We have known for years about the dangers of being a trade unionist in Colombia, of the murders of organizers and labor officials. The murders have increased in frequency in the years since the US negotiated a trade deal with Colombia. They are well documented.
Now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has put names to the tragedy. In a letter to President Obama, Trumka says that 22 union activists have been killed in Colombia this year, including 15 since a so-called “Action Plan” designed to crack down on union violence was instituted in the country. All of their names are in a fact sheet at the end of the letter.
Trumka added that six Catholic bishops have been killed in Colombia in 2011. The Bishops Conference of Colombia believes the killings occurred because of “their courageous commitment… with the prophetic denunciation of injustice and the cause of the poorest in the country.” He concludes:
Simply put, Colombia should not be rewarded with a trade agreement until it develops a proven track record of ensuring that workers can exercise the fundamental rights of free association and collective bargaining; preventing violence against union leaders and other social justice advocates; and bringing to justice those who perpetrated such crimes. Providing Colombia with unfettered access to the U.S. market, and beneficial terms for investment, government procurement, and other commercial areas without requiring sustained and measurable progress toward protecting human rights will undercut our leverage to encourage Colombia to follow up its promises and intentions with effective actions.
Incidentally, in The Hill story on Trumka’s letter, right-wing commenters called the murder of 22 trade union activists “a good start,” along with other abhorrent or ignorant remarks.
In addition to sanctioning murder in the eyes of the world, the Colombia trade agreement will cost America up to 55,000 jobs at a time when the country can ill afford it.
The so called “free” trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea could come up for a vote in Congress next month.