Colombia: fired GM workers go on hunger strike

As of Aug. 15 a total of 13 former employees of GM Colmotores, the Colombian subsidiary of the Detroit-based General Motors Company (GM), were continuing a liquids-only hunger strike they began on Aug. 1 to demand reinstatement and compensation for injuries they say they received on the job. According to the protesters, the company fired them after they received disabling injuries at the Colmotores factory, which employs about 1,800 workers just outside Bogotá. The company denies the workers' accusations.

A group of the laid-off workers formed the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol) last year and set up an encampment in front of the US embassy in Bogotá on Aug. 1, 2011 to push their demands. They decided to go on hunger strike after protesting for one year without results. Seven have sewn their mouths shut as part of the protest, and more plan to take this step in the future.

According to the US-based human rights organization Witness for Peace, US labor activists fasted on Aug. 15 in at least 20 states in solidarity with the Colombian hunger strikers; there was also a demonstration outside GM headquarters in Detroit.

In recent years the US government has pushed Colombia to improve its record on labor rights in order to win approval from the US Congress for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but activists say violations have remained common since Congress ratified the FTA last October. The case of GM Colmotores is especially striking because the company is owned by a US corporation which itself is partly owned by the US government. The US Treasury bought GM stock worth billions of dollars to bail the company out of bankruptcy in 2009. According to BusinessWeek, the US government remains GM's largest shareholder, with 32% of the company's stock. (AlterNet, Aug. 13; Colombia Reports, Aug. 15; BusinessWeek, Aug. 9)

Colombian unionists are also asking for solidarity for two leaders in the National Union of Food Industry Workers (SINALTRAINAL) in Barrancabermeja in the northern department of Santander. Local president William Mendoza and Executive Board member Juan Carlos Galvis were accused in 2008 of placing a bomb in a Coca Cola plant 10 years earlier. The case is only being activated now, and the two leaders, who represent workers at the local Coca-Cola plant, believe that if they are convicted, they will be murdered in jail.

Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for unionists, and right-wing paramilitaries have murdered or attempted to murder SINALTRAINAL members in the past. Mendoza and Galvis and their families have been targeted a number of times. "The judicial system in Colombia is now making its decisions based on politics, not the law," Mendoza says. "We need you to send letters from members of Congress and from North American organizations protesting this prosecution against Juan Carlos Galvis and me." Emails can be sent to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón (, Vice President Angelino Garzón ( and the Attorney General's Office (, (Portside, Aug. 17, via Talking Union blog, where more information is available on the letters)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 19.