Before visiting the displaced persons community of La Onda in Medellin on July 19, Canada’s top public sector union leaders attended two intensive presentations on the grave situation in Colombia. They conclusion of all presenters: Things are worse than ever.
The national leaders of CUPE, CUPW and PSAC and the international vice-president of NUPGE met first with the National Federation of Public Sector Workers (FENALTRASE), including members of the Association of Workers from the Justice System (ASONAL), controller’s office and health care unions.
“A million people have been disappeared and union persecution is ongoing,” FENALTRASE president Mariano Jose Guerra told the leaders. Despite the repression, he added, “through unity at a global level we can be much stronger.” He is also a lawyer for victims of repression.
A young union leader explained that she had just received a letter from her employer threatening to fire her for organizing workers into the union. The threats against trade union leaders have forced many of them to have body guards. They have been systematically targeted for harassment, kidnappings and assassinations.
The leaders’ second briefing was with the National Labour School, supported by several international unions, including the Canadian Labour Congress.
With Uribe’s sudden rise in popularity, due to the release of high-profile hostages being held by guerrillas, the school staff speculated that he was seeking to challenge the current constitution so he could run for a third term.
The NLS staff also said that Uribe supports the creation of thousands of workers’ cooperatives that critics say are nothing more than union busting and a way to lower wages and remove all workers’ rights. Other government measures would further weaken a union movement already suffering from massive limits on collective bargaining and union organizing, they added.
The group continues its tour of Colombia this week with more meetings and visits to examine human and labour rights, working conditions, and exchange views on free trade and the absence of labour and human rights guarantees. They plan to meet with the outgoing Canadian ambassador, government officials and members of the opposition. They will also discuss privatization and other problems with public sector trade unionists.
The leaders return to Canada on July 25.