Labour leader urges presidential candidates to oppose trade deals

Boost wages, address income inequality on AFL-CIO agenda

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The leader of the largest federation of U.S. labour unions has called on Hillary Clinton and other presidential hopefuls to oppose an Obama administration trade pact.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Tuesday delivered his first address about the U.S. presidential election in November 2016, laying out criteria the federation's 56 member unions will use to assess candidates.

Trumka said a top priority was blocking "fast track" trade legislation under consideration by the Congress, along with the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pact being finalized by the White House.

"The TPP is the latest example of a long-term approach to trade that ... was designed to drive wages down, create special rights for corporations and export jobs," Trumka said, citing as another example a North America pact ratified under former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

"The labour movement opposes Fast Track, and we expect those who seek to lead our nation forward to oppose Fast Track as well," Trumka said. "There is no middle ground."

Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator, first lady and the only Democrat who is formally campaigning for president, is considered the strong front runner for the party's nomination.

Organized labour is an important force in the Democratic Party's base. But Trumka made clear on Tuesday that the federation would not mobilize its 12.5 million workers for candidates who do not commit to policies that will boost wages and address income inequality, including opposing the trade pacts.

"Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement, to run out and door knock, and phone bank, and leaflet, only to have their candidate of choice turn their back toward the policies that will correct what is wrong with America," Trumka said.

President Barack Obama, along with business, some Democrats and many congressional Republicans, says the trade pact will ease the export of U.S. goods, create jobs and contains enforceable provisions related to labour and environmental standards.

Clinton has yet to outline her policy positions, including whether and how she will distance herself from her husband's administration and Obama on key economic issues such as trade.

"Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security," Clinton said when asked about the pending deals at New Hampshire campaign stop last week.

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