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Coca-Cola Attempts Union Busting in Colombia

by Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
July 20, 2004
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Barrancabermeja, Colombia - “Nine compañeros have been assassinated, 45 have been displaced and 75 have had their lives threatened. The only thing these people have in common is that they work for Coca-Cola. Now the military and the paramilitaries are threatening our families,” said William Mendoza. Mendoza, vice-president of the beverage workers’ union SINALTRAINAL, was speaking July 2 to a delegation of the Colombia Action Network that visited July 2.

Killer Coke's use of terror tactics has not broken the spirit of SINALTRAINAL. The union's struggle is winning international attention, and last July an international boycott of Coca-Cola products began in response to Coke's use and support of paramilitary death squads in Colombia. The Colombia Action Network (CAN) is organizing support for the militant labor movement in Colombia. From June 30 to July 14, a delegation of CAN student and anti-war activists from Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin met with representatives from many human rights groups, campesino organizations and unions in Colombia, including SINALTRAINAL, to hear about the effects of Plan Colombia (a U.S. military aid package).

Mendoza explained that Coca-Cola is changing their strategy. Because of international pressure, Killer Coke's union busting strategy includes less actual murder. Now the company is using the Colombian government to break the union. The Ministry of Social Protection (formerly the Labor Ministry) decided in favor of the Coca-Cola Corporation in the third and final appeal of their dismissal of 63 members of the beverage workers' union. In this way, Coca-Cola and the Ministry are working together to deliver a blow to SINALTRAINAL.

The situation for the members of SINALTRAINAL is extremely critical. Twenty days after the union is formally notified of the decision, the company will be able to dismiss more than 30 of the union workers. The other affected workers are union leaders who have union protection. In order to dismiss those union leaders, the company will have to formally request the removal of their union protection. That process can take as little as one month. Through this process the union could be eliminated from all the Coca-Cola plants. The union's leadership, like SINALTRAINAL vice-president William Mendoza, could be out of work and without security protection in less than two months.

William Mendoza explained the importance of the government's decision, stating, “The judicial system in this country is now making its decisions based on politics rather than the law. The most likely outcome is that Coca-Cola, with its economic, political and legal power, will apply pressure so that the decision comes out in its favor and it can dismiss the union leaders. This will then conclude the greatest infamy against an organization that struggles to improve the conditions of workers and in favor of the human rights of all Colombians. The only desire of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe's government is to eliminate all the forms of organization of the Colombian people in order to impose a totalitarian regime. A regime in which the common denominator will be terror, hunger and misery for the people, so that the rich can become even richer.”

SINALTRAINAL and the Colombia Action Network are calling for solidarity. They are asking supporters to call or contact Coke headquarters on July 22, the International Day of Action Against Coke, to denounce Coca-Cola's union busting. Colombian union leaders need support. They are concerned because now, international political pressure is protecting them and their families from murder - but when they are laid off from Coca-Cola, and no longer members of a union in the spotlight, the paramilitaries will kill them. By voicing support for the members of SINALTRAINAL, we can try to prevent a murderous attack against the courageous sisters and brothers of the Colombian labor movement!

To contact Coca-Cola:
Douglas N. Daft, CEO
Coca-Cola Company
One Coca-Cola Plaza
Atlanta, GA 30313

Board of Directors
Coca-Cola Company
PO Box 1734
Atlanta, GA 30301

For more information go to:
www.colombiaactionnetwork.org
www.sinaltrainal.org
www.fightbacknews.org

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