The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The People against Capital: Stop-TTIP!

The conflict over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a struggle between different blocs, argued John Hilary, Executive Director of the NGO War on Want and Honorary Professor at Nottingham University, in a presentation at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) on Monday, 24 November. This not, however, between Europe and the USA or Europe together with the USA against Asia, but between capital on the one hand, and labour, the environment and the people on the other. In this blog post, I will discuss key points of John Hilary’s presentation covering the contents of TTIP, its dangers as well as the mounting resistance against it.

Three pillars of TTIP

TTIP is part of a new type of trade deal. Since the end of the GATT Uruguay Round in 1994 the emphasis has not only been on facilitating trade in goods, but increasingly also on trade in services, public procurement and on issues of trade related investment measures and intellectual property rights (see Bieler, Ciccaglione, Hilary and Lindberg: 2014). Three distinctive characteristics of TTIP can be identified:

First, there is the focus on deregulating ‘barriers to trade’ as identified by business including labour standards and other work related social gains. Importantly, while companies in the EU have to prove that a particular substance is not harmful, before it can be used in products for sale, in the USA it is the duty of government to prove that a particular substance is harmful, before it can be banned. If the US convention had to be applied to the EU as a result of TTIP, as the EU convention would be interpreted as a trade barrier, the protection of consumers across Europe would have to be significantly lowered.

Second, TTIP intends to intensify further privatisation pressures. Aimed at declaring ‘buy local’ provisions illegal, normal in many US states, the treaty would open up large parts of public services and public procurement to transnational corporations (TNCs) on a global market. Some business leaders within the EU even regard TTIP as a way of completing the Internal Market. In the UK, there are particular concerns about a further privatisation of the National Health Service. Across Europe, people are worried that the privatisation of water, having just been successfully challenged by the first European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Water is a Human Right’, will be put back on the agenda.

Finally, the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism is a key pillar of TTIP. Companies can sue individual countries in ad hoc international courts, if they feel that a change in government policy has damaged their future profit expectations. One prominent example is the Swedish company Vattenfall, which has sued the German government for profit losses as a result of the latter’s decision to get out of nuclear energy by 2022. ‘Vattenfall claims over €3,7 billion in compensation in response to the closure of the nuclear power plants Krümmel and Brunsbüttel’ (Bernasconi-Osterwalder and Hoffmann 2013: 1). National sovereignty is clearly undermined by TTIP, while transnational capital is strengthened.

Mounting resistance to TTIP

Trade unions have found it difficult to find a common position on this new type of trade deals. They have been torn between a focus on their ‘bread and butter’ issues of representing the interests of their members in wage negotiations on the one hand, while others have emphasised the need of a wider societal engagement representing interests beyond the workplace. European trade unions in export-oriented, transnational sectors, for example, have tended to support free trade agreements, as they were perceived to be in the interest of their employers and thus securing the jobs of their members. They were less concerned about the deindustrialising effect on countries in the Global South. Unsurprisingly, this has led to enormous tensions inside the global labour movement (Bieler 2013).

Interestingly, as John Hilary made clear, TTIP has started a process of re-thinking. Several trade unions in Europe and the Global North more generally have changed their position towards opposing TTIP. The German DGB, for example, has demanded that negotiations should be halted, while the British TUC even calls for scrapping the negotiations all together. Crucial for resistance will be whether the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) will follow. Traditionally the ETUC has wanted to be treated as a partner by the EU Commission. Could this be the moment of a historical break with this position?

And the situation is not hopeless. Within less than two months the European-wide movement Stop-TTIP has already collected almost one million signatures in opposition to TTIP. As a packed meeting in Chilwell/Nottingham on 24 November, also addressed by John Hilary amongst others, demonstrated, this opposition has a firm and solid local basis with more and more citizens coming forward to campaign against the treaty.

Transnational capital intends to increase its power vis-à-vis labour, the environment and the people through TTIP. Nevertheless, transnational capital has not yet succeeded, more and more people are joining the resistance. Stop TTIP!

For more information, see

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

27 November 2014

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