Ethiopians must come to terms with, like African Americans and all racially and nationally oppressed groups in the “still existing” colonial societies, is that a choice has to be made between continued collaboration with the Western colonial/capitalist projects, or with authentic decolonization.

It is a choice as obvious as between life and death.