Speech to Congress 2008 by Tarsicio Mora Godoy, President of CUT Colombia
TUC Congress, Brighton, Wednesday 10 September 2008.
On behalf of the Colombian workers grouped in the Unitary Workers Central of Colombia - CUT - I bring you a fraternal greeting and our thanks for the consideration that you have always had for us Colombians.
The CUT is a democratic organisation with 450,000 members in our affiliated unions, of whom 60% are women - although unfortunately in the last elections only one woman was elected to the Executive Committee.
At this time, the country is in the midst of a political crisis. 70 members of Congress, as well as Ministers and Army Generals, are under investigation for links to paramilitaries. Fortunately in Colombia there are trade unions, human rights NGOs and social research institutions that, together with the social movement, defend the Rule of Law and seek to limit the excesses of authoritarianism.
Little by little, citizens' rights are being curtailed, the opposition is demonised and the economy cannot sustain the increasing military expenditure. The Executive seeks to weaken the other branches of power - the judiciary and the legislature. Government policies have ignored social issues.
We must condemn the fact that despite a national constitution, ILO Conventions and laws - social, political and cultural rights are systematically violated, especially by the government itself.
In Colombia we do not have labour laws that provide even minimal protection to the workers. The right to freedom of association does not exist. In the last five years, 253 new unions have been refused registration; collective bargaining that seeks to improve working conditions is, in practice, illegal for some and almost impossible to exercise for others; and the Government has intentionally ignored ILO recommendations.
In 2007 in comparison to 2005, the number of collective bargaining agreements fell whilst the number of collective pacts - in English you might call them 'workplace agreements' - generally imposed by employers, grew substantially. In the 1996-1997 period, 460,000 people benefited from collective bargaining, whilst in 2006-2007 only 175,000 benefited. That is proof of a significant reduction in collective bargaining. Today 62% of those who benefited from collective bargaining a decade ago are without protection.
In Colombia a political environment hostile to the exercise of trade union freedoms and social dialogue persists. Evidence of that is that the Government has introduced employment bills that ignore the proposals made by the union centres, which were aim at fulfilling the recommendations made by the ILO.
Anti-trade union violence has increased. So far this year 41 trade unionists have been assassinated, 4 forcibly disappeared, 4 displaced and 126 threatened.
These figures demonstrate the human rights crisis facing the union movement. Violence is not random and indiscriminate, as the government tries to claim in an effort to hide the real dimensions of the problem. The majority of human rights violations against trade unionists are linked to industrial disputes. Furthermore, in the majority of cases, armed actors intervene in labour conflicts in order to support and impose the employment policies of the State.
What we are seeing is systematic, permanent and selective violence, which can clearly be considered as political genocide against the trade union movement.
At the moment social organisations from the south of the country are marching - against hunger and poverty - to Bogota. Recently the lorry drivers went on strike for 16 days; the workers at the Drummond Coal Company were also on strike. Students, peasants and indigenous people are equally unhappy with the economic and social situation in the country. And, as I speak, the workers of the judiciary, members of the CUT-affiliated 'Asonal Judicial' trade union, are on indefinite national strike.
We want to find formulas that will allow us to escape from this desperate situation. We don't want more war. This is why we ask you to support the campaign to persuade the British Government to halt the military aid that they are providing to the Colombian Army, and instead replace it with humanitarian and social development aid. We want foreign aid to be for peace and not for war.
I thank the TUC, its affiliated unions, and of course, the 'Justice for Colombia' campaign, for your solidarity.
Long live proletarian internationalism!
Long live workers' unity!
And long live the TUC - so that together we may build the society and the world that we want!