North American unionists have taken a significant step forward in solidarity with Colombian unionists-one that raises intriguing possibilities for the development of a new kind of worker to worker internationalism. Both the United Steel Workers (USW) and the California Labor Federation (CLF) have spoken out on behalf of the the beleaguered peasant labor federation FENSUAGRO (the National Unitary Federation of Agricultural Unions), with special attention called to their role in the Patriotic March. The Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica) is a new Colombian popular mobilization that advocates for a political solution to the country’s decades long armed and social conflict. It is not a single event, but an ongoing campaign.
In a July 11, 2012 letter signed by USW President Leo Gerard and addressed to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Gerard explains that
“I am writing on behalf of Workers Uniting — the international union created by Unite, the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland, and the United Steelworkers (USW), North America’s largest private sector union — to express our grave concern for the leaders and members of our Colombian partner, FENSUAGRO. FENSUAGRO is Colombia’s largest agricultural union and is deeply involved in the peace process known as “la Marcha Patriótica”. It is presently being targeted for extreme violence, including the assassination of its leaders, because of both its labor and peace activism. In some cases, it appears that the Colombian military itself may be involved in this violence against FENSUAGRO
In just over a week, two leaders of FENSUAGRO have been assassinated. On June 14, 2012, GERARDO MARTINEZ….was assassinated. This assassination took place in the context of the Colombian Army’s 17th and 28th Mobile Brigades occupying civilian houses and farms and installing a military base in Calandaima, and protests by thousands of peasants and indigenous against this military activity. He never arrived home. His body was found the following day on a nearby farm. He had been shot five times, twice in the head, and his body showed signs of having been tortured before being murdered. Then, on June 25, 2012 at 4:00 p.m., in the municipality of Caloto in the Cauca department — an area of military control and constant operations by members of Colombia’s Mobile Brigade No. 14 — GUSTAVO LONDOÑO was fatally shot by two men travelling by motorcycle. Mr. Londoño was the leader of the human rights department of the local section of FENSUAGRO and an active member of the southwestern chapter of the Patriotic March….
In addition…the regional President of FENSUAGRO, FREDY CHATE, has been followed and threatened by unknown men. On June 19th, he was detained by soldiers at a military check point, falsely accusing him of being a guerrilla. It was only when colleagues came to protest that he was finally released.
The above-described events make it clear that those individuals affiliated with FENSAUGRO are not safe from violent reprisals…This type of violence, targeting unionists and peace activists, must be brought to an end once and for all. We will be monitoring this situation very closely.”
Copies of the letter were also sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and US Ambassador to Colombia Michael McKinley.
Delegates to the California Labor Federation unanimously passed on July 24, 2012, the Resolution for the Safety of Labor Leaders in Colombia. The CLF has a membership of 2.1 million and represents one of every six AFL-CIO members nationwide. The resolution additionally expresses concern for members of SINALTRAINAL (National Union of Food System Workers). The CLF statement follows upon a previous letter issued by the South Bay Labor Council of San Jose, California which itself represents over 100,000 union members. The resolution by the CLF was submitted by Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 in San Jose, representing 2,300 pipe trade workers. The Local 393 members discussed and passed the resolution unanimously in a regular meeting on July 11, 2012 and sent it directly to the CLF.
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