The three trade union leaders from Cali have won the hearts and solidarity of the trade union movement in Britain through several weeks of hard touring. University Workers Union leader Carlos González was joined by public sector workers union SINTRAEMCALI leaders Luis "Lucho" Hernandez (President) and Oscar Figueroa (Treasurer) in a tour co- organised by Justice for Colombia (with ASLEF and the FBU leading) and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, with the co-operation and support of the TUC.
No meeting was too big or too small. As a result far more people than ever before across the country have not only heard at first hand of the fight against privatisation in Colombia, but they have been greatly inspired by our comrades determination to carry on resistance despite the threats against them. The three leaders gained warm applause and emotive standing ovations nearly everywhere they spoke.
Carlos addressed the London May Day rally, then up to Bradford NATFHE branches and a public meeting in Sheffield. Carlos also spoke to the three main union conferences in his sector, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), lecturers and teachers union NATFHE and UNISON (HE Sector). Carlos and Oscar made a tremendous impact at the PCS conference, where a £2,000 generous donation from the union was backed up with a bucket collection from delegates of £1,390 for SINTRAEMCALI.
Fresh from the airport Lucho Hernandez spoke at a House of Commons meeting organised by ICTUR, and next day he addressed the annual meeting of Prospect (a new union for technical and managerial staff), and then on to the Fire Brigades Union conference. The FBU gave Lucho and Oscar a deeply moving reception. The visitors struck real friendship with the Scottish delegation in particular. Lucho then visited Glasgow at the invitation of Globalise Resistance, whose conference he briefed alongside Vittorio Agnoletto from the Italian social movement. Lucho spoke to a UNISON group in York before joining the train drivers union ASLEF’s annual delegate meeting. ASLEF General Secretary Mick Rix has been pivotal in pushing for solidarity with Colombia to be prioritised at the highest levels of the British trade union movement, and he chaired an impressive international platform including representatives from South Africa, Grenada and Cuba.
Oscar spoke to bank and finance workers union UNIFI conference, where he found special interest amongst the younger members. The intrepid three also covered Sussex University, Middlesex University, Bristol University and public meetings in Norwich, Plymouth and Totness. While Lucho and Oscar flew to lobby the ILO in Geneva, Carlos travelled to Belfast and Derry where he spoke to the trades councils in both cities. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in the south as well as the north, is becoming seriously interested in starting a campaign. Finally, Carlos returned to Blackpool to address the last annual conference of MSF before it merges with Amicus.
After a final round of meetings at the UNISON conference Carlos, Lucho and Oscar will return to the front line of the struggle in Colombia. It is vital that all of us who had the privilege to hear them dedicate ourselves to consolidating support for them through regular contact and active campaigning.
"With your help we will continue the fight against exploitation. Our presence, the deaths of our members, has planted the seed, it has flown the flag so that the people can continue in the struggle. Thank you comrade fire-fighters." Lucho Hernandez
CARLOS GONZÁLEZ IN THE NORTH-WEST
Carlos González from Cali, regional president of the Colombian University Workers’ Union SINTRAUNICOL and a member of the CUT National Executive, visited the North-West from 13th to 17th May and addressed meetings of trade unionists, students and academics.
On 14th May Carlos was in Blackpool for the UNISON Higher Education Sector Conference. It is no exaggeration to say that his 15-minute address was the high point of the day: delegates were profoundly moved by his eloquent denunciation of state and paramilitary terrorism against members of his union and by their determination to resist and fight back. "Our problems pale into insignificance by comparison", said Alison Shepherd of the UNISON National Executive. But while there is no comparison between the repression faced by unionists in Colombia and the situation in Britain, delegates were able to see that many of the same issues affect higher education workers in both countries: creeping privatisation, imposition of neo-liberal managerial norms and underfunding.
On 15th and 16th brother González, who is a sociologist by training, spoke to students and academics at Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool. He discussed the overall Colombian social and political situation in greater detail with specialists in sociology and Latin American studies, insisting on the importance of international solidarity and the increased tensions facing Colombia with the prospect of an election victory by right-wing candidate Alvaro Uribe Vélez and increased US intervention under the Bush administration.
Our visitor also had meetings on 16th and 17th May with members of the Merseyside Trade Union and Community Centre and with Liverpool City Councillor Steve Munby, and as a result there is a good prospect of future visits and exchanges between activists in the North-West and Colombia. Also there is now a basis for a new CSC branch on Merseyside and possibly elsewhere in the North-West – over 50 copies of the Colombia Solidarity Bulletin were sold during the four days and many people expressed interest in future activities.