Colombian worker warns of union violence

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(Host) Organizing a labor union can be a deadly venture in some parts of the world. That point was brought home to Vermonters this week as a union leader from Colombia visits the state. Hector Giraldo says American taxpayers are supporting a repressive regime in his country.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Hector Giraldo left Colombia after his union president was assassinated. He’s lived in New England since last fall and worked with members of a janitor’s union in Boston.

Speaking through an interpreter, he says that struggle was difficult, but nothing like union organizing in Colombia.

(Giraldo in Spanish; interpreter in English) “In Boston, I was organizing Latino immigrant workers and I could see that we were able to go into the street. We were able to have rallies, we were able to go out on strike to gain the dignity and respect that these workers deserved. But you have to realize, and we do these tactics in Colombia, for unions to do this they are basically having a sword put in their back. That if you organize, if you fight for your rights as a worker, you put yourself in the eyes of the paramilitaries and they will kill you for trying to resist.”

(Dillon) Giraldo says 25 members of his municipal employees union were killed in the last few years.

He’s in Vermont this week on a speaking tour sponsored by the Vermont Worker’s Center, the AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers of America. He says Vermonters should realize Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid. Some of that money, he says, supports violence against Colombian citizens:

(Giraldo in Spanish; interpreter in English) “It’s being used very sadly for Colombians to massacre each other. And the money that comes from U.S. is being used to send arms to Colombia, it’s being used to train Colombia soldiers, it’s being used to train Colombia soldiers at the School of the Americas. The soldiers who are receiving this training are in turn training the paramilitaries. And there is obviously a direct link between the Colombian military and paramilitary forces and basically all of these resources in many cases is centered on trying to get rid of the union movement in Colombia.”

(Dillon) Giraldo has met with Vermont congressional staff on the U.S. aid issue. His statewide tour takes him the Lynonville Thursday and Montpelier on Friday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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