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Colombian union under attack

U.S. trade unionists extend solidarity

Published Aug 31, 2006 9:33 PM

Several U.S. labor representatives have denounced attacks against Colombia’s food industry union, SINALTRAINAL, in an Aug. 25 letter to Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Vélez.

The letter of solidarity was in response to an urgent appeal from SINALTRAINAL’s international department that revealed the latest round of assaults against the organization and its members. Under the headline, “Offensive Against SINALTRAINAL Sharpens,” the message from the Colombian union read: “A series of attacks against the very existence of SINALTRAINAL have occurred in different regions of Colombia, ranging from a raid on the union’s national headquarters in Bogotá, to the assassination of one of our activists. These incidents are an example of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s policy of ‘democratic security’ and take place at a difficult moment due to labor conflicts with the transnationals Nestlé and Coca-Cola.”

Long-time SINALTRAINAL member Carlos Arturo Montes Bonilla was vicious ly murdered Aug. 17 near his home in Barran cabermeja. He is survived by his wife, Maria Elvia Álvarez Delgado, and seven children. He had worked in the Infants’ Club for the children of the workers of ECOPETROL, the state oil corporation, also participating in many protests against Coca-Cola in its attempt to destroy the union.

Edgar Páez, head of international relations of SINALTRAINAL, said in the recent communiqué: “Our comrade was a member of SINTRAHOCAR and of SINALTRAINAL, a double membership that he had as a legal mechanism to protect the existence of SINALTRAINAL, due to the attacks by corporations like Coca-Cola that have been implementing a criminal policy against the union by revoking the union’s statutes, impeding the membership of executive committee members, lifting trade union conventional rights and activating a judicial plan to block our right of association under the so-called ‘abuse of the law thesis’.”

Montes Bonilla’s murder occurred just two weeks after uniformed men without a legal warrant raided the Bogotá headquarters of SINALTRAINAL. The men identified themselves as members of SIJIN, a judicial police intelligence unit, and justified the action as a “preventive operation” in preparation for the Uribe’s Aug. 7 inauguration for his second term as president. They avoided the need for a warrant by classifying the raid as an “act of voluntary search.”

SINALTRAINAL’s message explains, “The raid took place at the very moment that we were informing the world of the good results of the campaigns against Nestlé and Coca-Cola and public protests against the permanent threats and possible judicial actions against our members.”

A day after the murder, on Aug. 18, a “sympathy” card signed “Death to Trade Unionists/ Muerte a Sindicalistas” was left in the home of Hector Jairo Paz, a SINALTRAINAL leader in Bugalagrande who works for Nestlé de Colombia, S.A. Ten days before, another union member was threatened while he was peacefully protes ting in front of the Nestlé plant against the unjustified firing of 90 temporary workers and four workers with indefinite contracts affiliated with SINALTRAINAL

Evidence surfaces every day showing the connection among transnational corporations, particularly U.S.-based, the U.S. and Colombian governments and the paramilitaries. Since Uribe has been in office, a series of laws have been passed with deceptive names like “Democratic Security” and “Justice and Peace.” These laws provide more impunity for the well-known paramilitaries’ crimes against the civilian population, and in particular against labor leaders.

Affirming that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” the U.S. labor representatives say in their Aug. 25 letter, “We stand in complete solidarity with our Colombian union brothers and sisters and in particularly with the members of SINALTRAI NAL who are the victim of a concerted effort to annihilate the union.” The letter demands that the Colombian government and the corporations involved stop at once the threats and assassination of union members and immediately cease the so-called “voluntary searches.” It demands the punishment of all the parties responsible for the threats and assassination.

They continue, “As Labor Day approaches in the United States, a day when most major cities in the U.S. have large workers’ gatherings, we will make sure that the issue of SINALTRAINAL and in general the attack on workers’ rights in Colombia is prominent.”

The letter was signed, among others, by the president and vice president of the Boston School Bus Drivers, Steel Workers Local 8751, Frantz Mendes and Steve Gillis, respectively; National Teamsters Black Caucus Chair and Teamsters Local 808 Secretary/Treasurer Chris Silvera; National Co-Chair of the Million Worker March Movement and Local 10 Interna tional Longshore Workers Union past Secretary /Treasurer Clarence Thomas; President of the Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women Kathy Black; Phila delphia AFSCME District Council 47 Pre sident Thomas Paine Cronin; and labor supporters, the Most Rev. OFSJC Bishop of the Northeastern Diocese of St Francis of Assisi, CCA, Felipe C. Teixeira; Boston Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee Co-Chair Dorothea Manuela; and Interna tional Action Center Co-Director Teresa Gutierrez.

Letters of protest can be sent to Colombian President Dr. Alvaro Uribe Vélez, Fax: (57-1) 566-20-71, Email: [email protected], with copies to [email protected] For more information, visit www.SINALTRAINAL.org.