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A coalition of anti-capitalist activists and human rights campaigners has blockaded Coca-Cola's distribution centre and full service vending depot in Longwell Green, Bristol, preventing up to 30 lorries from entering or leaving the site for five hours.

Killer Coke

The depot, in Aldermoor Way, supplies Wales and the West Country, and it is believed retailers throughout the region experienced shortages today.

The protesters said they were taking direct action to highlight Coca-Cola's abuses of human rights, the environment and labour rights, especially in South America and India.

The non-violent blockade, which took place on Friday, March 4, was part of an international Coca-Cola boycott which was called in July 2003 by the Colombian Food and Beverage Workers Union, Sinaltrainal. The union has seen eight of its workers assassinated in Colombia since 1989 and many others kidnapped, attacked, and threatened.

Protesters arrived at the distribution centre at 4.30 am and eight people formed a circle on the ground with their arms joined inside thick metal pipes known as "arm-locks". Each of the eight was wearing a large label which named one of the eight trade unionists who have been assassinated for resisting the casualisation of their workforce and for campaigning for decent working conditions. A protest organiser, who asked not to be named, explained that the activists wanted to physically confront Coca-Cola with eight bodies lying on the ground, to represent the eight murders the company has been implicated in. He said there is compelling evidence that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge, and likely under the direction, of Colombian Coca-Cola managers.

The protesters were supported by about a dozen other activists who held banners and placards, handed out leaflets to Coca-Cola workers and passers-by explaining the reasons for their action, directed traffic and kept the arm-lock protesters safe, warm, covered in blankets and supplied with hot drinks.

Protest supporter Dave Williams, 29, of Hanham said: "I came down tonight to support this because the UK is one of the biggest consumers of Coca-Cola in the world, and it's a company with a lot of blood on its hands."

Workers at the plant, including a union official, were supportive of the protest. They told protesters they are suffering from the same pressures as Coke workers in Colombia. They said they are pressured to give up union membership, to work on casual contracts, and to work more hours for less pay. Protesters said this is exactly the type of thing the eight assassinated Colombian trade union workers were resisting; and that their resistance cost them their lives.

A protest organiser said: "Some of the murdered unionists were also active in a very strong grassroots movement in Colombia for food sovereignty. This means they want Colombians to consume products made in Colombia, so that the profit does not go to multinational corporations. This is an anti-imperialist position which goes against everything Coke stands for: their entire business plan is built around economic imperialism. This is why their repression of anti-imperialists, like the trade unionists, has been so vicious."

He added: "Coca-Cola International undoubtedly knows about all this and is very happy to accept the profits the violence generates, but they officially say it is a matter for their Colombian subsidiary, and not their problem. Well, a group of ordinary people were prepared to lie on the road in the sleet in Bristol, England yesterday to say: 'Actually, this IS your problem, and it's not going away!'"

SINALTRAINAL leader Carlos Julia said in Bogota on December 5, 2002: "When you drink Coca-Cola remember that you are contributing to a process which sows unemployment, hunger and pain. The young, happy image projected by Coca-Cola masks the suffering and the return of profits from Colombia to the U.S. We ask Coca-cola to stop killing and you to stop drinking Coke."

The boycott has been endorsed by many trade unions and numerous Social organisations around the world, including by the World Social Forum, the CUT and the CGTD (principle trade union federations in Colombia). In the UK, it has been supported by UNISON, the public sector union, and many other groups.

The protesters also drew attention to what they said were Coca-Cola's crimes in other parts of the world, particularly in India, where the company stands accused of causing severe water shortages in communities across the country, polluting groundwater and soil around its bottling facilities, distributing its toxic waste as "fertilizer" to farmers, and selling drinks with levels of pesticides, including DDT, up to 30 times higher than EU standards.

For more information, interviews, pictures or video, please call Lara on 079 7749 5247 or Geoff on 078 1403 3981, or see the report on Indymedia.

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