For more than 14 months, members of Asotrecol — the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-workers of GM Colombia — have occupied the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. General Motors has fired more than 200 workers in recent years after they became incapacitated through workplace injuries. They want to be rehired for jobs they can perform with their disabilities, which were caused by speed, repetitive motion, heavy lifting and a generally unsafe work environment.
Asotrecol chose to occupy the embassy because the U.S. government bailed out GM and still owns 26 percent of the company. They began their encampment with 68 workers on Aug. 1, 2011. Exactly one year later, 13 brave men, still living in tents, went on a hunger strike and sewed their lips shut.
The strike was lifted once, when GM executives in Detroit agreed to participate in mediation along with the United Auto Workers and the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. But GM’s Colombian subsidiary, Colmotores, offered a sum of money that would not even cover the surgeries workers need. The workers resumed their hunger strike and again sewed their lips shut. Asotrecol President Jorge Parra, who stopped eating but did not sew his lips, arrived in Detroit on Sept. 5, hoping to meet with GM executives.
On Sept. 17, an International Day of Solidarity with Asotrecol, Parra and a group of labor and community activists demonstrated outside GM World Headquarters in Detroit. Simultaneous actions were held in cities across the country at Colombian consulates, GM dealerships and the home of GM CEO Dan Akerson. Occupy Portland (Oregon) carried signs supporting Asotrecol at the Occupy Wall Street anniversary march, and strikers at Palermo’s pizza factory in Milwaukee dedicated their picket line that day to Asotrecol.
On Sept. 22, Asotrecol lifted the second hunger strike after three weeks “to demonstrate our will to talk and our hope for a prompt, just and final mediation.” The group is maintaining its encampment and hoping that a settlement to resolve their intolerable situation will be reached soon. Parra has received a warm response in dozens of meetings with union activists, anti-war groups, churches, students and other organizations. Media coverage has not been extensive, but has given Parra an opportunity to reach many people who are unaware of the harsh situation in Colombia.
Asotrecol states that “our physical strike [that] we have maintained for over 415 days in front of the Embassy of the United States in Colombia will continue until we achieve a definitive and just solution, as will all of our actions we started in the U.S. with the goal of raising awareness about our situation and that of workers in Colombia.”