Free trade is one of those wedge issues that cuts across party lines, dividing Democrats and Republicans not between the parties, but within each party.
It’s coming to a head now as a coalition of labor and environmental groups pressures U.S. Rep. John B. Larson to vote against an upcoming free trade bill — with a rally scheduled for Saturday.
Larson, Democrat of the 1st District, is normally one of the best friends to labor and environment groups. But the coalition says he has yet to oppose “Fast Track” trade authority, which is crucial to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement — dubbed “NAFTA on steroids” by its opponents.
“If enacted, the TPP would off-shore American jobs, flood the U.S. with unsafe food imports, increase the cost of medicine, increase fracking, and make the global race to the bottom even worse,” the group said in a written release.
Proponents of free trade, including Clinton Democrats, say reducing barriers is the best way to reach economic growth even if it means some displacement and pain in the short run. Larson has generally supported free trade.
The rally is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Larson’s office at 221 Main St. in Hartford. The Connecticut AFL-CIO, part of the group, originally put out word of the rally, then said the event was off. Organizers from a group called Activate CT later said the event was on.
“As a Member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, my primary goals are to ensure any agreement we enter into aims to build on American innovation and expand our export opportunities while protecting jobs here at home,” Larson said in an emailed statement.
The takeaway: Activists are fighting over whether to protest or negotiate. For Larson, a lifetime labor supporter with multinational corporations directly responsible for tens of thousands of jobs in his district, it’s virtually a no-win issue.