Over the last 20 years, at least 2,754 union workers in Colombia have been murdered, simply for exercising their right to organize, bargain collectively and, if necessary, strike. In 2009, 48 Colombian union workers were killed, and 29 have already been murdered this year.
Former President George W. Bush turned a blind eye to this horrific trend of violence against workers when he signed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement back in 2006. However, before it can go into effect, it must be approved by Congress.
Today, California state legislators took action to block the trade agreement with Colombia by voting to approve Assembly Joint Resolution 27, sponsored by Assemblymember Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont), which urges the U.S. Congress to oppose the Colombia Free Trade agreement.
The United States should not enter into a free trade agreement with a nation that is ranked as the most dangerous country for trade unionists. Ratifying a trade agreement with a country where union workers, including teachers, are routinely murdered with impunity would send the wrong message to Colombia and workers throughout the world. If these agreements are ever going to benefit workers rather than just being a race to the bottom, there must be enforceable labor standards.
A Human Rights Watch report in 2008 found high-level collusion between elected leaders and the paramilitaries that commit the majority of the violence against union workers. Yet the office of the Attorney General of Colombia has secured convictions in only five percent of the murder cases involving trade unionists. Many of those sentences were given to people who were tried in absentia and not in custody.
Sacramento Central Labor Council leader Bill Camp recently traveled to Colombia and met with union activists, including one who was later murdered. While testifying before the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee in support of AJR 27, he said:
It’s the wrong message for us to say we will open up our arms to trade with people who have murdered so many, so consistently and have refused to investigate.
The resolution passed the State Senate earlier this week. It will now be sent to California’s entire congressional delegation.