Colombian Workers Stand United With U.S. Workers in Opposition to the Colombia...

Colombian Workers Stand United With U.S. Workers in Opposition to the Colombia FTA

Members of Congress, Colombian And U.S. Unions Pledge Continued Opposition To Pending Trade Deal


WASHINGTON, May 14 /PRNewswire/ — Seven leaders from the largest Colombian unions joined members of Congress and U.S. labor leaders for a news conference on Capitol Hill today to pledge their continued opposition to the pending U.S. — Colombian Free Trade Agreement, despite continued lobbying by the Bush administration and the Colombian government.

During the news conference, the Colombian trade unionists discussed the union-busting bloodbath Colombian union members currently face, including assassinations, death threats and violence against their colleagues, family and friends that have created a climate of fear for trade unionists, making it impossible for them to fully and confidently exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively.

“In Colombia the situation has become graver,” said Luis Alfonso Velasquez Rico, National Executive Committee Member of the Unitary Workers Center. “The union killings have not stopped, the impunity that exists has not ended, and everyday it becomes more apparent that with respect to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, we are moving backwards.”

Velasquez Rico also addressed how the current FTA is an agreement to benefit Colombian and U.S. corporations such as Chiquita, Brinks and Coca-Cola, not Colombian and U.S. workers.

“The Colombia FTA will only provide more fuel to the multinational companies that invest in Colombia and the government who thrives on the repression of workers. I want the U.S. Congress to be clear — the situation in Colombia for workers and trade unionists is dire,” said Velasquez Rico.

Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for union members. More than 2,500 workers have been murdered by Colombian death squads for trying to form unions since the 1980s, and there have been more than 400 murders since President Uribe took office five years ago. To make matters worse, the Colombian government has acted with total impunity.

Evan Torro Lopes, Executive Committee Member of the National Association of Bank Workers discussed how the Colombian FTA should never have been negotiated under the current conditions, stressing that the country is years, not months, away from eradicating the impunity, intimidation and trade union killings that exist there.

“It is difficult to comprehend how some think that the situation in Colombia is better when this year already more than 25 trade unionists have been murdered and many more threatened,” said Torro Lopes. “My life has personally been threatened due to my union activity. If the Colombia FTA passes without giving us the opportunity to ensure that labor rights are respected, and our lives are not at risk, any leverage that exists to address the culture of violence and impunity in Colombia will be gone.”

In addition to pledging continued opposition to the Colombian trade deal, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, joined U.S. labor leaders in calling for a new direction on trade agreements to consider their implications for U.S. and foreign workers.

“With the U.S. economy in recession the last thing we need is another job killing trade agreement. U.S. trade policy has been driven by corporations who put profit over the interests of people,” said UNITE HERE general president Bruce Raynor. “Today we demonstrate that workers in both the U.S. and Colombia reject the U.S. Colombia trade agreement. Workers in both countries support trade that raises living standards and strengthens democracy.”

“For the sake of both of our nations, the United States should not sign a trade deal with Columbia that shortchanges workers, that rewards polluters, and that gives businesses the same power as sovereign governments. And we should absolutely not sign a trade deal that forgives treachery toward labor leaders,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Change to Win and the AFL-CIO, which both strongly oppose the Colombian trade deal, are hosting the delegation of Colombian union leaders this week.

About Change to Win

Change to Win is a six million member partnership of seven unions founded in 2005 to represent workers in the industries and occupations of the 21st century economy. Change to Win is committed to restoring the American Dream for a new generation of workers — wages that can support a family, affordable health care, a secure retirement, and the opportunity for the future. The seven affiliated unions are: Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North America, Unite Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and United Farm Workers of America.

Colombian Workers Stand United With U.S. Workers in Opposition to the Colombia FTA