In Colombia, the Solidarity Center brings attention to the immense challenges that Colombian workers face from anti-union forces—harassment, death threats, and assassinations—and the courage with which they face these struggles. For more background on the Solidarity Center in Colombia, click here.
|Sugar cane cutters work long hours for low pay under precarious conditions.
Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists. In the last 20 years, 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered. Each year, more union activists are killed in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. But an atmosphere of impunity has ensured that only a tiny number of these murders have been prosecuted and the criminals brought to justice.
In addition to the daily threat of violence and assassination, Colombian workers are faced with the same challenges as workers worldwide: degradation of work and worker protections, anti-union privatization practices, and “cooperative” arrangements that exclude millions of workers from labor law and collective bargaining. Only 4 million of Colombia’s 18 million workers are estimated to have formal labor contracts, and more than half of those are temporary.
Although the government has made great efforts to reduce the power of armed organizations, modernize the economy, and attract foreign investment, it has maintained an unresponsive policy toward labor unions. Colombian authorities have been unable or unwilling to apply laws that protect basic worker rights such as the right to form and join unions. Many employers characterize labor disputes as tantamount to seditious activity.
Colombia: Afro-Descendant Domestic Workers Form Union
. April 8, 2013—Afro-Colombian women recently launched the Union of Domestic Service Workers (Unión de Trabajadoras del Servicio Domestíco, UTRASD), the first-ever union in Colombia created entirely by Afro-descendent women.
Afro-Colombians Fighting against Discrimination at Work.
March 12, 2013—Afro-Colombians are far likelier than other Colombian workers to earn less than the minimum wage and to be employed in jobs where they cannot form unions to improve their working conditions. And all of this exclusion “has a strong current of racial discrimination under it,” said Agripina Hurtado, the newly elected president of the Afro- Colombian Labor Council (Consejo Labor Afrocolombiano). A quarter of Colombia’s population is Afro-descendant, yet Afro-Colombians comprise more than three-quarters of the country’s poor.
Colombian Sugarcane Worker, Trade Unionist, Murdered.
February 5, 2013—Juan Carlos Pérez Muñoz, a trade union member in Colombia, was gunned down last week on his way to board a bus to the Cauca River Valley where he worked in the sugarcane fields.
Human Rights Day 2012: Marking Worker Rights Worldwide.
December 10, 2012—Nearly 3,000 trade union leaders have been murdered in Colombia over the past 20 years and the killing continues, with at least 15 unionists murdered so far this year. Yet behind each statistic is an individual, says Colombian lawyer and human rights activist, Yessica Hoyos Morales. Someone much like her father, Jorge Darío Hoyos Franco, a Colombian labor leader, who was assassinated in 2001 by two hired hitmen.
Interview: A Colombian Sugarcane Cutter, under Threat, Fights for Rights and Respect.
September 28, 2012—Sugarcane cutting is physically demanding and dangerous work. Colombian cane cutters toil in the heat, harvesting the vegetation by hand. Yet while their contributions to a growing and increasingly profitable biofuel industry are significant, workers had seen their rights, wages and working conditions steadily erode, leaving many workers and their families in poverty.
Peruvian Union Leader Fired after Speaking out on Poor Working Conditions. July 20, 2012—An agro-industrial company in Peru has fired a union leader in an attempt to silence one of the strongest voices against unfair and precarious working conditions, says the Peruvian labor federation CGTP. Fidel Polo, legal defense secretary for the Agricola Viru Workers Union and deputy general secretary of the National Federation of Agricultural Workers, was fired on July 12 for defamation.
New Afro-Colombian Labor Council Advances Struggle for Racial Equality.
July 16, 2012—The first national organization dedicated to the working conditions of Afro-descendants in Colombia was formed on July 14 in Cali. The new Afro-Colombian Labor Council will advance racial inclusion in the labor movement and in Colombian society.
Solidarity Center Expands Fight for Worker Justice in Colombia.
July 12, 2012—The Solidarity Center has expanded its program work in Colombia, with the goal of consolidating and implementing labor reforms and formalizing labor relations for hundreds of thousands of precarious, subcontracted workers who currently toil without many of the protections of the labor law or the right to join a union.
Visiting Mine Workers Observe Troubling Conditions in Colombian Coal Mines and Surrounding Communities.
March 23, 2012—In Colombia’s coal mines, troubling health and safety risks combined with serious environmental and social justice issues create conditions reminiscent of mining in the early 20th century in the United States. The dangers mine workers—and local communities—face are real and frightening, say four mining safety and health experts from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
Colombian Port Workers Back on the Job, Will Meet with Vice-President.
March 31, 2011—The 50 skilled crane operators in Cartagena, Colombia, who walked off the job on March 17 have agreed to go back to work following a commitment from the Minister of Social Protection to start an inspection process for sub-contractors and enforce payment of social security and other benefits. Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón has agreed to meet with leaders of the workers’ union, Unión Portuaria (UP), on April 2.
Workers at Colombian Ports Walk Out to Demand End to Illegal Subcontracting.
March 18, 2011 -- Yesterday, 50 skilled crane operators in Cartagena, Colombia, quit en masse to protest the "service cooperatives" that port operators use to subcontract port workers instead of hiring them outright, an exploitive practice that impoverishes workers and denies them their basic rights. All of these workers--members of the Union Portuaria, or Port Union--earn low wages, and 80 percent have no health care coverage, no occupational health insurance, and no retirement benefits.
Improving Colombian Port Workers' Plight Requires Recognition of Labor Law.
A “workers’ cooperative” sounds like a good thing for working people. In Colombia, however, associative labor cooperatives and other mechanisms are used to circumvent national labor law—effectively denying workers the rights, benefits, and dignity to which they are entitled. Colombian port workers union President Javier Marrugo says this “casualization” of the labor force has created a humanitarian crisis among workers and their families.
Colombia Exchange Program Builds Skills, Solidarity.
"To our embarrassment, we Colombians must stand before the international community and say that in our country, the fundamental rights to life, health, work, and education are not respected," a Colombian union leader told a group of U.S. union activists. "Our country continues to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist."
Lack of Respect for Worker Safety Cost Colombian Miner His Life.
In a unified response to safety shortfalls that killed an inexperienced and untrained contract worker at Colombia’s second largest coal mine, 9,000 union miners and contract workers staged a four-day strike in March 2009 that shut down production.
U.S. Union Leaders Meet Champions of the Colombian Labor Movement.
On a Solidarity Center sponsored exchange visit, Florida State AFL-CIO Vice President Mike Williams learned about Colombian workers’ constant struggle for social and economic justice—and why U.S workers need to hear their story.
Making Colombian Mines Safe.
On February 6, a coal mine explosion in Colombia killed four miners, including a 13-year-old child. Four others died of asphyxiation trying to rescue them. Their deaths occurred only three days after another mine explosion killed 32 — Colombia’s worst mining disaster in 30 years.
Related Solidarity Center Publications
- Justice for All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Colombia (2006) focuses on the appalling conditions for workers in Colombia, the country with the highest assassination rate of trade unionists in the world. It also examines gender discrimination, child labor abuses, and how labor law, hiring practices, and failing labor authorities seriously undermine workers' attempts to organize.