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Colombian pulp, paper, packaging workers build power

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21 July, 2016IndustriALL Global Union conducted a workshop in Bogota on 18-19 July, bringing together Colombian members in the pulp and paper sector to share strategies for building power.

Affiliated union Sintracarcol principally organizes workers at Cartones de Colombia, owned by multinational packaging company Smurfit Kappa. Union leaders from Barranquilla, Bogota, Medellin, and Cali participated and shared experiences of working for Smurfit Kappa.

Working on an action plan from the 2014 founding meeting of the IndustriALL-UNI global trade union network at Smurfit Kappa, Sintracarcol has been building relations with other Latin American unions at Smurfit Kappa. Their aim is to group all IndustriALL and UNI affiliates at Smurfit Kappa in Latin America into a strong regional network that can speak with one voice and gain recognition from the company.

Arturo Cajamarca, part of the Sintracarcol leadership and member of the IndustriALL Colombia National Council said:

“For years our letters to the company headquarters were ignored. But if we speak as one as all Smurfit Kappa workers in Latin America, the company will have to respect us.”

Complaints of the Colombian Smurfit Kappa workers include: aggressive and disrespectful treatment by mid-level managers, repeated breaches of the collective agreement by management, individual contracts for workers that include higher benefits than the collective agreement to discourage unionization, outsourcing of a considerable proportion of the workforce, excessive overtime leading to fatigue and health problems, and a strong culture of discouraging any reporting of accidents or problems.

For this meeting, Sintracarcol invited Smurfit Kappa workers from Venezuela, affiliated to UNI Global Union. However the company reneged on its collective agreement in Venezuela and blocked the travel of 14 union representatives. Sintracarcol reacted to this by using its own money to bring one representative of the union to Bogota.

Tom Grinter, responsible for the pulp and paper sector at IndustriALL Global Union said:

“There can be no excuse for Smurfit Kappa workers in Colombia not enjoying the same fundamental rights as their colleagues in Germany, France and elsewhere. The management violations are serious here and we demand respect and recognition for Sintracarcol so that solutions can be found in bargaining."

Brazilian trade unionists, Sergio Carasso and Daniel Mauricio, who run a successful regional trade union network at Akzo Nobel, shared their experiences and advice on network building.

Carlos Bustos, IndustriALL coordinator for Colombia told the meeting:
“This is a vital event. Each one of you must feel part of a new project, bringing together Smurfit Kappa workers throughout Latin America and the world.”

Ricardo Rueda, Sintracarcol General Secretary, described the creation of a regional union of Smurfit Kappa workers in Latin America as a dream come true.