A UAW line worker at the Chrysler Warren Stamping plant in Michigan is joining a Colombian autoworker in a hunger strike. Melvin Thompson's act of solidarity with Jorge Parra comes as right-to-work-for-less became law in Michigan and 20 years after a similar law passed in Colombia.
Colombia, you'll recall, is the most dangerous place on the planet to be a trade unionist. It's also a hellhole of a country to work in. (That's why the Teamsters strongly opposed the job-killing trade deal with Colombia that passed in 2011.)
General Motors has a plant in Bogota. When workers become disabled, GM fires them. More than 200 of them. Parra came to Detroit to confront GM, who as far as we know is continuing to ignore him. He has sewn his mouth shut.
Martha Grevatt, writing in the Michigan Citizen, describes working conditions in the Bogota plant:
On top of mandatory 10-12 hour shifts, six days a week, they perform 45 minutes of unpaid “prep time.” They work at breakneck speeds or perform backbreaking lifting — such as carrying transmissions on their backs and handling weld guns weighing 400-600 pounds. The theme song to “Bridge Over the River Kwai” is blared constantly.
... in a few years they will develop muscular-skeletal and/or repetitive motion-related conditions and be unable to work. Then GM will fire them. They will have no workers compensation or any source of income.
Parra is president of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-workers of GM Colmotores (Asotrecol). They want the company to compensate them for the unjust firings, comprehensive medical care, and jobs for those who can still work.
Parra, who joined the Lansing protest on Dec. 10, spoke to Kevin Young at ZNet:
“I see a clear connection between what’s happening here and what has happened in Colombia.” He notes that the RTW laws in this country “are the same ones that have weakened union activity” in Colombia.
“The same story is being repeated here,” he says with regard to RTW. “They put this same law into effect in the early 1990s in Colombia, and now it’s practically a death sentence to be a unionist.”
And here's what Thompson told Grevatt:
“I started the hunger strike with Jorge on Nov. 20,” Melvin explained. “The reason I did was two reasons: One, just a human reason, that Jorge is here by himself and needed a comrade that was going through what he was going through. The other is that we need to know and workers in Colombia need to know that we’re willing to go through some things because our struggles are tied together.”