Colombian trade unionist speaks in Belfast
6th December 2005
Around 50 people gathered in Belfast’s John Hewitt bar on 5th December to hear Euripides Yance, an official of the Colombian food workers’ union Sinaltrainal, give an eyewitness account of the struggle of workers in that country to survive and organise. The venue was chosen deliberately as part of Euripides’ tour of Britain and Ireland, as it was the first bar in Ireland to support the boycott of Coca-Cola products called for by Sinaltrainal.
The audience, mostly comprising union activists, gave Euripides a warm welcome as he spoke of the horrific conditions workers face in Colombia – numerous activists have been murdered, and Euripides himself is on a list of 67 Sinaltrainal activists targeted for assassination. He drew a compelling picture of government, death squads and employers working hand in hand – it is telling that the death squads are most active not in areas where the guerrilla insurgency is strong, but where union activism is strong, particularly in towns with extractive industries. The labour movement in Colombia is involved in a desperate fight for survival, and welcomes all the international solidarity it can get.
His talk also indicted US imperialism for its role in Colombia. Washington’s Plan Colombia – now, under the guise of “Plan Patriota”, being rolled out to other countries in the region – is clearly aimed at making Latin America safe for big business. A key example is the US-sponsored “war on drugs”, where small peasants growing coca are being driven from their land to the advantage of both the multinationals and the drug cartels, whose land is never sprayed with toxic pesticides.
The meeting ended with a call for workers
in Ireland to raise consciousness around the issue of Colombia and show
solidarity in whatever way possible. The audience for the talk – and the
student audience shown by Euripides’ meeting earlier in the day at Queens
University, and a well-attended meeting of Belfast Socialist Forum on the
subject the previous week – show there is a potential to build solidarity.
The first task for concerned trade unionists must be to get the message
out about the situation faced by Colombian workers, and combat the misinformation
coming from some elements of the bureaucracy.