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Trade unions in Colombia

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Title: Trade unions in Colombia  
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Trade unions in Colombia

see also Human rights in Colombia

Trade unions in Colombia were until around 1990 among the strongest in Latin America. However the 1980s expansion of paramilitarism in Colombia saw trade union leaders and members increasingly targeted for assassination, and as a result Colombia has been the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists for several decades. Between 1986 and 2010 over 2800 were killed according to one source, and over 4000 according to others. Most assassinations were carried out by paramilitaries or the Colombian military; some were carried out by the guerrillas. In 2009 only around 4% of workers in Colombia were unionised.


  • Overview 1
  • History 2
    • 1930-1960 2.1
    • 1960-present 2.2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Until around 1990 Colombian trade unions were among the strongest in Latin America.[1] However the 1980s expansion of paramilitarism in Colombia saw trade union leaders and members increasingly targeted for assassination, and as a result Colombia has been the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists for several decades.[2][3][4] Between 2000 and 2010 Colombia accounted for 63.12% of trade unionists murdered globally.[5] According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) there were 2832 murders of trade unionists between 1 January 1986 and 30 April 2010,[5] meaning that "on average, men and women trade unionists in Colombia have been killed at the rate of one every three days over the last 23 years."[6] Other sources give figures of around 4000 trade union members killed from the mid-1980s to 2008.[7]

According to a 2007 Amnesty International report, in 2005 "around 49 percent of human rights abuses against trade unionists were committed by paramilitaries and some 43 percent directly by the security forces."[8] The Colombian parapolitics scandal revealed widespread links between the government and the paramilitaries. The ITUC in 2010 concluded that "the historical and structural violence against the Colombian trade union movement remains firmly in place, manifesting itself in the form of systematic human and trade union rights violations."[6] From 1986 to 2009, Antioquia Department saw the highest number of murders (46% of the total),[9] while the agricultural workers' union Sintrainagro was the most targeted union (at 844, 31% of the total).[10]

There are reports that US corporations in Colombia have actively colluded with paramilitaries in order to reduce union activity. Besides acknowledged payments from multinationals to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) (Doe v. Chiquita Brands International), "Trade unionists have been particularly targeted by the paramilitaries, and most of the violence has been directed at leaders of unions of multinational corporations."[11] In 2001 the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund sued Coca-Cola and its Colombian suppliers in a Miami court on behalf of food workers union Sinaltrainal (Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola); the case was dismissed in 2006. A similar suit regarding another US company, Estate of Rodriquez v. Drummond Co., was dismissed in 2007.

According to the ITUC, only 1.2% of workers in Colombia are covered by a collective agreement,[12] and only 4% of the workforce is unionized.[13]

The three main trade union federations in Colombia, all ITUC-affiliated, are the Central Union of Workers, General Confederation of Democratic Workers and the Confederation of Workers of Colombia.[14]


In December 1928 an unknown number of workers (from a few dozen to 3000[15]) died after the government decided to send military forces to end a month-long union in order to secure better working conditions. Gabriel García Márquez depicted a fictional version of what became known as the "banana massacre" in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, as did Álvaro Cepeda Samudio in his La Casa Grande.


The Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CTC) trade union federation was formed in the 1930s. The Unión de Trabajadores Colombianos (UTC) was founded by the Jesuit elements of the Roman Catholic Church in June 1946, as the Liberal-led CTC was in a weakened state. UTC was based on Catholic social doctrine. A core sector of the newly founded UTC were the Catholic trade unions in the textile factories of Medellín.[16][17][18]

In 1953 the military government of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla supported the creation of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) trade union confederation.[19] CNT was built up along the lines of the Argentinian peronista unions, and CNT was affiliated to the Agrupación de Trabajadores Latinoamericanos Sindicalistas (ATLAS, which was led by the Peronista unions of Argentina).[20] CNT received financial aid from ATLAS. Moreover, CNT received direct support from the Colombian Ministry of Labour through the minister Aurelio Caicedo Ayerbe.[19] CNT was given access to issue propaganda through public radio stations.[21] CNT was actively involved in building the political movement constructed to support the rule of Rojas Pinilla, National Action Movement.[19] CNT and MAN were projected as the constituents of a 'Third Force' in Colombian politics, confronting the two old dominant parties of the country.[22] With a strong anti-oligarchical discourse, Rojas Pinilla sought to utilize CNT and MAN to mobilize popular opinion against the traditional elites and their political parties.[23] At the same time as the government mobilized support to CNT it curbed the activities of the two main trade union centres of the country, the Liberal Confederación de Trabajadores de Colombia and Conservative Unión de Trabajadores Colombianos.[24] The launching of CNT provoked reactions from the opposition side, and a civic opposition front was formed.[25] By the end of 1955 the pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, the Conservatives and UTC forced the government to close down the CNT.[21]


The [1] Since then, the targeting of unionists by paramilitaries has led to thousands of deaths. Former paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño said that "We kill trade unionists because they interfere with people working."[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b American Center for International Labor Solidarity (2006), Justice For All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Colombia, p11
  2. ^ An ILO mission in 2000 reported that "the number of assassinations, abductions, death threats and other violent assaults on trade union leaders and unionized workers in Colombia is without historical precedent". According to the Colombian Government, during the period 1991-99 there were 593 assassinations of trade union leaders and unionized workers while the National Trade Union School holds that 1 336 union members were assassinated." - ILO, 16 June 2000, Special ILO Representative for cooperation with Colombia to be appointed by Director-General
  3. ^ "By the 1990s, Colombia had become the most dangerous country in the world for unionists" - Chomsky, Aviva (2008), Linked labor histories: New England, Colombia, and the making of a global working class, Duke University Press, p11
  4. ^ "Colombia has the world’s worst record on these assassinations..." - 20 November 2008, Colombia: Not Time for a Trade Deal
  5. ^ a b International Trade Union Confederation, 11 June 2010, ITUC responds to the press release issued by the Colombian Interior Ministry concerning its survey
  6. ^ a b International Trade Union Confederation (2010), Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights: Colombia
  7. ^ Kuehnert, Daniel Richard (2008), "The International Labor Organization and a Possible End to Violence against Union Members in Colombia", Washington University Global Studies Law Review, Vol. 7, Issue 3, pp. 593-618. p593
  8. ^ Latin American Herald Tribune, 23 October 2009, Two Colombian Agents Arrested in Slaying of Unionist
  9. ^ Escuela Nacional Sindical (2008), Death Isn’t Mute: Report on violations to life, freedom and integrity of trade unionists in Colombia during 2008 and situation of impunity of violations in the period 1986-2009, Cuaderno de Derechos Humanos Nº 21, p22
  10. ^ Escuela Nacional Sindical (2008:24)
  11. ^ Martin-Ortega, Olga (2008), "Deadly Ventures? Multinational Corporations and Paramilitaries in Colombia", Revista electrónica de estudios internacionales
  12. ^ International Trade Union Confederation (2009), Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights: Colombia
  13. ^ CounterPunch, 5 August 2010, Venezuela and Labor
  14. ^ ITUC, 9 December 2009, Colombia’s Dubious Strategy to Push Through an FTA with the European Union
  15. ^ 27 June 2007, Congressional Testimony on Violence against Trade Unionists and Human Rights in Colombia
  16. ^ Cambridge History of Latin America 8. Latin America Since 1930. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. p. 609
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c Ladino Orjuelo, Wilson Hernando. Régimen Político Colombiano 2
  20. ^ Henderson, James D. La modernización en Colombia: los años de Laureano Gómez, 1889-1965. Medellin, Colombia: Universidad de Antioquia, 2006. p. 495
  21. ^ a b Benavides L, Eduardo. ADIDA, 50 años de lucha
  22. ^ Alba, Víctor. Politics and the Labor Movement in Latin America. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1968. p. 272
  23. ^ Osterling, Jorge P. Democracy in Colombia: Clientelist Politics and Guerrilla Warfare. New Brunswick, U.S.A.: Transaction, 1989. p. 94
  24. ^ Cambridge History of Latin America 8. Latin America Since 1930. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. p. 625
  25. ^ Palacios Rozo, Marco, and Frank Robinson Safford. Colombia, país fragmentado, sociedad dividida: su historia. Colección Vitral. Bogotá [u.a.]: Grupo Ed. Norma, 2002. p. 594
  26. ^ American Center for International Labor Solidarity (2006), Justice For All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Colombia, p12

Further reading

  • McClintock, Michael (1992). Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counter-Insurgency, Counter-Terrorism, 1940–1990. New York, NY:  
  • Stokes, Doug (2004). America's Other War: Terrorizing Colombia. London and New York, NY:  
  • "Killings, Arbitrary Detentions, and Death Threats: The Reality of Trade Unionism in Colombia".  

External links

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