John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, has signed a letter to President Clinton endorsing the U.S. objectives at an upcoming meeting of the World Trade Organization that will seek to begin rewriting the rules of international commerce.
The endorsement will not affect plans to bring thousands of union members to demonstrate outside the meeting, set to convene in Seattle in late November, according to the AFL-CIO. The union says that labor should have a voice at the WTO negotiating table.
The letter is from the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, a group on which Sweeney sits with 34 other people, most of them heads of U.S. companies or industry groups.
The letter states that "the U.S. negotiating agenda as a whole is bold and appropriately comprehensive. We believe that if achieved, it will result in better jobs, higher living standards and increased economic opportunities for all Americans."
"We support the emphasis by the United States on increasing market access," it says.
According to David Smith, director of public policy at the AFL-CIO, Sweeney gave his okay on the basis of White House pledges to propose formation of a WTO working group that would consider the effect that international trade has on labor. At the same time, he continues to have concerns about globalization.
Smith characterized the proposed working group as the first step toward injecting labor issues into the rules of world trade. The AFL-CIO, he said, wants a system in which trading countries' labor practices could be challenged before the Geneva-based WTO, which enforces rules of trade, just as matters such as copyright protection and trade barriers can be challenged.
"Our views haven't changed a whit," he said. "The only views that have changed here are the views of those who had previously resisted introducing the issue of workers' rights into the negotiations."
Organized labor has long criticized market-opening measures and globalization, saying that Americans often lose jobs to low-cost competition from countries where workers receive low wages and have few benefits or organizing rights.
Thomas J. Donohue, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, played down the impact of the working group. "The negotiation of an agreement has nothing to do with these studies," he said, referring to the reports of any labor working group that is formed. "These studies are collateral for our future thinking."
Donohue is also a member of the committee, and he lobbied Sweeney to come on board with the statement.
CAPTION: Labor leader John Sweeney signed a letter to the president commending U.S. objectives for the WTO.