By William Johnson | Labor Notes | March 2006
Colombian unionists came to Queens, New York January 29 to protest abuse at their country's Coca-Cola bottling plants. Union members from around the city joined activists from United Students Against Sweatshops and members of the Queens immigrant community at a forum organized by the "Killer Coke" campaign.
Luis Javier Correa, president of SINALTRAINAL (the union that represents workers at Colombia's Coke bottling plants) described "sexual abuse...intimidation, and a harassment" by plant managers. In recent years, hundreds of Colombian bottling plant workers and union leaders have been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by paramilitary groups that often have ties to plant management.
Colombian unionists have demanded that Coca-Cola take responsibility for these crimes and enforce labor protections at its bottling plants. Coke has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
As the campaign against "Killer Coke" has gained international attention, the bottling plants have begun practicing damage control. In the last year, said Correa, workers have been pressured to hold pro-company marches and demonstrations.
"They are pressuring workers to sign statements in support of the company, saying, 'Coke respects workers rights.' They tried to force us to do a pro-Coke march in Median 51; but the plant workers didn't show up for the march. Only 400 workers from the company's administration building showed up."
Correa was joined at the Queens forum by SINALTRAINAL members Luis Adolfo Cardona and Geraldo Cajamarca, who are both living in political asylum in the United States. Other speakers included representatives of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
The campaign against Coca-Cola, said Correa, "has showed that Colombian trade unionists have hop for justice. There will be no forgiveness for the crimes Coke has committed."
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