A long-running struggle by General Motors workers in Colombia garnered new attention last week when five workers went on a hunger strike to protest the company’s firing of sick workers, sewing their lips together to draw attention to their cause. Workers say their illness is work-related and the firings unjustified.
General Motors “is firing us without just cause, harming us and our families. We are making this decision because our health has worsened day by day, we have lost our homes, we’re basically on the street and we have been forgotten by the government,” one of the protesters told a Colombian radio station.
The five workers are members of ASOTRECOL, the association of workers and ex-workers injured at the General Motors assembly plant in Bogota, Colombia. They launched the strike after a year of peaceful protests in front of the U.S. embassy and a U.S. tour in May that included stops in Detroit and the Labor Notes conference in Chicago.
According to ASOTRECOL, the workers are “suffering from occupational injuries that come from repetitive movements, lifting excessive weights, harmful body postures, and the accelerated work pace of the assembly line.” The dismissed and injured workers have been unable to find new employment; many families have lost their homes, had basic services cut off, and can’t afford enough to eat.
On August 6, General Motors officials in Colombia walked out of a meeting with the workers, Colombian government officials, and the International Labor Organization (ILO), prompting several U.S. groups to issue a letter of support, calling on the U.S. government to intervene more effectively in what is shaping up as an important test case of worker rights post-implementation of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in May.