Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com) - Teamsters Union President James Hoffa, in the wake of violent demonstrations at the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, put the Clinton administration on notice about granting "normal trading relations" to China.
Speaking at a Washington news conference, Hoffa said, "We cannot and we will not allow the WTO and our political leaders to bow to the altar of free trade. We won't let them cater to corporate executives who shell out $250,000 a pop for a WTO reception but can't afford to provide their workers with decent wages and benefits. We won't let them trample on our jobs and our rights. And we won't let them jeopardize the health and welfare of our families."
Hoffa had this message for the Clinton administration, "This administration is now on notice. The Teamsters Union will not accept mere promises to protect jobs, promises that time and time again have not come to fruition. I refuse to sit by on the sidelines while the gains that Teamsters have made and other organization labor unions have made at the bargaining tables are auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder."
"From this day forward," Hoffa said, "our political leaders better know that if they continue to cut trade deals and put copyrights above workers rights and human rights, that there will be a heavy price to pay."
The Teamsters protest in Seattle against the WTO was just the beginning, according to Hoffa. The union is now setting its right on what Hoffa called an "even bigger battle" in Washington.
"The battle against free, unmonitored trade with Communist China. China wants to be in the WTO and its wants permanent NTR (Normal Trade Relations) status. China is the country that we know abuses its citizens, its subjugates the people of Tibet, that threatens the peaceful neighbors in Taiwan, that steals our nuclear secrets and at the same time interferes in our presidential elections. A country like China cannot be given permanent trade status where their conduct is not reviewed on an annual basis by Congress," Hoffa said.
Hoffa is convinced that China has "now set its sights" on America and believes the Clinton administration is being too friendly toward China.
"It (China) wants our dollars. It wants our jobs. It has begun a NAFTA like campaign using its lax labor and lax environmental standards to lure stateless, greedy and multinational corporations to relocate overseas. Despite these undisputed facts, the White House wants the American people to support its flawed trade deal with Communist China claiming that it will benefit us by China's markets coming open to America. That's a disgrace," Hoffa said
The Teamsters Union, Hoffa vowed is 100 percent committed to defeating Normal Trade Relations (NTR) for China.
"The Great Wall of China will come crumbling down before we support that deal. We will flood every Congressional office with phone calls, letters and visits from our members. We will march on Washington. And with the momentum from our victory in Seattle, we will win. We're bigger, better and ready to rumble," Hoffa said.
Hoffa spoke at a Washington news conference of the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), a coalition of labor unions, environmental and consumer groups and students and human rights activists against Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for China and for a change in the way the World Trade Organization (WTO) conducts business.
Also at the CTC news conference was AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez Thompson. She said the Seattle protests were instrumental in sending a message to the WTO. Thompson outlined what the union's strategy will be now in dealing with the WTO.
"We're going to keep the pressure on our government and the U.S. Congress with respect to any continuation of WTO negotiations as well as on the vote granting permanent Normal Trade Relations (NTR) to China and the Africa and Caribbean Basin trade bills. Workers rights and environmental protection must be at the center of new trade bills, " Thompson said.
Chavez-Thompson believes the collapse of the WTO talks reflected "both disagreements on key issues inside the negotiations and the increased pressure from protesters and critics outside the closed doors."
George Becker, President of the United Steelworkers of America (USW) told the news conference, he was proud of the role that his members played in the WTO protests and chastised the Clinton administration for not listening to his union about trade policy.
"We went to Seattle to expose to the light of day the corrupt trading practices of the WTO. Those practices have been picked up and endorsed by many of the nations throughout the world. We've been fighting these trade practices here in the United States for close to three years. At every level that we could possibly bring pressure to the administration, all the cabinet level positions, all the way up and including the President of the United States. Every effort that we made, every concerted action, every whim that we had in trade was just brushed off, like it didn't mean a thing," Becker said.
Becker believes the Seattle protests brought an end to "the open ended negotiations for future trade deals. What ended was that trade deals would be negotiated in the future that did not include labor rights or environmental accords or human rights. They would be in these agreements or we wouldn't have those. That was the message that came out of Seattle."
Becker vowed that his union will fight to stop Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for China.
"They're not worthy of it. We know that they're going to be used as a blocker for us ever reforming the WTO as it stands now, "Becker said.
Despite his union's opposition to Most Favored Nation trading status for China, Becker said the United Steelworkers of America (USW) has endorsed Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000. Gore has said he favors Most Favored Nation trading status for China.