Colombian GM workers gain new allies

Jorge Parra, president of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-workers of General Motors Colmotores (Asotrecol), came to Detroit in September 2012. For six months he attempted to win a meeting with General Motors’ executives, with the goal of resolving the dispute he and hundreds of other former workers have with the company. GM fired them after being injured on the job, and had their medical records forged to state their injuries were not work-related, thus denying them workers’ compensation and leaving them with no form of income.

Some participants at Detroit meeting with Jose Parra, Oct. 19.WW photo: Martha Grevatt

Some participants at Detroit meeting with Jose Parra, Oct. 19.
WW photo: Martha Grevatt

While in Detroit, Parra sewed his lips shut and waged a 72-day hunger strike, but GM would not budge. He returned to Asotrecol’s tent encampment outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, set up on Aug. 1, 2011, to pressure the U.S. government, then still GM’s majority shareholder, to make GM honor the rights of the fired workers. The encampment is still up despite arrests, beatings and eviction attempts.

What Asotrecol won during Parra’s stay in Detroit was a diverse network of friends who were moved by this heroic struggle. They welcomed him back to Detroit this October, hosting numerous meetings with autoworkers, social justice activists, church members and others. Parra spent several hours with housing rights activist S. Baxter Jones, who is in the fourth week of his own hunger strike to keep his home.

Parra returned to Michigan to make a presentation to the Arcus Foundation at Kalamazoo College, which hosted Asotrecol and nine other finalists for its social justice award. Parra explained that while GM was still denying justice to Asotrecol, the struggle was having an impact. GM has stopped discharging injured workers and has installed equipment to make work safer. Injured workers from other sectors, who have suffered the same fate as GM workers, are finding common cause with one another.

While another group won Kalamazoo’s juried award, Asotrecol and a Mexican Indigenous women’s group shared the audience award.

From Detroit, Parra flew to Stuttgart, Germany, for an international autoworkers conference that attracted workers from India, South Africa, Europe, the U.S. and Latin America. The conference passed a resolution unanimously in solidarity with Asotrecol. Parra made strong connections there, especially with Brazilian autoworkers who have waged successful strikes to stop mass layoffs.

Upon returning to Detroit on Oct. 19, Parra rushed to the meeting of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions & Utility Shutoffs. Coalition members posed with Parra, holding a banner in solidarity with the Colombian anti-foreclosure group, Victims of Bankers.