AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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AFT Resolutions

OPPOSITION TO THE EXPANSION OF GATS

WHEREAS, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiated under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is intended to remove virtually all barriers to international trade in service sectors. Since most public servants qualify under this agreement as service providers, the GATS has potentially staggering consequences for all workers in America’s public sector at all levels of government; and

WHEREAS, under the GATS agreement, national, state and local regulations that ensure safe workplaces, clean and safe environments, and minimum employment standards have the potential to be classified as unfair barriers to trade. Providers of services such as healthcare, social work, education, food inspection, postal services and public broadcasting would all feel the effect of this agreement; and

WHEREAS, the objective of the GATS is to open the service sector, which includes nearly all public spheres of work, to international competition, primarily to the benefit of huge for-profit multinational firms. Even the European Commission characterizes GATS as “not just something that exists between governments, but first and foremost an instrument for the benefit of business.” As closed-door WTO negotiations make it easier for huge corporations to pursue their profit-driven motives, new GATS agreements also make it harder for us to protect and regulate the services we value as citizens; and

WHEREAS, negotiations are now under way to expand the GATS to include more sectors and to create new GATS rules that will further limit how governments around the world regulate and provide services in the public interest. The implications of any new agreements could be quite serious for AFT members and, indeed, all American workers in the service industries. The GATS is already a threat to our right to have public services, and an expanded GATS increases that threat; and

WHEREAS, expansion proposals present immediate concerns for the higher education and healthcare industries, both of which account for billions of dollars in global trade annually. Essential tools for local quality control such as visa restrictions, tax regulations and accreditation requirements are being labeled “barriers” to trade by GATS negotiators determined to create a profit-led marketplace in higher education. The advance of such policies would not only create a range of challenges to the employees and students of universities worldwide, potentially undermining the quality of education provided, but may also lay the groundwork for the extension of WTO interference into the delivery and regulation of primary and secondary instruction as well. Similarly, by allowing healthcare to be treated under GATS as a commodity traded on the global market, Americans risk losing the right to set domestic quality standards in this vital industry; and

WHEREAS, as the world’s largest producer and home to many of the most powerful global corporations, the United States is leading the GATS campaign to open international markets. In its most recent proposals, the U.S. is pushing for fewer barriers to the trade of services and broader commitments from governments. The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has asserted that nothing should be excluded from the negotiations and coverage should be expanded to include such vital concerns as healthcare, education and public services; and

WHEREAS, under the expanded proposals being considered, corporations would find it even easier to force governments to allow them to compete for the right to provide and deliver public services—unchecked across borders—in the pursuit of profit. Governments would be stripped of their ability to regulate and use legislation and public programs to achieve public policy objectives. Companies could argue that such policies interfere with their right to do business—and WTO rulings generally uphold this kind of argument:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers call upon the U.S. government to suspend negotiations until a full and open assessment of the social and economic impact of the GATS is completed. As a condition of future GATS negotiations, the U.S. government must insure that all essential public services, like healthcare, education and utilities, be clearly excluded from the GATS. The U.S. must not use our negotiating leverage to convince other countries to make commitments to privatize essential public services. We must demand that the GATS rules fully protect the ability of governments to support and purchase services in ways that promote public health and safety, environmental quality, and human and workers’ rights. Simply put, the American government must ensure that GATS does not take away the ability of governments to govern and does not subject the decisions of democratically elected governments to the rule of the WTO on behalf of international business; and

RESOLVED, that GATS should no longer be allowed to discriminate against U.S. workers, depress wages and distort labor markets. Before any new commitments on temporary entry are made under the GATS, these programs must be reformed to include more rigorous labor market tests, involve labor unions in the labor certification process, and guarantee the rights of these workers to join unions and to receive the same protections that are available to all workers; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon state governments to decry the breaches of their sovereignty being perpetrated by the USTR and ask to be exempted from any new service sector commitments in the GATS negotiations. A recent WTO ruling that U.S. states do not have the authority to prevent Internet gambling has raised the concern of many state and local officials. Such decisions spotlight the potential threats of GATS and expose the extent to which its provisions hamper the ability of our elected leaders to regulate in the public trust; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT endeavor to educate its members in all divisions of the potential consequences of GATS expansion and to actively engage them in a campaign to oppose any further restrictions on their rights, as citizens, to have a voice in the policies that shape their workplaces and communities.


(2006)