Colombia: banana workers end strike in violence-torn Urabá

On May 20 some 17,500 banana workers in Colombia’s northwestern Urabá region ended a strike they began on May 8 over pay and benefits. The workers won an 8% wage hike for the first year of the two-year contract and a cost-of-living adjustment for the next year; this is based on the Consumer Price Index (IPC in Spanish), which is expected to rise by 5% or less this year. The strikers also won benefits including funds for housing, recreation and culture, a bonus, and pay for the days lost to the strike.

The banana workers were seeking a 9.2% wage increase the first year and the IPC adjustment plus 2% for the second year, along with other benefits and the creation of a fund to pay reparations to relatives of the victims of violence in Urabá. The owners had originally sought a five-year contract. Gilberto Torres, a spokesperson for the National Union of Agricultural Industry Workers (SINTRAINAGRO), said the union’s members “received the agreement very well.”

The owners lost about $30 million during the 12-day strike; normally they would have shipped some 3.7 million cases during the period. Colombia is the world’s third largest banana exporter, after Ecuador and Costa Rica, with most exports going to Europe and the US. About 75% of Urabá’s economy depends on the industry, which employs some 19,500 workers at 296 plantations.

SINTRAINAGRO officials say more than 800 farmworkers have been killed in Urabá over the past 13 years, mostly by rightwing paramilitaries hired by growers to stop labor organizing. During the job action the union charged that the owners tried to bring in strikebreakers even though the strike was recognized by the Social Protection Ministry. Union officials also said strikers had received threatening messages. (El Tiempo, Bogotá, May 18; El Espectador, Bogotá, May 20; Reuters, May 20; EFE, May 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 24

See our last posts on Colombia, the paramilitaries and the banana-paramilitary nexus.