July 18, 2006—Over the past 20 years, more than 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been killed for their activism, according to a new Solidarity Center report, Justice for All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Colombia.
The murders are part of “a clear pattern of threats, deaths and disappearances targeting vocal worker leaders — many of them teachers — often while they are organizing or negotiating with management,” says a New York Times editorial that cites the report.
The report was launched on June 15 at a panel discussion held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. On the panel were report author Bob Perillo of US/Labor Education in the Americas Program; Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin American Working Group; Hector de Jesus Vasquez Fernandez of the Escuela Nacional Sindical, which monitors and documents threats and attacks against labor leaders; and Charlie Key, secretary-treasurer of the Georgia AFL-CIO state labor federation. AFL-CIO Executive Vice-President Linda Chavez-Thompson offered opening remarks, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-MI) also spoke. AFL-CIO International Department Director Barbara Sailor was the moderator.
“Imagine accepting a union leadership post during a labor conflict around conditions and respect in the workplace, knowing that the last four previous leaders had been murdered while seeking the same dignity and fairness you seek for yourself and your co-workers,” said Chavez-Thompson. “This is a reality for workers in Colombia.”
“No group in Colombia has been more specifically singled out for threats and assassination than organized labor, and no group has shown a more daring tenacity in continuing to operate under threat,” said Haugaard. “Here today we are not only condemning these attacks but celebrating the Colombian union movement’s bravery and persistence.”
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