Steelworkers Object to Free Trade Agreement as Report Reveals Colombia Remains Most Dangerous for Unionists

Jun 10, 2010, 11:49 ET from United Steelworkers (USW)

PITTSBURGH, June 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has just announced its annual findings regarding global anti-union violence.   Again, Colombia topped this list, accounting for nearly half of all the union killings in the world.

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Last year, 48 of the 101 trade unionists assassinated worldwide were Colombians.  See report: As the ITUC reports, 22 of the Colombian unionists killed were "senior union leaders."  Five were women.

The United Steelworkers (USW) continues to be gravely concerned about the disregard for Colombian trade unionists' right to free speech, right to organize and, most importantly, right to life.   After learning of the most recent statistics on killings in Colombia, USW President Leo Gerard said, "While those pushing for greater trade privileges for Colombia claim, for reasons of their own economic self-interest, that the labor rights situation is improving in Colombia, the latest ITUC report demonstrates how false that claim is.  We continue to be appalled by the human and labor rights situation in Colombia and urge the U.S. to sever its substantial military ties with that country in light of the relentless killings."

Also troubling is the report's revelation that anti-union killings increased by 30 percent globally, with a surge in countries in the Western Hemisphere, including Guatemala, which ranked second most dangerous in the world with 16 union assassinations and Honduras, third most dangerous with 12 union assassinations. This is at a time when Honduras is seeking re-admittance to the Organization of American States (OAS) after a military coup last summer.

Meanwhile, Colombia's largest union confederation, the United Workers Central (CUT), announced that the business sector, led by Ed Potter, director of global relations for The Coca-Cola Co., successfully maneuvered to keep Colombia off a list of 25 nations which the International Labor Organization (ILO) monitors in light of those countries' demonstrated problems with worker and labor rights.  

Colombia had been listed for years, given its long track record as the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. But this year the business sector at the ILO's Tripartite Standards Commission (a commission made up of business, government and union groups) insisted that rather than include Colombia again, the list be eliminated entirely and no country monitored.  The CUT, which participated in this Commission, described this as "blackmail."  The ILO commission's compromise was to approve a list excluding Colombia -- where nearly half of the assassinations of trade unionists in the world occurred last year.

The business sector's machinations at the ILO have real-world consequences because Colombia will use its deletion from the ILO "blacklist" in its continued push for the U.S., Canada and the EU to approve Free Trade Agreements with it. Those proposed trade pacts, like other free trade agreements, are designed to promote multi-national penetration of Colombia to the detriment of the environment of Colombia and the rights of workers, indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians.  

Despite removal from the list, Colombia did not leave the ILO's Tripartite discussions unscathed.  An ILO High Level Tripartite Commission will be sent to Colombia. For Colombia, accepting this commission was, CUT said, "admitting that the situation of freedom of association in Colombia has not improved."  See, CUT statement.

CONTACT:  Wayne Ranick (412) 562-2442

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)