Unions: Colombia trade deal stinks

The AFL-CIO described as “deeply disappointing and troubling” the announcement by the White House today that Colombia has successfully implemented key elements of the Labor Action Plan and that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement will go into effect May 15.

The announcement came during the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, where President Obama has been meeting regional political and business leaders. “We regret that the administration has placed commercial interests above the interests of workers and their trade unions,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Leaders of Colombian unions joined Trumka in blasting today’s announcement by the White House, declaring: “The underlying trade agreement perpetuates a destructive economic model that expands the rights and privileges of big business and multinational corporations at the expense of workers, consumers and the environment. The agreement uses a model that has historically benefitted a small minority of business interests, while leaving workers, families and communities behind.”

Under pressure from the labor movements in the U.S. and Colombia, the two countries agreed in Apr. 2011 on an Action Plan on Labor Rights designed to “protect internationally recognized labor tights, prevent violence against labor leaders, and prosecute the perpetrators of such violence” in Colombia.

Unions were never satisfied with the action plan itself, much less with the record on its implementation. Although the Action Plan included some measures that both the U.S. and Colombian labor movements have been demanding for years, unions said its scope was too limited in that it did nothing to resolve what they said were serious violations of union freedoms and human rights that had already taken place or that were currently happening.

24 Colombian trade union leaders were killed during last year alone, they noted and an AFL-CIO report released last fall found that the Action Plan “has failed to achieve improvements on the ground for Colombia’s working families.”

In their joint statement Trumka and the Colombian labor leasers, Luis Miguel Morantes and Tarcisio Mora Godoy said: “We have been monitoring the progress of the Action Plan and conclude that, although new laws and directives are in place. The government of Colombia has not yet demonstrated successful implementation.

“Workers across the whole economy continue to be forced into indirect employment relationships (a variety of contracting and sub-contracting schemes) – preventing them from exercising their rights to free association and collective bargaining.”

The joint statement blasts the government for its poor record on prosecuting criminal activity by employers;

“Nor has the government of Colombia compiled a successful record of criminal prosecutions of employers who illegally interfere with workers’ fundamental rights. Labor activists and other human rights defeneders remain subject to threats and violence, including murder, when they stand up to fight for their rights.”

Union leaders in both countries say that rather than implementing the trade agreement, leaders of both countries should be working to build a new trade model that creates jobs, boosts economic development and increases the standard of living in both countries;

“We must work together to delete the provisions that imperil worker rights and freedoms as well as public interest regulations,” the statement reads. “Instead, we should add provisions to ensure stronger worker protections, a healthy environment, safe food and production, and the ability to regulate financial and other markets to avoid crises like that of 2008.”

Photo: Obama shakes haands with Colombia’s president at a dinner at the Summit of the Americas.   Fernando Llano/AP



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.