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We cannot give space to the enemies of peace, says Colombian union leader

20 October, 2016The president of IndustriALL Global Union Colombian affiliate, USO, says it is preparing to mobilize support for peace in Colombia, after a referendum on 2 October rejected a government peace deal with FARC rebels.

Cesar Loza Arenas from USO, the most important petroleum union in Colombia, said his union is currently mobilizing Colombians on all sides to come out on the streets and pressure the government to comply with the peace agreement.  

“Peace is a right for Colombians, as it is for workers. And we are saying that we support peace,” said Loza Arenas. “It doesn’t mean that we agree with the politics of the government but when it comes to peace, we are all united.”

The peace accord was expected to seal the end to a 52-year war with FARC guerillas that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions. It was rejected by the Colombian people by 50.2 per cent in a vote that had a turnout of only 38 per cent of the population.

During our World Congress, 1,500 IndustriALL affiliates unanimously passed a solidarity resolution regretting the result of the referendum, and recommitting support to the peace process with full guarantees for individual and collective freedom.

IndustriALL's general secretary Valter Sanches has since written to the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos informing him of the resolution and calling on the government and the leaders of FARC to continue the pursuit of peace and justice in the country. 

The resolution also gives particular mention to USO and its struggles for workers’ rights at the state-run oil company Ecopetrol.

“This resolution shows that we have backing from the global union movement, telling us workers in Colombia to keep going, that you have our support. You are not alone in the fight,” said Loza Arenas.

Loza Arenas said USO has given advance notice to strike at Ecopetrol, Colombia’s most important petrol company and significant income generator. The union is fighting government plans to sell off key Ecopetrol assets that they say will weaken the company. USO also wants an end to the company’s systematic violations of the rights of direct and indirect workers.

“Of course if the government and the board of Ecopetrol are willing to negotiate we will not go on strike but if they don’t, we will be obliged to go on strike with the support of the workers and the backing of the international community.”

Loza Arenas spoke to IndustriALL at its headquarters in Geneva. He is in the Swiss city to meet the International Labour Organization (ILO) to discuss cases against the government of Colombia for violations of worker and trade union rights in the country.

Loza Arenas and Fabio Arias Giraldo, secretary general of Colombia's trade union centre, CUT, requested IndustriALL to convene and participate in a joint meeting with the Committee on Freedom of Association at the ILO to update the information on the pending cases.