On the 77th anniversary of the Flint, Mich., sit-down strike in the U.S., fired GM workers in Colombia accelerate their struggle.
Jorge Parra outside the Detroit auto show, Jan. 14, 2013.
WW photo: David Sole
After 930-plus days of occupation outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, injured workers fired by General Motors are stepping up their fight for basic justice.
Day 925 came on Feb. 11, the 77th anniversary of the United Auto Workers’ victory in the Flint sit-down strike. The Colombian workers chose that day to restart the hunger strike which has continued on and off since Aug. 1, 2012. Two members of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of GM Colmotores (Asotrecol) — Carlos Trujillo and the group’s president, Jorge Parra — dramatically demonstrated their commitment to the strike by sewing their lips shut.
Since the beginning of the occupation, the workers have demanded that GM fulfill its legal obligation to place them in jobs they can perform despite their injuries. If they cannot work, GM is obligated to provide them with lifetime income. GM has gotten around the law, the workers say, by forging medical records to make the injuries appear not work-related.
Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for union activists. Nevertheless, Asotrecol has accomplished much through this struggle. Parra explained in a letter to UAW President Bob King:
Still waiting for justice
“We were able to force an end to the illegal collaboration between the GM Medical Department and the private healthcare service (EPS) operating inside the plant. … GM has invested millions of dollars in ergonomic improvements on the production line, we have forced them to stop the dismissal of injured workers, and there has been a nearly 200 percent increase in the number of injured workers who have been relocated to jobs more appropriate for their physical state. … Our compañeros still working inside the plant have helped their fellow workers realize the importance of going to the doctor to get treatment without fearing reprisals from GM, so that they avoid exacerbating their injuries.
“With great courage they have also started a new union, SintraGMCol. The existing union, Sintraime, has been supported and strengthened by Asotrecol standing up to GM, after having nearly been decimated in prior years by devastating laws quite similar to the ones that are expanding in the United States” — so-called “right to work” (for less) laws.
Eight fired workers, who have kept the fight going under the rigors and dangers of a 30-month occupation, still wait for justice. GM refuses to negotiate a resolution of their issues. They struggle to feed their families. Two of those who have not lost their homes are facing foreclosure. Fundraising efforts, with thousands donated by rank-and-file auto workers, have kept the occupation going. Unfortunately, UAW President King has distanced himself from Asotrecol, hence Parra’s appeal.
New forces are rallying to Asotrecol’s side. After the hunger strike began, the Colombian United Confederation of Workers donated food for Asotrecol families. Justice for Colombia, which “has the support of the more than 7 million workers in the British and Irish trade union movements as well as over 80 MPs in the UK Parliament,” stated that it “expresses its solidarity with Asotrecol.”
To assist Asotrecol or watch an hour-long documentary about their struggle, visit Asotrecol.org.