Jorge Parra has not eaten for more than two months.
The president of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colmotores (Asotrecol) went on a hunger strike to draw public attention to the plight of former workers of the General Motors plant in Bogotá, Colombia. More than 200 workers were fired and denied workers’ compensation after suffering debilitating on-the-job injuries.
Asotrecol has maintained an encampment outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá for more than 535 days. Their primary demand is to be rehired and integrated into jobs that they can perform with their limitations. On Nov. 20, Parra sewed his lips shut.
Parra arrived in Detroit last Sept. 4, hoping to meet with GM corporate executives to resolve the situation. They are aware of his hunger strike and that he will resume eating if they agree to negotiate, but are allowing his condition to deteriorate rather than meet with him.
Now Parra is extremely weak and in a great deal of pain. The pants he bought after losing 25 pounds are now loose. He only removed the stitches from his lips after the swelling and burning sensation prevented him from sleeping.
GM workers and other auto workers around the world have rallied to Asotrecol’s cause, linking the demand to rehire the Colombian workers to their own issues of plant closings, mass layoffs and loss of rights. Members of the rank-and-file group Autoworkers Caravan and other Detroit activists rallied outside the North American International Auto Show on Jan. 13 and 14.
Jan. 14 was the first day of the auto show’s Press Day. For the first time, Detroit television viewers were able to learn about the then 55-day hunger strike and the suffering of Colombian autoworkers, who are typically unable to work after five or 10 years of the harsh working conditions at Colmotores. GM, Ford and Chrysler workers also voiced their own complaints, including the unequal and divisive two-tier pay system, working 10 to 12-hour days and weekends for straight time under so-called Alternative Work Schedules, and injured workers being re-injured after being forced back to work on jobs not suited to their physical limitations.
The overall theme of the Detroit demonstration, “Save the workers! Save the unions! Save the communities! Save the planet!” united the issues of deteriorating working conditions everywhere; the union-busting “right-to-work” legislation in Michigan; the lack of jobs, caused by decades of plant closings and mass layoffs, in hard-hit cities like Detroit; and the crisis of global warming, all of which the auto industry has contributed to.
Autoworkers around the world are fighting back. On Jan. 10, 4,000 GM workers in São José dos Campos, Brazil, demonstrated against the company’s plans to permanently lay off 1,500 workers on Jan. 26. Workers at the GM Opel plant in Bochum, Germany — slated to be closed in 2016 — have been holding weekly protest meetings every Wednesday on their lunch break.
Spanish Opel workers are fighting layoffs and demanding a 35-hour workweek to spread the work around and improve conditions for workers. On Jan. 14, their GM Workers Assembly voted to support Asotrecol and make a financial contribution to help the families of workers in the encampment.
Workers at the PSA Peugeot Citroën factory in Aulnay-sous-Bois, France, staged a strike Jan. 16 to protest the planned closing of that plant next year. The “Global Strategic Alliance” between GM and PSA, announced last February, is intended to streamline operations and threatens the livelihoods of both GM and PSA workers. PSA plans to lay off a total of 8,000 workers in France.
These struggles will all be tied together Jan. 23 in a World Day of Action in Support of GM Workers to demand reinstatement of the fired members of Asotrecol, no plant closings and no layoffs. Workers in the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, France and Spain plan to participate.
In a joint statement, read during the protests outside the auto show in Detroit, GM workers charged that “GM wants us to pay for a crisis we did not create. These attacks result in more precarious working conditions, the reduction and withdrawal of rights, lower wages and full or partial closure of production units and thousands of layoffs worldwide. … Given this attempt to divide our class, we call upon the workers and trade unions of all GM plants in the world to come together and sympathize with each other to defend our class interests.” n