Colombian hunger strikers inspire auto workers

Left, Jorge Parra of GM hunger strikers in Colombia with Martha Grevatt at Sept. 10 Detroit meeting.WW photo: Abayomi Azikiwe

Left, Jorge Parra of GM hunger strikers in Colombia with Martha Grevatt at Sept. 10 Detroit meeting.
WW photo: Abayomi Azikiwe

Auto workers the world over have been inspired by Asotrecol — the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-workers of General Motors Colmotores in Colombia — whose president, Jorge Parra has been on hunger strike in Detroit for over 70 days.

Parra’s comrades have lived in tents outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogota for a year and a half. Their goal is to get jobs or an income for fired workers who were dumped after being hurt by the fast pace, long hours, and conditions that a typical auto worker can endure for only a few years.

For the past five months Parra has been in the U.S. trying to get GM to just negotiate.

GM clearly takes advantage of the anti- union environment in Colombia, the most dangerous country in the world for unionists. Yet even where GM workers have unions, they are seeing their live­lihoods and rights being taken away. GM workers and other auto workers on three continents — initially drawn together through the international campaign to win justice for the injured Colombian workers — called a “Global Day of Action Against the Attacks of GM” on Jan. 23.

On Jan. 22, the Metalworkers Union of Sao Jose dos Campos staged a 24-hour strike to protest impending layoffs. These Brazilian auto workers burned tires and blocked a major thoroughfare for an hour to oppose company plans to permanently terminate 1,800 workers on Jan. 26. The union’s vice president, Herbert Carlos da Silva, called offers to keep the workers if they accept a pay cut “blackmail.” The union threatened another strike on Jan. 28.

A mass rally that same day in Bochum, Germany, protested plans by GM’s Opel division to close their plant by 2016. On Jan. 23, as they have been doing every Wednesday for some time, Opel’s workers used their lunch break to hold a protest rally.

Workers at the Aulnay-sous-Bois plant of PSA, a French company in a “Global Strategic Alliance” with GM, have been holding strikes to oppose plans to close their plant.

In the U.S., actions in solidarity with Asotrecol, the Brazilian Metalworkers and all GM workers under attack were held in Detroit; metropolitan Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; Birmingham, Ala.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Wichita, Kan. In Detroit, Asotrecol supporters performed a “mic check” and banner drop at the Chevrolet display of the North American International Auto Show — one of the biggest and most widely attended auto shows in the world. The Portland Auto Show was hit with a similar action on opening day Jan. 24.

In Colombia, Asotrecol’s demonstration outside the plant had the backing of Sintraime, a union of workers in railway and various industries, as well as Sintra GMcol, a new union inside the GM plant inspired by Astotrecol.

GM workers in Argentina and Spain and Ferrari workers in Italy, also held actions.

Manifesto defends GM workers

An “International Manifesto in Defense of Workers at General Motors” was developed with input from workers in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the U.S. The document protested plant closings and mass layoffs and called for governments to protect job security, take action for “reduction of working hours without loss of pay,” safe working conditions, an end to “precarious [temporary] work and the reduction of rights,” and reinstatement of the fired injured Colombian GM workers. (rf-news, de, Jan. 22)

The Manifesto charged that “GM has operated a world-wide restructuring plan. They want us to pay for a crisis we are not responsible for. Such attacks result in worsened working conditions, reduction of labor rights, pay cuts, full or partial closure of productive units and thousands of layoffs around the world.”

The Manifesto optimistically proclaimed that “it is possible for industrial workers across the world to unite to defeat even the big international monopolies such as GM. Therefore, we must unite, step by step, through the coordination and unity of struggles around the world.”

On Jan. 28, the Brazilian GM workers voted to accept a negotiated agreement to cancel the mass layoffs. The 600 workers currently on layoff are collecting their wages, but only for two more months. “We have now entered into another case of struggling,” the union vice president told this writer, “to avoid the dismissal of 600 workers.” n