By Cristino Álvarez Jorge
Barranquilla, 6 January 2011
All roads lead to Rome. That is an expression, or popular adage, which is used to suggest that even if you do not want to use something, circumstances end up forcing it on you as a last resort. When we get to this stage it is because we cannot see any alternative. There is only one way out. This is the last and only possibility. The others have all been rejected.
This is the point to which Carbones del Cerrejon is driving the Coal Workers’ Union. In the 26 days of negotiation, the arguments and calls of the union’s commission for a solution to the conflict have not been able to modify the inflexible and immobile position of the company, reflected in its selfsame way that they have taken on the workers determination to implement the minimum wage. As with this latter example, the company does not want to negotiate but to impose its decisions. And only on 5 January, after two meetings conducted in the doorway of the office where the negotiations were being conducted, it succeeded in revealing its indecent, pathetic, ridiculous proposal for a pay rise: IPC.
Because of this, all roads are leading not to Rome but to a strike. The union has shown its willingness to dialogue at all times and it is willing to seek an agreed solution to the conflict, but each day the company behaves in a way that makes the use of this method, that is, a strike, the only tool that the workers can count on to resolve conflicts between workers and bosses.
If this does happen, and the workers are inclined to do it, the one that will lose out most from a production stoppage at this time is the mean and avaricious company. While the negotiations have been going on, as a result of factors external to the mine and the country, the price of coal reached 131 dollars a tonne, an increase of 71.44% on the closing price in December 2010, and the trend was towards continued increases. At this price the Virgin appeared once again to the exploiters of coal and to those who pillage Colombia. It would be better for the company if it shared its gains with the workers who generate its wealth and with the communities, and hired subcontracted workers directly, rather than losing out on the prices on the international market. What this means is that if the company were to export in the first quarter of 2011 the eight million tones which it exported in the first quarter of 2010, it would receive 1,049 million dollars, a figure which is more than 50% higher than what it received in the nine months of export in 2010.
So it is more economic, cheaper and simpler to agree to the union’s demands than to provoke a strike. The ball is in the company’s court, as the saying goes. It will decide whether or not it wants to take advantage of the favourable international conditions, the boom in prices, to fill its coffers, taking into account the fact that the big global coal producers are having difficulties at the moment in satisfying the eager demand of the international energy market. The company must either take advantage of the boom or declare war on the workers. There is no other alternative.
Barranquilla, 6 January 2011
Press and Publicity Department, National Directorate, SINTRACARBON.