Teamsters

North America's Strongest Union

Trade deal didn't end anti-union violence in Colombia. What a shock.

Unionists are still being murdered, threatened and forced to work as temps in Colombia despite promises that an 'action plan' would prevent it, according to a staff report by U.S. Reps. George Miller and Jim McGovern.

The action plan -- called the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan (LAP) -- was created in April 2011 to give cover to U.S. politicians who wanted to vote for the job-killing trade deal with Colombia, the most dangerous country in the world to be a union member.

Ostensibly the LAP would correct violations of labor rights (like murder and violence) once the trade pact was implemented on May 15, 2012. It didn't happen. Working conditions for most people in Colombia are worse than they were before the trade deal. (No surprise there.)

The failure of the Colombian trade deal portends a similar outcome in Vietnam if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is approved. Vietnam, one of the Pacific Rim countries involved in TPP talks, tolerates squalid working conditions, poverty wages and child slavery.

Eleven Colombian union leaders were murdered last year. At least that's better than the 22 union leaders murdered with impunity the year before. But threats, assaults, and disappearances are reportedly on the rise, according to the report.

Worse, violence is escalating against human rights workers. In the first six months of this year, 37 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia and 153 were attacked.

The so-called benefits of so-called free trade have not flowed to ordinary Colombians. Indigenous people are being thrown off their land. Farmers' livelihoods are threatened by a surge of subsidized agricultural products from the United States. In the port city of Buenaventura, gruesome dismemberments and murders drove 9,000 poor people from their home. Misery and violence prevail.

The two congressmen visited Colombia in August to see whether the action plan was working. They arrived in the middle of social unrest:

Colombian farmers took to the streets and went on strike, joined by miners, truckers, public health care workers, students and others. The reasons for the strike given by many included: high fuel prices, expensive agrichemicals, government neglect of rural areas, and the free trade agreement with the United States. 

They concluded the trade deal has made life worse for most Colombian workers:

...individuals have been murdered in 2013 and death threats continue. Impunity is still a huge and unaddressed problem. Internationally recognized labor rights are not protected. And in the absence of an effective enforcement system and lax accountability, new forms of indirect hiring and phony unions are proliferating.

A Latin American human rights group agreed with the congressmen. Said Gimena Sánche, senior associate with the Washington Office on Latin America:

Basic labor protections, including the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, continue to be violated on a national scale...

Let's be honest: these so-called trade deals aren't about trade. They're about empowering corporations at the expense of workers around the globe. That's why no one should be surprised the Colombian 'action plan' didn't work. Or that the TPP, if passed, will not have happy consequences for workers.