Agence France Presse / Olivier Knox
WASHINGTON, April 12 (AFP) - Major US unions and other foes of granting China permanent trade privileges rallied thousands of protesters at the US Congress Wednesday before deploying them to win over lawmakers.
Union spokespeople said that they would ardently court members of the House of Representatives, where the outcome of the fight over permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) remains in doubt in the face of strong opposition from critics of China's labor and human rights record.
The House is set to vote on the measure, which would lower US tariffs on Chinese goods to the same low level enjoyed by all but a handful of nations, the week of May 22. The measure is expected to sail through the Senate, where a vote is expected the week of June 5.
The largest US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, said that over 10,000 of its members would join a midday demonstration before fanning out through House office buildings to meet with members, AFL-CIO spokeswoman Deborah Dion said.
Dion said 70 meetings with members had been schedule and estimated that "every member of the House will be seen at least four times" by union members, who will hear from the leading PNTR foe David Bonior, the number two House Democrat, at their rally.
Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, leaders of teachers and steelworkers unions, as well as a university student organization opposed to sweatshop labor were also expected to address the protesters, a Bonior spokesman said.
Before joining up with the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters union will hold a 5,000-strong demonstration of its own, with speeches by Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and Chinese dissident Harry Wu, said Teamsters spokesman Rob Black.
Like the larger federation, Teamsters members were to lobby House lawmakers after the public gatherings, said Black.
"We are giving our members numbers for their congressmen and saying 'go forth,'" he said, quipping that the effect would be "to make the (Capitol) Hill somewhat crowded today."
Union members, wearing union hats and jackets and carrying US flags and signs with slogans against granting China trade privileges, converged on the lawns around the US Capitol building at 1400 GMT.
China signed a deal last November pledging sweeping open-market concessions in exchange for US support for its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), but made clear that the deal would depend on US congressional approval of PNTR.
The measure is seen as a crucial step toward China's accession to the WTO, which sets the rules for global trade and handles disputes.
President Bill Clinton, who has made bringing China into the international trading fold the top legislative priority for his final year in office, on Tuesday warned that failure to grant China PNTR could have "extremely harmful" consequences by turning Beijing into an enemy.
US Commerce Secretary William Daley, one of the White House's point men in the fight to win congressional approval of PNTR, warned that passage would be in doubt right up until the "days if not hours" before the House vote.: