Cali is Colombia’s second city. On Christmas Day some 800 workers of EMCALI, the publicly owned corporation that provides electricity, water, and telecommunications to the region, occupied the Municipal Central Administration (CAM) tower following the rushed replacement of the corporation’s General Manager on Christmas Eve at a time when EMCALI’s workforce were looking forward to spending Christmas at home with their families.
The workers, members of the SINTRAEMCALI trade union, realised that the Superintendent of Public Services’ decision to change the General Manager, especially in so underhand a manner, signalled a high level decision to force through privatisation of the corporation. This move is part of the Pastrana government’s latest wave of implementing the neoliberal model, as agreed with the IMF in December 1999, when the government accepted that it must cut state spending drastically in order to continue paying off debt to international banks. Other measures include slashing state provision of health and education, raising the pension age and attacking the right to collective bargaining. The privatisation of domestice services has had disastrous effects in other parts of Colombia, leading to price increases, and huge surges in the rates of unemployment and poverty.
The situation in Cali has now become extremely tense, with more than 400 heavily armed police and army surrounding the CAM building in a standoff, with SINTRAEMCALI occupying the tower and their supporters from other unions and the community outside. There have been some negotiations between the authorities and the union. On 28th December a humanitarian agreement was signed allowing for food, clothes, medicines and sanitary provisions to reach the besieged workers, with the promise that there would be no forcible eviction. But the very next night the police tried to break into the tower, and there is a constant danger of them provoking the situation.
For the government, under intense pressure from the IMF, the USA and the multinationals to push through its programme of ‘structural reform’, it is important to demonstrate strength. These are the same powers who are intent on attacking the Colombian people through their misnamed ‘Plan Colombia’ imperialist intervention programme. For the union it is a make or break situation, privatisation spells liquidation. And for its members, including president Alexander Lopez and the union executive, already under threat of their lives from the state sponsored paramilitaries, as well as the vulnerable members of society who rely on EMCALI’s services, it truly is a matter of life and death.
Up to now SINTRAEMCALI has been successful in resisting efforts to privatise EMCALI’s services, and since an agreement reached in 1998 the union has been working in partnership with the corporation under its just dismissed General Manager, Juan Manuel Pulido, successfully managing to get on top of the huge debt burden that the corporation had been carrying. The union now seeks to negotiate the future of EMCALI, with an insistence that there will be no privatisation and no increase in the cost of services to the poorest members of society. The government has agreed to send a high-level team to Cali.
The defeat of SINTRAEMCALI, one of Colombia’s strongest unions, would open the floodgates to further savage attacks, which makes this occupation a cornerstone in the mass struggle and its outcome of crucial importance for the people of Colombia. It is vital to stand with SINTRAEMCALI. Close international scrutiny gives defence against repressive actions by the state and assassination by the paramilitaries.
NO TO THE PRIVATISATION OF EMCALI!
SOLIDARITY WITH THE SINTRAEMCALI OCCUPATION!