In his speech when installed as President in January, Donald Trump declared that ‘from this moment on it’s going to be America first’, promising ‘Every decision on trade, on taxes, on migration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.’
Theresa May had also promised to put the interests of those from for ‘an ordinary working class family’ before those of the ‘privileged few’ when she became Prime Minister last July. Only she couldn’t proclaim ‘Britain First’, as that’s the name of a fascist party here.
But they are advocating different, even opposing, ways of trying to benefit workers. Trump’s campaign rhetoric was about preserving the jobs of American workers through protective tariffs against imports. May, on the other hand, sees the way as more free trade, more globalisation. In a rather fanciful interpretation of the result of the EU referendum, she told the annual January gathering of the global elite in Davos that Leave voters were people who ‘chose to build a truly global Britain’ (Times, 20 January).
This is not an interpretation shared by most commentators. They noted the high vote to Leave in areas where industries involving heavy manual labour – coal, steel, shipbuilding – had been shut down, precisely because it had become cheaper to manufacture these products elsewhere in the world. These voters were certainly not voting for the more of the same that ‘a truly global Britain’ will involve. That was the view only of a few of the leaders of the Leave campaign who were doctrinaire ‘free’ marketeers.
Free trade, i.e., more globalisation, certainly won’t help, almost by definition, those ‘left behind by globalisation’. But what about protectionism?
The demand for protective tariffs has been the kneejerk reaction of trade unions in industries in difficulty because of foreign competition. In his hunt for votes Trump echoed this view, with some success in areas where workers wouldn’t normally vote for a Republican business tycoon. He is making a big show of honouring this election pledge , declaring when he withdrew the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that doing this was ‘a good thing for the American worker’ (Times, 24 January). He doesn’t like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) either and will no doubt finally scupper the TTIP deal with the EU.
These trade agreements were in the interest of important sections of the US capitalist class – those wanting more security for their overseas investments, those wanting protection for their ‘intellectual property’, agribusinesses wanting to break into the EU market, and, yes, manufacturers wanting to move the production of some components to cheaper parts of the world.
Scrapping these trade and investment deals won’t be welcomed by a large part of the US capitalist class. If Trump really puts jobs for American workers ahead of the profits of its capitalists he will come unstuck, just as left-wing governments have found. If, as a result, capitalists make less profits they will have less to invest and there’ll be less jobs. So, expect only token measures (TPP was dead in the water anyway) and ‘U turns’. Not that protecting the jobs of some workers at the expense of other workers is a worthy cause.