Tens of thousands of striking workers were joined by students in marches through cities across Colombia Oct. 7 to demand the right to unionize, public health care and education, and an end to labor contracting. In some cities the protesters were joined by rural workers, displaced people and indigenous communities demanding an end to the abuses they suffer at the hands of Colombia’s armed groups. In Bogotá, marches led by different unions and student organizations blocked traffic as they converged on Plaza Bolívar from points around the city. In Cali, over 10,000 marchers coverged on San Francisco square, while in Medellín different blocs took over the city streets in staggered marches throughout the day, the last lighting the way with torches.
While on the march in Medellín Jorge Soto, director of the Antioquia branch of public sector union CUT told Colombia Reports, “These protests are necessary on a global level because the capitalists won’t ease up and every year the financial sector earns more but it only redistributes poverty, it doesn’t redistribute wealth. Every time a business is in trouble it calls on the workers to tighten their belts and not to ask for so much in collective negotiations, but when they are doing well they don’t share the wealth with the workers.”
That morning, President Juan Manuel Santos addressed student protests against education reforms and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the proposals, insisting: “The only thing I want with this reform is to increase access to higher education, especially for those millions of young people who cannot access it because of their location or lack of resources.” He criticized those who continue to protest, saying, “there is no worse deaf person than one who doesn’t want to hear.” (Colombia Reports, Oct. 7)
See our last post on Colombia’s labor struggle.