At the beginning of this month a group of former General Motors (GM) workers stitched their lips shut and began a hunger strike in the Columbian capital, Bogota. They had already spent over a year outside the US embassy with no success in fighting against what they said was their unfair dismissal
Their mouths are bound just tight enough to not allow food through, but loose enough for them to mumble out their points.
The protestors say GM has fired more than 200 employees after they reported on-the-job injuries, including herniated discs, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, at the company\\\’s Colombian plant.
In addition, they say the US car company refused to provide any compensation to the workers and erased medical records to bolster its legal case.
The protest is focusing attention on worker\\\’s rights in Colombia following the implementation of a long-delayed free trade agreement with the US earlier this year. One of the US\\\’ prerequisites for passing the agreement was to enact a Labour Action Plan aimed at curtailing abuses of workers\\\’ rights.
But some argue that such free trade agreements often result in worse conditions for workers. And critics say little has changed in a country regarded as the most dangerous in the world to be a member of a trade union.
In 2011, 29 trade unionists were murdered and 480 injured in violent attacks.
One of the former workers, Jorge Para, 35, states that he was fired after suffering for years of on the job injuries, including muscle tears and herniated discs. He said, for those he has had three costly surgeries and General Motors will not pick up his medical bills. Along with medical compensation, they want help finding new jobs.
Para added, “We are all totally prepared to die. I have terrible pains in my stomach, my lips are swollen and sore, and I am having problems sleeping … But I will not give up.” His lips are sewn up loose enough to where he can talk, but not enough to allow food to pass through.
When contacted, GM issued a statement saying: "GM emphasises a safety-first culture in all of our facilities around the world. As one of the first companies to adopt the Global Sullivan Principles, we also have been recognised for the quality of working conditions that exist in all of our operations. That\\\’s why we are interested in learning more about the ongoing safety allegations of a few, former GM Colmotores employees. A team of GM representatives – all of whom have deep experience spanning labour, manufacturing and management issues – travelled to Colombia to better understand and address the situation."
But Frank Hammer, a former GM employee and former representative of the US-based United Autoworkers Union (UAW) said that the UAW supports the Colombian workers and was opposed to the free trade agreement and urged "the whole labour movement … to step up to the plate".
"GM has refused to negotiate any sort of resolution with the protesters which means that since they\\\’re unable to find jobs elsewhere, they don\\\’t have money to support their families and they\\\’re going to starve to death," he added.