You might think the Great Recession taught us all a lesson about the dangers of letting market speculation, corporate oligarchy and an overheated financial system take over the global economy. And yet, even as workers and governments remain scarred from the 2008 financial disaster, Wall Street and its political cronies are already hard at work penning an international program to further deregulate the financial infrastructure. And this time, they’re targeting the inner gears of capital: the financial service sector.
The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) builds on the template of past free trade deals like NAFTA, but focuses on the financial service sectors, like computer technicians and bank tellers. And as service worker unions join the resistance to free trade alongside factory workers and farmers, a campaign is underway to organize Wall Street’s rank and file.
According to negotiating documents released online by Wikileaks last month, the finance section of the TISA draft reads as a wish list of deregulatory measures penned by Wall Street, and it would expand market liberalization to more than two dozen countries, including those of the European Union, Switzerland, Mexico, Israel, Turkey and Australia. Trade ministers are seeking to make it easier for financial services and other professional labor—from loan officers to security guards to data processors—to be traded like global commodities and undermine working conditions in the process.
The labor sectors covered by TISA relate to many of the services that help society run, including core public programs like healthcare, telecommunications infrastructure, the post office or municipal water systems. But one of the major aims of TISA is to “liberalize” private sectors beyond the earlier trade deals’ provisions for trades in goods and lowering of tariffs. Although financial markets are already intermeshed globally, TISA would further whittle down regulatory safeguards on transnational financial services, such as marketing of insurance, and on the labor these firms use. So the workers that process financial transactions may find their jobs increasingly digitized and “exportable”, just like bank transfers or stock trades. By further deregulating the infrastructure of wealth itself, TISA gives companies greater leeway to outsource and offshore “white collar” jobs once deemed insulated from free trade.
In response, TISA has drawn protests from both civil servants and bank clerks worldwide. They fear that while earlier waves of trade liberalization led to factory closures, deregulating the service economy could bring similar devastation to “white collar” employees.
In a joint statement of opposition, the union association Public Services International, together with various civil society, labor and rights groups, denounced the TISA’s “hyper-deregulation-and-privatization agenda” and the lack of transparency in the trade talks: