Detroit Demonstration in Solidarity with Colombian Autoworkers

by Peter Solenberger

August 15, 2012

Pictures of the August 15 demonstration at GM headquarters, courtesy of Frank Hammer

The Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colombia (ASOTRECOL) has occupied a space in front of the US embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, since August 1 of last year to demand that General Motors provide healthcare and jobs with appropriate work for injured workers. On the one-year anniversary of the occupation four ASOTRECOL activists, including its president, Jorge Alberto Parra Andrade, had their lips sewed shut and began a hunger strike. Jorge spoke on a panel at the May 2011 Labor Notes Conference. A week later three more workers had their lips sewed shut and joined the hunger strike. Their plan is four more a week until GM accedes to their demands.

The US embassy is an appropriate target. The US government bailed out GM in July 2009 and still owns 26 percent of its stock. The US Congress passed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in October 2011. The agreement went into effect on May 15, 2012. It includes an “Action Plan Related to Labor Rights” which supposedly protects workers’ rights. Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade-unionist. Employer-financed right-wing death squads kill dozens of union organizers each year. Now the Obama administration is put to the test. It bailed out the 1 percenters at GM and opened Colombia for unlimited exploitation by US corporations. Will it do anything for Colombian workers?

Demonstrations in solidarity with the Colombian workers are being organized in many cities. In Detroit the Auto Worker Caravan, the Washtenaw Community Action Team, activists from Occupy Detroit and Occupy Ypsilanti, the Organization for a Free Society, Solidarity, and other organizations held a rally of fifty people in front of the GM world headquarters on Wednesday, August 15, at 4 PM. Speakers included representatives of the sponsoring organizations and Chris Michalakis, president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. The organizers plan to continue the demonstrations at the headquarters and at GM dealers in southeast Michigan.

The full story of the ASOTRECOL workers can be found on their website Labor Notes has a comprehensive blog article, Lips Sewed Shut, Colombia GM Workers Will Not Be Silent by John Walsh.

If you’re moved by the story of the ASOTRECOL workers, as I expect your are, sign the petitions on the ASOTRECOL website, set up a picket line in front of GM dealers in your area, and confront politicians and elected officials over the situation. Ask your local unions, Jobs With Justice, Occupy, student labor solidarity groups, and other social justice groups to join the effort.

Peter Solenberger is a long-time labor, anti-war, and social justice activist living in Ypsilanti, Michigan.