Activists from Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich., came together on short notice for an emergency demonstration to support the fired, injured workers of General Motors in Colombia. Thirteen of these workers, who have camped outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá for over a year, have sewn their lips shut in an “absolutely irrevocable” hunger strike. The corporation fired them, so they now have no source of income and no medical care after suffering work-related injuries that left them incapacitated. They organized the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-workers of GM Colombian — Asotrecol.
The protest was held on Aug. 15 outside of GM world headquarters in downtown Detroit. The Ann Arbor-based Washtenaw Community Action Team and the rank-and-file United Autoworkers member group, Autoworkers Caravan, spearheaded the effort. Other groups that endorsed or brought delegations included the Graduate Employees Organization and the Lecturers Employee Organization at the University of Michigan; the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice; the Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs; Solidarity; Labor Notes; the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange and the Organization for a Free Society.
Protesters chanted: “First they got sick! Then they got fired! So GM’s profits would go higher!” and “We are all Asotrecol!”
Diana Sierra, a Colombian woman who met with the workers at their encampment — and is a member of WCAT and GEO — opened the rally with a commitment to win justice for the workers and not to let the hunger strikers die. Other speakers included Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris Michelakis and representatives of Autoworker Caravan, GEO, LEO and Solidarity. Messages of solidarity were sent from GM workers in Brazil who have blockaded a major highway, and from Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers. Lewenza’s message indicated that the CAW would bring up the mistreatment of Colombian GM workers in upcoming contract negotiations with GM.
Solidarity demonstrations were held the same day in several other cities and more are planned. Earlier in the week, Asotrecol supporters demonstrated outside a GM plant in Arlington, Texas. Committed activists plan to organize many more actions to hold GM accountable for the fate of the courageous hunger strikers in Bogotá. n