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Labor unions rally at Grant Park

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hundreds of Chicago-area labor leaders and activists gathered in Grant Park Monday to rally and march for more jobs.

Organizers said they want to ''prevent a new NAFTA.''

Chicago labor unions say a looming free trade agreement, the "Trans Pacific Partnership," will lead to the loss of good-paying U.S. jobs. They compare it to NAFTA.

The Labor Day rally took place just one day before international trade representatives from Australia, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam arrive in Chicago to negotiate the agreement. It's their eighth round of talks.

"We're not going to put up with another trade deal that offers jobs, that reduces tax revenue, that drives down the wages and benefits of the jobs that are left. Too many past trade deals have benefited Wall Street and big business at the expensive of working people in Chicago," said Arthur Stamoulis, Citizens Trade Campaign.

The union protesters marched from Grant Park to the Hilton Hotel, where the trade representatives are meeting this week.

United States trade representatives say the plan will reduce trade barriers between the U.S. and eight other Pacific Rim nations. Trade officials claim it will spur investments, increase jobs and strengthen intellectual property law overseas.

According to the U.S. trade representative website, Illinois exports support more than 384,000 jobs. Labor groups disagree.

"I don't see that, and that's what they said last time, and they didn't create any jobs. Matter of fact, we see what's happening right now with the job crisis. So, you know, this might affect the jobs a little more, take more jobs out of our country," said union worker Brient Thomas.

"Illinois has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs under past trade agreements like NAFTA. This new Trans Pacific trade deal threatens the jobs of the future, our high-tech jobs, our green jobs," said Arthur Stamoulis.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement: "The administration's goal is to craft a high-standard, 21st-Century agreement that tackles the tough issues of trade in creative and thoughtful ways... with considerable input from the broadcast range of stakeholders, in order to boost trade and investment and support the creation and retention of jobs."

The rally began with speeches by union leaders and was followed by the noon march.

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