US unions fight Colombia and Panama FTAs

Richard Trumka, president of the US’s AFL-CIO labor federation, sent a letter to US president Barack Obama on Sept. 26 opposing any immediate action on a proposed free trade agreement (FTA, TLC in Spanish) with Colombia. Obama is expected to send the Colombia-US FTA for approval to Congress in the next few weeks. Trumka, whose federation is the largest union group in the US, said a labor action plan that Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos agreed to in April has proven ineffective. According to the AFL-CIO, Colombian workers are still forced to sign pactos colectivos—salary and benefit agreements imposed by employers–or to join cooperatives that act as company unions. So far this year, 22 unionists have been murdered in Colombia, including 15 since the labor action plan went into effect, Trumka wrote. (AFL-CIO Now blog, Sept. 26)

The AFL-CIO has initiated a “call-in day” on Oct. 4 against the Colombia-US FTA and against similar deals with South Korea and Panama. The federation says that the Korea FTA “is the biggest trade deal since NAFTA” (the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993) and “would displace an estimated 159,000 net US jobs, mostly in manufacturing.” The AFL-CIO described Panama as a “tax haven for money launderers and tax dodgers” with “a history of failing to protect workers’ rights.” Activists can call US representatives at 800-718-1008 to oppose the agreements. (Alliance for Global Justice, Sept. 28)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 2.

See our last posts on Colombia and Panama.