Here we present what we consider to be the four most relevant news items, selected from the news and special reports that AIL issued during the month of July:
– USO calls for broad alliance to prevent sale of Ecopetrol.
– Decisions taken by CUT National Assembly.
– What to expect from the incoming Duque Administration: Analysis by ENS Director.
– Threats against Members of Teachers’ Trade Union Are on the Rise in Colombia.
The Workers’ Trade Union defined the proposal that the National Business Council made to sell Ecopetrol, the nation´s chief public asset, as “absurd” and “nefarious”.
The National Business Council claims that the sale of Ecopetrol would result in greater macroeconomic and fiscal stability for Colombia. The State owns 88.5% of Ecopetrol’s shares This Council represents businesses and business associations throughout the country. It alleges that the fossil fuel sector is not strategically sound in the long term, adding that the profit made by selling Ecopetrol might be spent on infrastructure projects that will prove to be more strategic.
USO has declared a maximum state of alert in response to this proposal, expressing its intention to go on strike if and when the new Duque Administration ratifies it.
Selling Ecopetrol is to liquidate one of the State’s most sound enterprises, which has contributed 72.5 million dollars to the National Tax Agency during the past 10 years. It would demand several tax reforms in order to balance the national budget.
Furthermore, privatising Ecopetrol would do away with the salaries and labour rights that its workers enjoy, as fruit of a collective negotiation, warned USO.
“Businesses say that resources would destine funds to finance infrastructure projects, but from what has been observed in the past, it would most likely simply become money to cover the fiscal deficit and to finance political corruption, surely not solving any of the country’s problems”, pointed out César Loza, President of the trade union.
Last but not least, the issue also is a matter of energy sufficiency. The country would then be completely in the hands of multinationals and private investors in the field of energy, added Loza. He emphasised that if the incoming Administration decides to sell Ecopetrol, USO will lead a general strike, to be supported by workers and entrepreneurial contractors alike. Currently Ecopetrol has 40.000 workers, 30.000 of them being contractors.
USO has already started raising awareness among Colombia society, so as to prevent the sale of this public asset, calling for an alliance with other trade union organisations, academics, NGOs, social organisations and members of Parliament. It is also seeking international solidarity in support of its opposition to selling Ecopetrol.
Defining the opposition role that CUT will play during President Duque’s presidential period, was one of the main issues discussed at the 61 National Assembly carried out in the capital, Bogota, an event which was attended by 120 delegates from all regional CUT headquarters.
The reforms that the incoming Administration has already declared it favours, in the fields of pensions, labour, taxes and the peace process, are considered regressive and to go against the interests of workers. Thus the trade union federation seeks the consensus of all other social movements in its opposition to said reforms.
“We must alert the whole trade union movement, social organisations and political opposition, so that we can build a solid front against the proposal to privatise and eliminate the most basic social and labour rights, such as Decent Word and the rights to health and pensions”, declared Alberto Vanegas, member of the Executive Committee.
“CUT will take to the streets to prevent the implementation of measures attempting to modify the peace accords, and to demand guarantees for all social and trade union leaders”, added Fabio Arias, Secretary General of CUT.
For the time being, CUT will participate in the great mobilisation being convoked on August 7 in defence of life and against the ongoing murders of so many social leaders, and also support the Anti-Corruption Referendum to be voted on August 26. It is to be expected that the 12 million votes needed to approve this reform shall be obtained.
Another important issue discussed involves internal elections at CUT, which are to be carried out on September 21, to elect the National Executive Committee and its sub-Committees, as well as the Board of Directors and delegates to the Central Congress. It is to be expected that a debate will be held, meant to chart the way for this trade union federation to continue its struggle for the defence of workers’ rights.
Alberto Orgulloso, Director of the National Trade Union School ENS, analysed how he expects the Duque Administration will behave, based on what Duque has already declared. Duque will be sworn into office this August 7:
According to Orgulloso, these electoral results will have significant repercussions on the country’s political dynamics and strategic agenda, especially as far as the Peace Accords negotiated with the FARC guerrillas are concerned It will also affect ongoing dialogue with ELN guerrilla; anti-drugs policies; international relations (particularly with Venezuela and the United States); legal reforms around social issues like pensions; the State’s institutional structure, and the setting in motion of another government – opposition model.
The first public announcements voiced by the new Administration indicate the intensification of a Neo Liberal agenda geared to privatisation, a dismantling of the State’s social functions, and a decrease in guarantees regarding civil and political rights Duque means to promote a tax reform that will decrease taxes for enterprises and transnational capital, while raising taxes for workers. Its alleged purpose is generating more employment. His agenda highlights pension and labour reforms, including a new scheme to set minimum wages, and reforming the health system and labour risk compensation measures.
The intent to “destroy the peace accords” is bound to create more political turmoil and escalate social conflicts. This may well result in an escalation of violence, in a country that very much needs reconciliation and unity, to strengthen its democracy, to definitely eliminate the root causes of violence, and to re-establish the Social Rule of Law and the protection of life in favour of human rights defenders, those claiming restitution of their lands and social leaders. Up to the present, 311 social leaders have been assassinated since the Peace Accords came into being, almost all of them under total impunity.
The new Administration also has to reckon with the commitments that Colombia has already undersigned on an international scale. It must comply with commitments made to the environment, human rights and labour rights that the Action Plan between Colombia and the United States contemplates; Colombia must also comply with its agreements with Canada, the European Parliament route sheet, agreements with the ILO and now the OCDE, an organisation that the country joined recently. Colombia has been accepted as a member of OCDE in spite of evidence showing that the country has not been respecting and fulfilling its international commitments.
In this sense, estimates Orgulloso, the challenges and risks faced by the new Administration will be linked to the capacity President Duque has to genuinely lead a national agenda, independently from the wishes of ex-President Álvaro Uribe. Many sectors doubt that he will be able to maintain this independence. For Duque to be able to fulfil his campaign promise “to unite the country”, he would have to foster a national dialogue with all political and social actors, including the opposition.
Confronted with this new scenario, social and trade union organisations must decide whether to declare open opposition or critical independence with respect to the new Administration. In some cases, programmatic alliances may be made in order to preserve some of the achievements of the Peace Accords, or in the public policy sector, among other issues.
The trade union movement, which backed candidate Gustavo Petro by majority, will try to develop its own social and labour agenda, to pressure the government and gain some political influence, and based on mobilisations and democratic resistance. But at this moment in time, the movement is divided.
CUT has decided to make opposition through mobilisations and the defence of the agenda that President Santos placed on the table, which for the most part has not been carried out. CGT has decided to give the new Administration the benefit of a waiting period, to see how it evolves and what its programme for the first 100 days will be like, in order to criticise what it considers negative and support any good initiatives. And CTC is greatly concerned with the announcements Duque has been making, on matters that are definitely bad for the workers, like the pension and labour reforms, and has expressed its intention to openly confront these plans.
“It hurts me to work honestly for a community, refuse to accept the corrupt deals other parties promote, and know that this may well lead to my death”, admitted Deyanira Ballestas, just a few days before she was forced to flee the town of San Pablo, due to death threats received while she was at the school where she worked. Her case has had national and international coverage.
Sadly this is only one of many similar cases that have taken place this year, especially in Cauca, Caquetá, Valle, Antioquia and Nariño, where Adriana Ruano Bastidas, a teacher affiliated to the Teachers Union in that province, was recently assassinated, explained Rafael Cuello, Secretary of the National Teachers Union Fecode, a trade federation which groups most of the country’s teachers.
In spite of the decrease in the indexes of violence by virtue of the Peace Accords with FARC, guarantees for teacher safety continue to be insufficient, ascertained this trade union official. He added that the threats issued against Deyanira Ballestas have become alarmingly frequent, demanding that the Administration takes genuine measures to guarantee the free exercise of the teaching profession.
“We teachers are actors in education, science and technology, we are actors of peace and we reject violence, wherever it comes from. Schools must be territories of peace”, emphasised Cuello.
The threats against Professor Ballestas went viral on social networks because she recorded on her mobile phone the conversation she had with alias “Carlos Mario”, the man who threatened her, on her mobile phone: “Pack up your bits and pieces and leave the region for me. If you stay on they will pick you up dead…you know that we can murder whoever we please here”, were some of his horrifying words.