Ends In Union Win
By Jana Silverman
30 March, 2004
12-day-old hunger strike to protest Coca-Cola labor policies in Colombia
ended March 27 in a rare victory for the National Food Industry Workers
Union (Sinaltrainal). The union suspended the protest when Femsa, a
Mexico-based bottler whose major shareholder is the Atlanta company,
agreed to negotiate a transfer of 91 union members slated for layoff.
chief, Juan Carlos Jaramillo, also agreed the 30 hunger strikers will
receive two weeks of paid vacation for physical recuperation and that
the company will purchase a national newspaper advertisement discouraging
paramilitary reprisals against them.
The protest began
March 15 when the hunger strikers and their supporters set up tents
and round-the-clock picket lines in eight Colombian cities to protest
11 Femsa plant closings last year. The union says the company pressured
500 workers to resign in exchange for a severance payment despite their
right under Colombian law and a union contract to transfer to another
During the hunger
strike, the unions 87 members in the war-torn northern city of
Barrancabermeja received substantial support from church officials,
the Popular Womens Organization (OFP), the Union of Workers of
Municipal Public Services Corporations (Sintraemdes) and the oil industrys
United Workers Union (USO), according to Juan Carlos Galvis, vice president
of the local Sinaltrainal chapter.
three hunger strikers suffered dehydration, emaciation and kidney problems.
Plant managers required them to work their usual eight-hour shifts and
disciplined them when their weakened state reduced their productivity.
Two of the hunger strikers were eventually admitted to the hospital.
Departing from standard practice, management also refused to allow union
leaders to hold meetings during the hunger strike.
gets away with the firings, it will just add to the already severe social
problems we face, Galvis said by telephone before the union victory.
On March 26, Femsa
finally agreed to begin meeting with union leaders in hopes of ending
the hunger strike. Galvis said the company changed course due to solidarity
in Colombia and from overseas. Unionists and human rights activists
around the world had sent protest messages to Coca-Cola executives in
Atlanta. And students in a dozen U.S. cities organized March 23 solidarity
boycott of Coca-Cola products, meanwhile, continues. Since 1990, according
to Sinaltrainal, nine of the unions members have been murdered,
five of its leaders have gone to jail on terrorism charges, and 65 of
its activists have received death threats. Alleging company support
for the attacks, the union filed a 2001 lawsuit against Coca-Cola and
its Colombian affiliates in the U.S. District Court in Miami.
© 2004 Colombia
Week. Jana Silverman is a masters candidate in Human Rights at
Columbia Universitys School of International and Public Affairs
and the coordinator and co-founder of the New York-based Committee for
Social Justice in Colombia.