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PROFILE: Colombian mining and energy trade unions make progress towards unity

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21 May, 2014Killings, detentions and persecution of trade unionists as well as abuse of labour rights and outsourcing are all challenges faced by three of IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliates in the energy and mining sectors in Colombia. Believing in strength by numbers, the three trade unions have now embarked on a journey towards unity.


Text: Valeska Solis

Electricity industry workers’ union SINTRAELECOL, oil workers’ union USO and coal industry workers’ union SINTRACARBÓN have decided to merge in order to increase their capacity to counter the influence wielded by multinational companies and to stand up against abuses of power by the authorities.

At a time when Colombia is going through an economic, political and social crisis, we have decided to take a new initiative to promote unity

said the executive committees of SINTRAELECOL, USO and SINTRACARBÓN a joint statement last year. A coordinating body, CUSME, has since been formed to support the merger. Colombia’s anti-trade union climate has led the unions to focus on building strength. Over the years, the three unions have been put to the test with a number of conflicts; SINTRACARBÓN’s struggle against Carbones del Cerrejón Limited and Prodeco at the Calenturitas mine  has seen the trade union defending the rights of workers as well as the residents of local communities affected by mining operations; SINTRAELECOL has battled persecution and threats against workers in the electricity sector; while USO has fought against political persecution and violation of labour rights by Pacific Rubiales.

USO leaders have also suffered arbitrary detention, with four employees of Pacific Rubiales detained for 75 days before they were finally released in January 2014. Trade union leaders believe that acting together could act as a catalyst in the fight for better living and working conditions.

Unity in the mining and energy sector is the only way to respond to the predatory model that holds sway in Colombia. Long live unity! 

says Pablo Santo, president of SINTRAELECOL.

Progress towards unity

In March this year, CUSME met to prepare a strategic plan to amalgamate the three unions. This process involves the creation of committees to draft documents for discussion and approval; regional seminars; and a national plenary to approve and reaffirm the process of unity.

Jorge Almeida, IndustriALL’s Regional Secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, emphasizes the importance of the decision taken by the three affiliates in Colombia to merge:

Uniting several unions is not an easy task but it can be achieved if those involved have the political will and motivation to pursue it. The merger of the three global federations that joined forces to become IndustriALL is a good example.

With the support of IndustriALL and their Swedish affiliates, CUSME will continue to inform its members that the mining and energy sector needs a strong trade union that gives solidarity to workers involved in disputes and responds forcefully to the aggression and ignorance displayed by the national and transnational companies that exploit Colombia’s energy and mineral resources.

Edwin Castaño, USO president, says:

Now, more than ever, workers in the mining and energy sectors want unity.

While, Jairo Quiroz, leader of SINTRACARBÓN concludes:

The move towards unity and the creation of a single mining and energy union, CUSME, is a necessity for workers in the sector. We are gradually making progress and this will be good for the Colombian trade union movement.