ICFTU OnLine... 155/990902/LD
Brussels, 3 September 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has congratulated the Colombian trade union movement, which yesterday obtained the opening of negotiations with the government, after two days of a general strike which enjoyed wide support.
The ICFTU also expressed its pleasure at the government's commitment to free the trade unionists detained during the action. The strike had taken a violent turn on Tuesday evening at Ciudad Bolivar, in the southern suburbs of Bogota, where confrontations between demonstrators and police led to the death of a 10-year old girl, and another 25 people were injured. 292 people were arrested in Colombia on Tuesday, including 187 at Ciudad Bolivar, according to an official report.
It was in the early hours of Thursday morning that the trade unions finally reached an agreement with President Andres Pastrana's government. In a press release the trade unions and government announced that "working tables" would shortly be held to negotiate the list of 41 items presented by the three trade union confederations (CUT, CTC, CGTD) to the government several weeks ago. The government has committed to free the persons arrested in connection with the strike on condition that they are not guilty of "criminal deeds or conduct". It has also promised not to penalise civil service personnel involved in the strike.
The trade unions are calling for a moratorium on the country's foreign debt - 35 billion dollars - and are denouncing the austerity programme included in the year 2000 budget. In their view, the three billion dollar loan currently being negotiated with the IMF is directly linked to the programme of savings that they are fighting against. They are also demanding the respect of human and trade union rights. 72 trade unionists were killed last year in Colombia, according to a recent report by the workers' confederations.
One of the trade union leaders, Tarcision Mora, the chairman of the powerful Colombian Teachers' Federation, indicated, however, that the action would be resumed "if the government did not keep its promises". The strike, which began on Tuesday morning, had affected principally the public sector, including transport services, whilst many shops remained closed.
"In a country in which violence is endemic and where trade unionists are targets for paramilitary groups, conducting a general strike is a major feat," the ICFTU commented. "This action has confirmed not only the influence of the trade union movement in the country, a fact which certain people would often like to ignore, but also its sense of responsibility and its ability to mobilise people in a peaceful manner," an ICFTU spokesperson added.
For details contact ICFTU Press at ++ 32 2 224 02 12 (Brussels). For more information, visit our website at: (http://www.icftu.org).