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(Story originally appeared in the Sept.-Oct. 2011 issue of Solidarity magazine)
Murders, beatings and kidnapping of Colombian union activists are commonplace in that South American nation. In fact, it’s the most dangerous place on the planet for union activists.
It’s why the UAW and other unions vigorously oppose a trade agreement with that nation. The proposed agreement does not go far enough to stem the bloodshed by those who stand up for workers’ rights.
“We cannot in good conscience support a trade agreement that leaves union activists as easy targets for militant anti-union groups aided by a government that uses force, threats, intimidation and even murder to silence workers,” said UAW President Bob King. “This agreement does not hold the Colombian government accountable, nor does it give confidence to union activists so they can speak freely and organize workers without fear of being targeted.”
King expressed strong appreciation for the Obama administration pushing aggressively to make significant improvements in the original Bush Colombia Free Trade Agreement, but he felt the lack of legislative changes to support workers’ rights to organize and the lack of accountablitiy for all the murders of trade union leaders required that the UAW and other unions vigorously oppose the agreement.
In June, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released its new Annual Survey on Trade Union Rights, which confirmed that Colombia retained its ranking as the No. 1 most dangerous place for union activists:
• 49 people were murdered for their trade union activities, more than the rest of the world combined.
• 75 additional individuals received credible death threats.
• At least 2,500 unionists were arrested and thousands more fired from their jobs solely due to union membership.
Passage of the agreement would weaken pressure on the Colombian government to protect the human rights of workers, King said.
“The Colombian government has been unambiguously complicit in the abuse of labor and human rights and the signing of the FTA would be an insult to workers everywhere, and to the basic principles of freedom and justice,” he added.