The laws to allow privatisation were passed in 1993. After seven years of struggle, the government has succeeded in privatising about 50% of the public utilities in our country. That 50% are not privatised is due to the great resistance mounted by the Colombian workers.
In our case, EMCALI Cali Municipal Services, is the second biggest utilities provider in the country. It is one of the ten principal state corporations. EMCALI has 1.5 million customers, not only in the city but in nearby towns like Jamundí and Yumbo, and the surrounding rural area. Governments came trying to privatise the corporation. We as the trade union SINTRAEMCALI have been fighting very hard. We have put very concrete proposals with the perspective of defending EMCALI as a state employer, always with the dynamic of involving the community. These efforts, and this strategic unity has been the fundamental element that has allowed us to defeat the privatisation. That’s why now we have a very positive outcome. The theme of our proposals is that the corporation has to be ethical as well as technically efficient. We believe that the state has a social function.
We have lost comrades to assassination squads. We have had three of our activists detained under the terrorism law. We have friends threatened, others have survived attempts on their lives, 70 are being processed by the state. These things are frame ups attempting to break our trade union organisation. We are saying to the world that despite the permanent threat and danger that the state has put us under, we have beaten off their privatisation!
Underlying our strategy, our primary ethic, is that we are not just workers, that is we are not only producers, we are also citizens and consumers of services as well. So we have a political and social commitment to our fellow Colombians. Secondly, our strategy has been to really study how EMCALI as a corporation works. We’ve studied it from the financial point of view, economically, and technically. And we thought, so why can’t we administer this corporation? EMCALI has been in existence for 70 years and it has had many managers. They always arrive knowing absolutely nothing. We considered that we have the knowledge and the capacity to run this corporation that we know so well. So our proposal was based on the idea that we the workers would be running the corporation. Obviously more efficiently because we know what we are doing, and also more cheaply because we are not corrupt, unlike the managers before us. But all of this, to repeat, is because we have a commitment to supplying services as part of the common wealth, that is part of the patrimony of our country.
We opened up a space through our struggle. The local mayor and council accepted our proposal against the privatisation. We also entered discussions with the local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. We got friends from within the political class, a minority, who helped us raise the problems of the city at the national level. We talked with every conceivable government ministry. We projected the idea right into the country’s leadership that privatisation is not the only solution. We managed to get big debates in the Congress, in which we participated, although only allowed a few minutes.
We worked in this reactionary terrain, but we held our own. We had a detailed proposal and we rebutted every argument and every falsehood. The final debate was at the end of March. By then the government gave in without putting up an argument. The government said that the trade union has got 10 months to apply its solution to saving the corporation. Obviously the politicians didn’t give this for free, they did it to keep respect because through our programme of struggle, strikes, stoppages, demonstrations, we won the people to our side. This shows that the struggle opens up ways, the struggle of the workers gains them respect.
I insist that all of this was because we struggled and kept unity with the community to stop privatisation.
And so we have reached the point that in practical terms the corporation is in our hands. We are leading it. We have sacked all the corrupt managers, that is all of them. The new mayor appointed a new director, someone who we the workers accept. The director is implementing our plan. In place of the 8 main managers who we sacked, we have put in technical and professional workers, but each one must work as part of a team that knows about that sector. And they get their normal salary, which has saved a lot of money. We also got rid of corporation’s administrative core, which had been involved in corruption. Again we have put in people who have the capacity for that work, but did not want to do it before because they didn’t want to be involved in corruption. So there has been a complete change in the management of the corporation. But more than this, we now have general assemblies with the workers, so that the workers too change their attitude. Some of the workers have not been committed to the city or their employer. We are working daily to improve our services, we are redesigning the processes inside the corporation and changing constantly so that we can provide services more cheaply and get rid of corruption.
Our aim is to have an efficient corporation at the service of the community, at the service of the poor, and at the service of our country because public services should be the responsibility of the state and the workers have to guarantee this.