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The Driscoll’s Boycott, the Capitalist Hydra and the TPP: Dispatches from Washington State

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Seattle, WA – In a world of secret negotiations and back-room corporate deal making, it is easy to feel defeated by the recent announcement of agreement between the capitalist planners of the countries that have signed on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Our predecessors, now elders in the movement, have even admitted to and acknowledged defeat at the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and felt a sense of remorse, knowing that the world would forever be different and less free. The thing is, the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army) also changed the world and would go on to tell us that the capitalist nightmare of Free Trade was not born of our minds, but was their vision permeating our dreams of liberation, dreams that were easily forgotten and that we would only recognize when we saw them turned reality, our liberation from Capitalism.

It is easy to forget, for example, that we are collectively winning after all these years. We have held on to the logic of the simple, that we are not from the left, we are not from the right, but are from below, and we are going after those on top. They after all, are people like you and I, they make so many mistakes, come up with false solutions, and place accumulating property and wealth over sustaining the lives of people, life and the Earth. They after all, have names, relationships, and addresses too, and they at heart are bureaucrats that keep records of their celebrated deeds of mass violence and premature death for the purpose of accumulation. We after all, know how to be poor and you can’t kill, disappear, deport or cage us all. You can’t exploit us forever. It’s simply not possible.

The biggest obstacle to rallying others around solving the problem of ending capitalism collectively is as pointed out by Devon G. Peña (2015) is poverty, and in particular the advancement of “deprivation poverty” such as that caused by the ongoing drug wars in Latin America and the wars against the black community in the United States at the hands of vigilantes and the Police. This type of structural violence waged to break the fabric of our communities, functions only upon a continuum, as Peña observes, “Structural violence inevitably produces conflict and, often, direct violence including family violence, intimate partner violence, racial violence and hate crimes, terrorism, genocide, and war” (Peña 2015, 207). Poverty manifests itself in our movements against capitalism by pitting our strongest allies against us, until it has theoretically resulted in “total” deprivation. I say theoretically because it is a failed policy for both domestic and international endeavors for the United States and the example of the resilience of EZLN all of these years after NAFTA, for example, one amongst many, the people have never allowed for capitalist planning to run its course to “totality” precisely because of the above reminder, that we are the many and they are the few.

Our obstacle, instead, has to do with the cultural work of reminding people that the nightmare of capitalism and poverty and scarcity is not our making, that instead, our collective dream of abundance is in fact, reality. Our intellectual predecessors understood this in their formula for our collective liberation, to find those places in the world where the future exists in the present, to defend them and nurture them to grow. This is what emerging solidarity economies across the world are. What is revolutionary about the Zapatista’s is not the army they created to defend themselves, what is revolutionary is their example of self-subsistence, cooperation, autonomy, self-governance and resilience.

Revolutionary ideas like taking care of each other, spread far and wide, and no amount of counterinsurgency, psychological warfare, mass incarceration, border walls or militarization can stop those ideas from spreading and taking root.

As Devon G. Peña mirrored the canary in the mineshaft, “The structural violence of poverty, coupled with the cumulative effects of intergenerational historical trauma, is the principal compounding factor affecting the deteriorating health of our bodies and the degradation of our environments” (Peña 2015, 209). Structural violence can be arrested, as the late Clyde Woods (2000) observed, through human resiliency, healing our relationships with each other, strengthening our communities, and our deep rooted stubbornness that rule by capitalism is fundamentally unfair and must be overthrown is embedded in our music, our art, and even the words on this page.

As Ethan Miller wrote about building Solidarity Economies quoted here extensively,

‘The universe is made of stories,’ wrote Muriel Rukeyser, ‘not of atoms.’ How we view the world and how we act in the world is profoundly influenced by the stories that we tell about reality. These stories help to determine what we see, what is invisible, and what we believe to be possible or impossible. (Miller 2010, 29)

He continues,

A crucial element of a solidarity economy approach is to recognize the ways that conventional economics has described reality so as to make invisible a whole host of practices, initiatives, human relationships and motivations, and thus to limit our abilities to imagine economic alternatives. Acknowledging this, and working to make these other forms of economic life visible and valued, opens up the terrain upon which solidarity economy organizing does its work. (Ibid)

As Devon G. Peña stated, “Place-breaking makes heart-breaking possible” (Peña 2015, 209). The goal of anti-capitalism is to build again where capitalism has destroyed.

Map of TPP, by USW
Map of TPP, by USW

Making the invisible visible: The Emperor has no clothes

The Trans Pacific Partnership agreement proposed between Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam only formalizes the Pacific Rim Capitalist Market Circuit that companies operating in Washington State that produce the big three pillars of this economy for export: agriculture, airplanes and software.

Each of these three industries is currently unsustainable. Capitalist planners believe that they will be able to make the most profit off of their failing industries by hiring guest workers (H-2A and H-1B visas from Mexico for agriculture and from India for software), shifting to the use of Burmese refugees for labor in farm work and processing plants, and by continuing to export production and the engineering of airplane wings internationally. The formalization of the TPP has to do with making the above processes easier for the big corporations in each of these highly subsidized industries.

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Washington State Congressional Hearing

AGRICULTURE

Scot Dilley, lobbyist and spokesman for the Washington Farm Bureau on November 14, 2013 at Everett Community College publically stated that subsidies enjoyed by agriculture industry are a tradition that should be maintained without justification, and that he was in the opinion that this subsidy that should be extended to other industries, at a special legislative work session on Farmworker Housing called by the Washington State Legislative and Workforce committee.

Washington state’s large-scale export growers are the only firms that have the capacity to acquire and utilize H-2A guest workers. Though originally designated as a last minute resort for growers to bring in the harvest via labor that was subsidized by the federal government and in as much having a considerable amount of requirements to use only when there is a labor shortage. Washington growers have followed the lead of Florida and California and established the Washington Farm Labor Association (WAFLA) a non-profit labor contractor service that has single-handedly increased the number of H-2A guest workers from Mexico that are being recruited and deployed to Washington fields where there is no labor shortage because the non-profit advises the large-scale growers how to trick the government into providing the subsidy to them because state and federal laws currently only require an effort towards compliance to regulation and rarely enforce labor laws in this industry because they are complaint based and not pro-active to prevent such abuses and exploitation as is evidenced by farm worker complaints.

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SOFTWARE

Software giant Vulcan, for example, has successfully infiltrated Seattle’s city planning in South Lake Union in 1992. What began as a proposal of a public park became a private business venture that helped Amazon.com move into its 11 building complex that was developed in the place of a park that it later purchased for $1.16 billion dollars in 2012 (Seattle Times, 2012). Vulcan is currently expanding into Westlake using the same model.

The workforce for Amazon.com is composed heavily by H-1B visa holders from such places such as India and Chile. Though these workers are paid higher salaries than the rest of the population of Seattle, driving up rent prices throughout the city, their precarious and temporary immigration status makes them easy to manipulate and coerce to overproduce and work without compensation at these firms. These very same corporate interests saw the expansion of the visa program through the creation of a W-visa proposed by Comprehensive Immigration Reform and supported by such coalitions between these big industries, such as the Washington Compact as a further subsidy that would help them to meet their shareholder’s bottom line.

This unique type of software-giant gentrification in Seattle has led to the internal migration of displaced native Seattleites to the north and south of the city, causing an internal migration of the people who had originally settled to the north and south of Seattle to move east into Spokane and the Tri-cities and northward towards Bellingham at greater numbers.

State subsidies to the software giants of Washington don’t halt there. Vulcan CEO Paul Allen for example has gotten the following subsidies in his other investments,

Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, for example, demanded that the state of Washington finance 75% of the cost of a new $425 million stadium for his team. Allen — the third richest person in the United States, worth an estimated $40 billion — warned that if he didn’t get the money, he would move the Seahawks. The state gave him what he wanted (Eitzen 2000).

These software companies are heavily invested in the passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership, because it will ease business endeavors along the Pacific Rim Capitalist Market Circuit.

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Photo Collage by LaborNotes

AEROSPACE

Aerospace companies like Boeing successfully lobbied Washington governor Jay Inslee to provide tax breaks and incentives in 2013. It was the largest state tax subsidy in the history of the United States of America, valued at over $8.7 Billion dollars over 27 years (Wilson 2013). Washington State provided Boeing a tax incentive worth $3.2 Billion dollars in 2003 to build infrastructure for their aircraft manufacturing facilities. The names of corporations that received these types of megadeals since 2003 in the United States of America include Alcoa, Nike, Intel, Cheniere Energy, Royal Dutch Shell, Chrysler, Nissan, AMD, and General Motors to name a few (Ibid).

Even with these types of megadeals that came at great expense to everyone that pays into Washington’s sales tax, Boeing still moved production of it’s 777x away from Washington, where the unions are strong to Oklahoma City and St. Louis where engineering unions are weaker. In 2008, Boeing shipped the engineering of the wings for it’s 787, 777, 747-8 to Japan, which in effect offshored highly skilled union engineering jobs from the Puget Sound Area to a location where there were no effective unions (Boeing Frontiers 2008).

It is important to note that federally, these are three big industries that have been deemed “Too Big to Fail” and have been the recipients of state and federal bailout incentives much like the banks and the auto industry. It is my argument that because we live in a system of fictionalized financial capital, commonly referred to as Casino Capitalism, that crises’ are planned and implemented by capitalist planners in order to extract more value from what would normally be considered illegal and unfair outside of a state of emergency. Naomi Klein (2007), Dawn Paley (2015), Emily Kawano (2009), Arundhati Roy (2012), Vandanna Shiva (2010), Harry Cleaver (1980) amongst many economists have followed the trajectory and life of capitalism in the 20th and 21st Century, coming to similar conclusions.

These industries are only too big to fail because they are unsustainably subsidized by our collective tax dollars and our exploited labor on the municipal, state and national level.

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Photo of AgForestry Class 34 in Costa Rica, By Dave and Jan Roseleip Endowment Fund.

Capitalist Planning in the 21st Century

In Washington State, the AgForestry Leadership Program is where future capitalist planners are developed and groomed for leadership. They are introduced to and encouraged to collaborate with state officials to plan the future of Washington’s economy without the input of those most affected by their failed policies, the workers.

To participate in the leadership program, one must be nominated and approved by both the AgForestry Leadership Committee and its board of trustees. The participants are each awarded a $21,000 stipend for their time, $15,000 of which comes from AgForestry’s ‘investors’ and $6,000 that is paid by the participant or their sponsoring organization. As part of their program, the participants are introduced to people they will lobby in Washington D.C. for one week, and are taken to build relationships with trade interests for two weeks overseas.

The AgForestry Leadership program’s mission statement reads as follows, “We are a leadership development organization dedicated to advancing the natural resource industries through enhanced understanding, education and empowerment of future leaders.” The organization’s vision statement is, “To be Washington’s premier service provider of leadership training and networking to support healthy natural resource industries.”

In January 2015, for example, the organization’s Class of 36 visited the Trans-Pacific Partnership country of Vietnam, where they studied “trade issues and the natural resource industries of the country”(2). While in Vietnam, the Class of 36 had meetings “with various delegates that are stationed in Hanoi, both representing Washington as well as national interests” the students were educated about trade impacts and the industries that the government of Vietnam was investing in by such informants such as John Sanders of Tradewinds America along with meetings with Vietnamese business leaders at the home of John and Dawn Sanders.

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As part of the tour, the class visited the Port of Hai Pong, evaluating its costs and benefits for future trade since the main port is owned by ‘communist’ Vietnam, their analysis called for investment in private infrastructure to grow their Pacific Rim Capitalist Market Circuit imports to the region. They reported the following on the Port of Hai Pong,

the Port imports timber from the US, makes furniture from it, and then exports the furniture to other countries including the US. Forestry leaders would be wise to continue to maintain this positive relationship. Soybeans, corn and meat are the biggest imports from the US. There may be an opportunity for producers to take further advantage of this opportunity. It was mentioned that food products from the US are trusted as far as food safety and quality is concerned. Maintaining this positive image should be of utmost importance for our producers (17).

Though the purpose of this analysis of a node in the Pacific Rim Capitalist Market Circuit is benign at first glance. The fact that it is preceded by actual policy that will be formalized if the Trans-Pacific Trade agreement passes in the U.S. congress this year, which coincidentally this class of 36 spent a week meeting with in Washington, D.C., does translate directly into US international foreign policy.

That is not all that this group scouted in terms of business interests for Washington State. The class of 36 reports,

We passed by several coal-fired power plants. They were strategically located near the river so deliveries of local and imported coal could be made. Consistent access to electricity is a challenge in Vietnam. The biggest problem is that the water that pumps into people’s homes shut down. Sometimes water deliveries are limited to once every few days to once a week due to brownouts and blackouts. Vietnam expects its first nuclear power plant by 2020 (13).

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Proposed Coal Port Terminals

Being that Washington is the terminal for much of the U.S. coal exports that come by train from the middle of the country. Business interests have been trying to expand the infrastructure of these ports for the last several years near Vancouver, Washington and Bellingham, Washington where there have been expansions proposed for the Millennium Gateway Terminal in Longview and the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Vietnam, it appears, is on the radar of where these extractive corporations would be sending US coal to and it would be good business for them at least through 2020.

The class also visited neighboring Cambodia that will see future investments diverted to Vietnam because of the TPP (Rollet 2015). According to Cambodia’s Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, “We are not affected by the signing of the TPP, as rice exports to the US are not as big as compared to garments, but it will be challenging to expand our market share in the US” (2015). Saran argued that Cambodian rice accounted for only 2 to 3 percent of US rice imports and admitted that he did not really know the extent of the impact of the TPP on Cambodia’s trade in the long term.

According to David Van, representative for business advisory firm Bower Group Asia, “as Cambodia deals with increased price pressures from Vietnam in rice and garment exports, Hanoi will enjoy incentives not only from the TPP, but also its tax-free rice exports to the EU, one of Cambodia’s major export destinations (Ibid).”

The AgForestry Leadership class has been to Vietnam 5 times since 1996. The lobbying entity has visited Cambodia twice, the last time in 2012. It has visited Thailand three times before next year’s trip, the first time in 1987.

The AgForestry Leadership class of 38 which is scheduled to go to Thailand in 2016 and includes executives from Driscoll’s (a member of the Sakuma Brothers Farms family), Puget Consumers Co-op (PCC) Farmland Trust, the Washington State Potato Commission, Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Taylor Shellfish as well as representatives from the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program (who is the daughter of anti-union and anti-immigrant congressman Dan Newhouse (R) who currently serves on the house agricultural committee), the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Washington State Department of Health, and the Department of Natural Resources to name but a few. This group is travelling to Thailand because the nation expressed interest in joining the TPP in November of 2012 (Pinijparakarn 2015).

The members of this class are closely linked with established trade delegations that started when Governor Christine Gregoire as far back as 1993,

Since 2005, Gregoire has led trade missions to Australia, China, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan to help expand Washington’s $42 billion agriculture industry. As a result of her trade missions, Gregoire has had success eliminating some trade barriers and tariffs and opening more opportunities for Washington growers, producers and distributors… Accompanying Gregoire and Newhouse are Supervalu International President Charles Witzleben, Sakuma Brothers President and Co-Owner Steve Sakuma, Washington Grain Alliance Chief Executive Officer Tom Mick, Northwest Horticulture Council President Christian Schlect, Washington State Potato Commission Executive Director Chris Voight, and Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association Executive Director Keith Mathews. (News Tribune, 2009)

The Washington Council on International Trade (WCIT), established around 2011 for the express purpose of “advocating for public policies that increase our [Washington] state’s international competitiveness.” Furthermore, WCIT “advocates for strong, pro-trade policies and investments.” It’s membership, that includes the manufacturers, retailers, service providers, farmers and ranchers, non-profit organizations and individuals mentioned above has advanced a particular analysis that equates competitiveness with economic prosperity, that much like the cost/benefit analysis that Devon G. Peña stated above, breaks place and breaks the hearts of farmworker families and the workers in these industries who live and work in Washington State.

If you look at the make up of the AgForestry Leadership class for 2016, you can see that the agricultural industry of Washington State is in a panic. This panic has been caused because farmworkers in the U.S. and Mexico that have unionized and launched an international, Pacific Rim Capitalist Market Circuit boycott of Driscoll’s berries that has impacted the development plans of grocers like PCC in Seattle and has ramifications in ceasing the ability of corporate entities from continuing to profit from the exploitation of farm labor.

The emperor indeed has no clothes when it comes to Farm worker rights along the Pacific Rim Capitalist Market Circuit. As president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Ramon Torres said recently, “Los unicos que podemos luchar por nosotros somos nosotros mismos, los campesinos [The only ones that can fight for us are ourselves, the farmworkers]”.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Photo by David Bacon
Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Photo by David Bacon

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