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Colombia Nationwide Strike Against ‘Free Trade,’ Privatization, Poverty August 25, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Imperialism, Labor, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I am publishing this articles so that readers in the United States might know what’s going on in their 51st state.

Ignored by English-language media, rural uprisings spread across industries as hundreds of thousands protest US-backed govt

 

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)

A nationwide strike in Colombia—which started as a rural peasant uprising and spread to miners, teachers, medical professionals, truckers, and students—reached its 7th day Sunday as at least 200,000 people blocked roads and launched protests against a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and devastating policies of poverty and privatization pushed by US-backed right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos.

“[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies,” declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country’s largest union, in a statement.

The protests and strikes, largely ignored in the English-language media, have been met with heavy crackdown from Colombia’s feared police, with human rights organization Bayaca reporting shootings, torture, sexual assault, severe tear-gassing, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses on the part of state agents. Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by the “terrorist” Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a country known for using unverified claims of FARC connections as an excuse to launch severe violence against social movements.

“Violent clashes continue in rural areas where farmers and truck drivers have been setting up roadblocks since Monday, and the Santos administration has deployed 16,000 additional military personnel to ‘control the situation,'” Neil Martin of the Colombia-based labor solidarity organization Paso International told Common Dreams Sunday. “There have not been deaths reported in relation to this violence, but human rights organizations and YouTube videos have documented military personnel beating protestors, stealing supplies, carrying out vandalism unwarranted arrests, and generally inciting violence.”

Protesters are levying a broad range of concerns about public policies that devastate Colombia’s workers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has forced small farmers to compete with subsidized US products, made them more vulnerable to market fluctuations, and eroded their protections and social safety nets through the implementation of neoliberal policies domestically. Farmers are demanding more protections and services in a country beset with severe rural poverty.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia’s healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.

“This is the third or fourth large-scale non-military rural uprising this year,” Martin told Common Dreams.

Colombian workers organizing to improve their lives are met with an onslaught of state violence: Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.

Santos, who says he refuses to negotiate while the strikes are taking place, has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts to quell the swelling protests that are paralyzing much of the country, particularly in rural areas.

“[W]e just want solutions to our problems,” Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, told the Miami Herald. “The strike is simply a symptom of an illness that the entire agriculture sector is suffering from.”

(Photo: Twitter/@zonacero)

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Oakland Protesters Call for General Strike Against City October 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Occupy Wall Street Movement.
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Published on Thursday, October 27, 2011 by Reuters

 

by Peter Henderson

An Iraq war veteran badly wounded in clashes between protesters and police remained in hospital on Thursday morning as activists called for a general strike against the Bay Area city.

Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, a former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran, is carried away after being injured during a demonstration in Oakland, California October 25, 2011. (Credit: REUTERS/Jay Finneburgh)

Occupy Oakland organizers said they had voted to stage the strike next week, intending to shut down the city following what a spokeswoman called the “brutal and vicious” treatment of protesters, including former U.S. Marine Scott Olsen.

Olsen, 24, has become a rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide.

“We mean nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, we shut the city down,” organizer Cat Brooks said. “The only thing they seem to care about is money and they don’t understand that it’s our money they need. We don’t need them, they need us.”

Here’s the full Occupy Oakland statement, that was passed by their General Assembly with a 96.9% majority:

We as fellow occupiers of Oscar Grant Plaza propose that on Wednesday November 2, 2011, we liberate Oakland and shut down the 1%.

We propose a city wide general strike and we propose we invite all students to walk out of school. Instead of workers going to work and students going to school, the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.

All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.

While we are calling for a general strike, we are also calling for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.

The whole world is watching Oakland. Let’s show them what is possible.

The Strike Coordinating Council will begin meeting everyday at 5pm in Oscar Grant Plaza before the daily General Assembly at 7pm. All strike participants are invited. Stay tuned for much more information and see you next Wednesday.

Spokeswomen for the city of Oakland and Mayor Jean Quan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brooks said a general strike was a “natural progression” following a crackdown by the city of Oakland early on Tuesday morning in which protesters were evicted from a plaza near city hall and 85 people were arrested.

Protesters sought to re-take that plaza on Tuesday night and were repeatedly driven back by police using stun grenades and tear gas. It was during one of those clashes that protesters say Olsen was struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police.

A spokesman for Highland General Hospital in Oakland has confirmed Olsen was listed in critical condition from injuries sustained during the protest, but could not say how he was hurt.

Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan told a news conference his department was investigating the incident.

Olsen is believed to be the most seriously wounded person yet in confrontations between police and activists since Occupy Wall Street protests began last month in New York.

News of his injury ignited a furor among supporters of the protests. Activists in Oakland and elsewhere took to Twitter and other social media urging demonstrators back into the streets en masse.

More than 1,000 protesters moved onto the streets of Oakland again on Wednesday night as police largely kept their distance.

Friends say Olsen had been active in several anti-war veterans groups and had joined Oakland protesters in a gesture of solidarity after learning of the police crackdown there.

Keith Shannon, 24, who said he served with Olsen in Iraq, told Reuters his friend suffered a two-inch skull fracture and brain swelling and had been sedated and placed on a respirator in the hospital’s emergency room trauma center while neurosurgeons decided whether to operate.

Olsen served two tours in Iraq from 2006 to 2010 with the 3rd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Shannon said, adding that he and Olsen deployed together and were assigned to a tactical communications unit.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Ben Berkowitz, Emmett Berg and Mary Slosson; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton)

© 2011 Reuters
 
Published on Thursday, October 27, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

From Our Archives: Police Violence Shocks Activists, Others at Port of Oakland Protest

by Dana Hull

Common Dreams Editors’ Note: In light of the violence done by the Oakland, CA police against Occupy Oakland, we wanted to share with you this headline from our 2003 archives. The protesters took the city to court, and Oakland eventually awarded $2 million to 58 demonstrators for police abuses.

Published on Monday, April 7, 2003 by the San Jose Mercury News

A protestor, who refused to give her name, bears the wounds after she says was hit by Oakland police weapon during a anti-war protest in Oakland, Calif., Monday, April 7, 2003 outside the port area. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

 An anti-war demonstration at the Port of Oakland turned violent this morning when Oakland Police opened fire with wooden dowels, “sting balls,” concussion grendades, tear gas and other non-lethal weapons when protesters at the gates of two shipping lines refused an order to disperse.

Scores of protesters ran from a line of police or tried to hide behind nearby big rigs. At least a dozen demonstrators and nine longshoremen who were standing nearby were injured.

“Our guys were standing in one area waiting to go to work, and then the police started firing on the longshoremen,” said Henry Graham, the president of ILWU Local 10. “Some were hit in the chest with rubber bullets, and seven of our guys went to the hospital. I don’t want to imply that the police deliberately did this, but it doesn’t make sense.”

Berkeley resident Clay Hinson (R), who was shot once in the chest and twice in the back during an anti-war protest, shows his wounds to an Oakland Police sergeant (L) who takes his statement at the West Oakland train station, April 7, 2003. Oakland police fired rubber bullets and wooden pellets on Monday to disperse hundreds of anti-war protesters in what was believed to be their first such use against U.S. protesters since the American-led war on Iraq began. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

There have been so many anti-war demonstrations in the Bay Area in recent months that they have almost become routine, and most have been peaceful. Monday’s events mark the first time that local police have used projectiles to disperse crowds, and many demonstrators said they were stunned that the projectiles were fired at such close range.

“I was just marching in a big circle and the police lowered their guns at us,” said Scott Fleming, 29, who took off his shirt to reveal four large red and swollen welts on his back. “I turned to run and I started getting hit with wooden bullets. They just kept shooting at us, and I kept running. I’m a lawyer, and I’m seriously considering filing charges.”

The early morning mayhem came as a shock to veteran activists and Oakland leaders alike. Oakland was one of the first cities in the region to pass a resolution condeming the U.S.-led war with Iraq, and the City Council has a progressive reputation. Some well known public officials even turned out to participate in the early morning protest.

“I got hit a few times with rubber bullets,” said Dan Siegel, an attorney and member of the Oakland School Board. Siegel pulled a sting ball out of the pocket of his business suit and said he was outraged that the police fired on a peaceful protest. “The police totally overreacted. It’s over the top. They were reckless, and I also saw an officer on a motorcycle run over a woman’s foot.”

The port protest was one of several anti-war demonstrations held Monday in the Bay Area. Several people were arrested at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, and seven were arrested after they temporarily blocked an off-ramp from Interstate 280 in San Francisco. Other demonstrators walked in a circle in front of the federal building in San Francisco, drumming wooden spoons together as federal employees arrived for work.

The action at the Port was the largest. Hundreds of demonstrators met near dawn Monday at the terminals of Neptune Orient Lines Ltd.’s APL unit and Stevedoring Services of America, shipping companies that activists say are profiting from the war.

An Oakland Police officer fires a shotgun towards a group of anti-war protesters near the Port of Oakland, April 7, 2003. Oakland police fired rubber bullets and wooden pellets on Monday to disperse hundreds of anti-war protesters in what was believed to be the first such use against U.S. protesters since the American-led war on Iraq began. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

 In late March, Stevedoring Services of America won a $4.8 million contract from the U.S. government to manage the Iraqi port Umm Qasr and ensure that urgent food assistance and materials flow smoothly through the seaport. Critics are screaming foul over the process, which excluded any foreign companies from bidding on the lucrative contracts.

The demonstrations at the port were planned with the quiet support of the ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Many rank-and-file members of ILWU Local 10 oppose the war with Iraq, and the local has its own Anti-War Action Committee.

Police fired into the crowd after some protesters failed to clear the street in front of the terminals.

“At that point, we fired non-lethal munitions,” said Danielle Ashford, an officer with the Oakland Police Department. “There were a few agitators in the crowd. The majority of them were peaceful.”

But others said they never saw any evidence of “agitators” and urged any witnesses to come to Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“I was there from 5 a.m. on, and the only violence that I saw was from the police,” said Joel Tena, the constituent liason for Vice Mayor Nancy Nadel. “What happened today was very surprising. It seemed the police were operating under the assumption that they were not going to let any kind of protest happen.”

© 2003 San Jose Mercury News

UK Unions Plot a Winter of Discontent as They Ballot More Than a Million Workers for Biggest General Strike Since 1926 September 14, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Europe, Revolution.
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Published on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 by the Daily Mail/UK

 

Millions of workers including police, firefighters, health workers, teachers and prison officers could strike over bitter pension row Unions describe potential walk-out as ‘unprecedented’ in scale and ‘the biggest fight of our lives’ Unison says they will be ‘vilified’ for striking but urges members to ‘stay strong’

by Anna Edwards

A ‘winter of discontent’ looks imminent as Unison, the country’s biggest public sector workers’ union, gave formal notice today that its 1.1 million members will be balloted for industrial action in the bitter row over pensions.

A crowd of protesters made their feelings clear in London as marches take place across the country, sparked by a proposed increase in the retirement age for public sector workers and paying more into their pensions The Government face the threat of the biggest outbreak of industrial action since the 1926 General Strike after unions served notice of ballots over the row which will see workers pay an extra 3.2 per cent in pension contributions.

Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, said 9,000 separate employer groups would be involved in the action, describing the ballot as ‘unprecedented’ in scale.

He blamed the Government for the ballot decision, which could see workers in school, hospitals, police and voluntary sectors, join the move.

He said: ‘A ballot unprecedented in scale will cover over a million workers in health, local government, schools, further education, police, the voluntary sector and the environment and private sector.

‘It’s a decision we don’t take lightly and the stakes are high, higher than ever before, but now is the time to make our stand.

‘It will be hard, we’ll be vilified, attacked, set against each other, but we must stay strong and united.’

The union was joined by Unite and the Fire Brigades Union, who all gave notice of ballots in the worsening row over pensions and launched angry attacks against the Government.

Mr Prentis announced to the TUC Congress in London that unions were involved in the ‘fight of our lives’ over the Government’s controversial reforms of pensions, which will see workers pay an extra 3.2 per cent in contributions.

He said Unison would work with the GMB and Unite, which could mean the country grinding to a halt if millions of the members decide to strike together.

His announcement was met with a standing ovation as delegates applauded the move, which brings the prospect of a winter of strikes closer.

Mr Prentis accused the Government of an ‘unprecedented’ attack on workers with its ‘audacious and devious’ pension reforms.

Mr Prentis said that exhaustive talks had not worked for the unions: ‘We’ve been patient, we’ve co-operated, but there comes a time when we say enough is enough because, if we don’t, they’ll be back for more.

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, told the conference: ‘When the coalition came to power we knew we faced the fight of our lives, we knew they would seek to weaken and divide us.

‘While we will never walk away from talks, neither can we sit on our hands. We will support days of action and tactical selective action.’

The Fire Brigades Union’s ballot of its 43,000 members raises the threat of a walkout without ‘Green Goddess’ military cover.

Firefighters last took national strike action in 2003, when Green Goddesses were used as emergency cover, but the ageing military vehicles have since been taken out of service.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, which has already announced fresh industrial action in November, said today’s moves showed that opposition was growing to the Government’s ‘raid’ on public sector pensions.

‘Following the hugely successful strike by civil servants, teachers and lecturers in June, there is a clear momentum behind our campaign that ministers cannot ignore, and they must now enter into serious and open negotiations.

‘We will now join our colleagues from across the public sector to discuss the nuts and bolts of this fightback, which we fully expect will mean industrial action on a scale not seen for many years.’

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, which is not allowed to take industrial action, warned that his members would defy the law if no deal was reached on pensions.

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB, announced that his union’s 250,000 public sector members will also be balloted for strikes, warning that industrial action could last for months.

‘We are not talking about a day – we are talking about something that is long and hard and dirty, running through the winter, into next year and following the legislative programme right into the summer.’

The dispute will involve hospital and ambulance workers, meals-on-wheels staff, refuse collectors and cemetery workers, he said.

Mr Strutton said recent talks over pension reform had been held between Government ministers and local authority leaders, with unions ‘not even in the room’.

Public sector unions will meet later today to discuss co-ordinated action ahead of more talks with the Government planned for next week.

Joining them, workers at four British Sugar plants are to be balloted on industrial action in a dispute over pay and the ‘soaring cost of living’.

Unite said 250 members based in the East of England will vote in the coming weeks on whether to launch a campaign of strikes after rejecting a 3.5 per cent pay offer.

The union said it was seeking a pay deal equal to RPI inflation, currently running at 5.2 per cent, plus 0.5 per cent for the year to next April.

Regional officer Mick Doherty said: ‘Our members are being hit very hard by the soaring cost of living.

‘British Sugar is a very profitable company and despite its complaints that the sugar beet crop was hit by last winter’s bad weather, it is well able to afford a decent pay rise.’

The Government hit back at the ‘disappointing’ strikes, saying they had tried to reach a negotiation with unions.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman described the calls for strike ballots as ‘disappointing’, and slammed the industrial action would be irresponsible at a time of economic difficulty.

‘Our view is that the best way forward is to continue with talks and we have always been very clear that we should try to have a constructive dialogue with the unions,’ said the spokesman.

‘Clearly, it is disappointing that there have been calls for industrial action, particularly as the talks are still ongoing.

‘On pensions, we have been very clear about the need for reform, but we have also been making the point that even after these reforms come through, public sector pensions will still be amongst the very best available.’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, answering questions after a speech in London, said: ‘It is very regrettable that they are rushing to announce days of strikes when the discussions are still ongoing.

‘It would lovely to wave a magic wand and say we have discovered pots of gold, and the ageing population is not ageing, and, hallelujah, pension funds are entirely sustainable.

‘We entered into these discussions in good faith and we will continue to do so.”

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who is leading negotiations for the Government, told BBC News: ‘I think the public will be really fed up if they see industrial action damaging the economy, damaging their ability to get to work and earn their own living when (they) may be paying more towards public sector pensions than they are towards their own.

‘We want this to be a proper settlement so that we know that public sector workers are going to be able to enjoy these good pensions – better pension schemes than are available almost anywhere else – but that’s on a sustainable basis.

‘I don’t want governments to be coming back in five or 10 years’ time and saying ‘We need to have another go at this because it wasn’t sorted out properly in 2011′.

‘I think the unions need to think about the effect on the public and the effect on the economy and on their own members.

‘Their own members want to be going to work, they don’t want to be giving up a day’s pay, or more than that, at a time when we are all of us working under major constraints.’

Increasingly militant transport union leaders joined in with the walkout threats, warning they were planning the ‘biggest campaign’ of civil disobedience in Britain’s history.

They plan to disrupt public services and block motorways as well as declaring they are ready to ‘go to prison’ in protest at proposed changes to pensions.

In a bid to persuade them to stop striking and wrecking the Games, transport bosses have offered hefty bonuses to railway workers amid fears the militant RMT union could wreck the Games with strikes.

Train drivers will pocket up to £1,800 simply for turning up for work during the London Olympics next summer.

Last night, MPs condemned the payments as a ‘bribe’ and accused the unions of holding the public to ransom.

Astonishingly, the Daily Mail understands that the £1,800 bonus deal with Tube drivers does not even include a no-strike clause.

The glaring omission leaves them free to pocket the cash and still cause mass disruption with industrial action.

A senior source connected with the talks said: ‘The drivers could have demanded fur coats for the wives or football season tickets for the men if they wanted.

‘It’s an amazing deal but one which the Tube had to do. There was no alternative.’

Union sources revealed a battle plan has been devised, mapping out ‘blocks’ of strikes running in ‘target areas’ for two to three days at a time.

One union leader said to expect scenes reminiscent of the 1978 ‘winter of discontent’ when rubbish filled the streets.

Another, unnamed, told the BBC: ‘In some areas there will be two or three days. In other areas it will be continuous. In other areas it will be a rolling programme.’

 

© 2011 Associated Newspapers Ltd
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