Cecilia Malmström. Photo Nordic Co-operation (norden.org) / Johannes Jansson
#TTIP: Battle hots up over NHS and workers’ rights
EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström was in London yesterday, and there was a lot of talk about the EU-US trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In particular, as has been the case for months, the hot topic was whether TTIP would endanger the NHS, and while the Government and the European Commission continue to insist that we can trust them on the issue, the pressure is mounting for public services generally and the NHS in particular to be explicitly excluded from the deal, and for measures to be taken to ensure that any gains from the deal will be fairly distributed.
Unite fired the starting gun in the morning by releasing a legal opinion that challenged Malmström’s argument that the NHS wouldn’t be affected by the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in TTIP. Unite’s legal advice was that it would indeed be possible for litigious US health corporations to seek multi-million dollar compensation if any future government returned health contracts to the public sector, as Labour has announced it will.
UK trade secretary Vince Cable, meanwhile, was briefing journalists that, while he agreed with Malmström’s opinion about what the legal implications of the deal would be, he accepted the union movement’s argument that this should be put beyond doubt by writing an exclusion into the text of TTIP. He said (our emphasis):
“We must also clearly demonstrate that the NHS and our public services are protected as a priority. The EU has recently given us very strong assurances that TTIP would not in any way endanger them. I want to see that reflected in the treaty drafting.”
Cecilia Malmström, meanwhile, was touring the lecture halls as well as meeting with Cable. In her speeches and in her article in the Guardian co-authored with Conservative UK financial services commissioner Jonathan Hill, she claimed that TTIP would produce jobs and growth, but when questioned about who would benefit from the growth, she simply relied on outdated trickle down theory, saying that it was ‘obvious’ that ordinary workers would benefit it companies made bigger profits from increased trade.
Again and again, as if the last decade simply hadn’t happened, she asked us to trust her: trust her to protect regulatory standards that we know corporate lobbyists want to use TTIP to unstitch, trust her to protect the right of democratically-elected governments to decide what’s in the public sector and what isn’t, trust her to ensure that ISDS rules are amended in such a way that they don’t do anything bad, despite offering foreign investors the unique privilege of access to special tribunals to provide them with multi-million dollar compensation when governments do things they don’t like. She urged us to ignore ‘myths’ about TTIP, by which she means ignoring the all too real legal advice Unite have published.
I asked her at one session whether she would be willing to swap, and let workers have access to multi-million dollar compensation when their rights are abused, with foreign investors given the stiffly worded rebuke from a committee of experts that the Canada-EU trade deal currently offers workers. She could only say that there was no way the USA would agree to make the ILO core conventions – which it is required to uphold by virtue of its ILO membership – enforceable.
As the ITUC’s global day of action on the right to strike tomorrow is designed to show, without action that gives workers and their unions the power to ensure greater equality, initiatives like TTIP will only benefit the already rich and powerful.
This morning, union officers will be gathering at Congress House to consider the next steps in our campaign against TTIP. Although it’s unlikely anything will be decided on TTIP until after the General Election, the battle for trade justice is not going away.