The TUC delegation and joint mass picket of the Colombian Embassy on Friday 25th January were very successful.
The delegation was led by John Monks, General Secretary of the TUC and Lord Brett of the ILO and consisted of senior representatives from seven trade unions: Ken Cameron (Fire Brigades Union and Justice for Colombia), Mick Rix (ASLEF traindrivers), Judy McKnight (NAPO probation officers), Anita Halpin (NUJ journalists), Billy Hayes (CWU communication/postal workers), Alison Shepherd (UNISON public sector), Steve Sinnott (NUT teachers) and TUC international officer Simon Steyne.
The delegation expressed its general concern at the high numbers of assassinations of Colombian trade unionists. Lord Brett pointed out to the Colombian ambassador that putting arrest warrants on Alexander was effectively declaring him a target for the paramilitaries, and insisted that the charges be dropped. The TUC is very concerned by newspaper reports that Cali’s mayor is threatening to use force to break into the occupation next Monday.
In the meantime the picket was building up to 100 strong. There were representatives of other unions, a contingent of hospital workers from UNISON and a group of students from Sussex University. Two friends had traveled from Liverpool to join the picket line. Gloria Jaramillo taught the waiting British trade unionists some of the slogans used in the Colombian movements. "Companeros de SINTRAEMCALI no estan solos, estamos con Ustedes! " SINTRAEMCALI – Presente!". Andy Higginbottom passed on greetings from Alexander Lopez and called for further mobilisations to stop the privatisation. "After one month in occupation this dispute has reached its critical point, the outcome hangs in the balance. We are on the verge of an historic victory, a popular mobilisation to block privatisation. We have a rare opportunity to make a real difference in the struggle against the multinationals". Richard Solly drew attention to the house arrest of lawyer Armando Perez, for daring to stand up to the US multinational Exxon running the El Cerejon coalmine. Dan Gladesbrook president of Sussex students, UNISON members, and Latin America specialist David Raby stepped forward to pledge their solidarity with the SINTRAEMCALI occupation.
John Monks reported back to the picket on behalf of the delegation. Ambassador Victor Ricardo admitted that the British trade union leaders seemed to know more about the situation in Cali than he did, and he was even receiving faxes to brief him during the meeting. The ambassador had complained that the Prosecutor General had not informed him of what was happening on Alex’s case, and promised to relay all the concerns expressed by the delegation back to Pastrana. John Monks was very firm that the TUC considers the situation in Cali of great concern to the trade union movement in Britain and internationally.