Workers in the sugar industry in Colombia’s Cauca and Cauca Valley have gone on strike in response to the refusal by the Sugar Cane Growers’ Association, Asocana, to negotiate with them for better pay (they now make about $200 per month), shorter hours (they now frequently work 14 or more hours per day), a healthier work environment, better housing and educational facilities for themselves and their families, and a formal work contract with labor and union rights. President Alvaro Uribe response was to order the military into the mills to remove striking workers. The mill owners have called upon the national police to stop and inspect mill workers. Paramilitary groups have threatened several workers.
The strike comes at a time when the sugar cane growers and processors propose to expand crops to produce bio-diesel fuels as well as sugar. Yet they refuse to consider improvement of working conditions and pay which the sugar cane workers have sought through their union organization.
These developments in Colombia are taking place during the visit this week of President Uribe to Washington, D.C., where he and numerous other Colombian government officials are seeking to convince Congress to approve the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Colombia.
Congress has properly refused to approve the FTA without the Colombian government’s recognition of labor rights and protection for labor union leaders and members—precisely the failings being demonstrated right now by President Uribe and his government.
Please write your representatives in Congress to say “no” to the cynical attempt of the Uribe government to win passage of the FTA at the very time it is undermining Colombian unions and showing callous disregard for union organization and workers’ rights to seek fair pay under safe conditions with reasonable hours. And let Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab know of your concerns. Please contact Senator Obama’s campaign about this serious trade issue.
And write President Uribe to tell him he is wrong to ignore workers’ rights and will face a united front against the FTA from unions, workers and human rights organizations in this country. Please also send copies of your letter to President Uribe to Asocana and the Governor of Cauca, showing our support for the sugar cane workers.
Dr. Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Presidente de Colombia
Fax: 57 1 566 2071
Or check his website www.presidencia.gov.co
Luis Fernando Londono ,President of ASOCANA :email@example.com
Guillermo Gonzalez Governor of Cauca :firstname.lastname@example.org
Juan Carlos Abadia Governor of Valle del Cauca : email@example.com
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621