From the IUF: Some eighteen thousand Colombian sugar workers in the Cauca river valley region, organized in the National Union of Sugarcane Cutters (SINALCORTEROS) have been on strike since September 15. The IUF is requesting international support for their struggle.
While sugar ethanol production is booming and the mill owners reap super profits fortified by tax exemptions, the condition of the cane cutters continues to worsen steadily. The sugar workers of Valle del Cauca receive poverty wages for a workday stretching to 14 hours a day or more, 7 days a week. The work is debilitating, injuries and occupational diseases are widespread, and the living and working environment and drinking water are heavily polluted by pesticides.
The cane cutters are employed through the bogus "cooperatives" promoted by the Colombian government in order to free the actual employers of any obligations for collective bargaining and health and retirement benefits, which workers must pay out of pocket. These "cooperatives" supply the mills and ethanol plants (located in Free Trade Zones benefiting from additional tax breaks) with a vast army of contracted labour.
On July 14, the union presented a charter of demands to the mill and ethanol plant owners' association ASOCAÑA on July 14, calling for a living wage, reduced hours, an improved living, health and educational environment and the replacement of the fake cooperatives with formal work contracts, union recognition and a collective bargaining agreement.
The demands were ignored for two months, and the union took strike action on September 15. The government and employer response was to use police violence to clear the mills of striking workers.
The striking workers and their union have received strong support and messages of solidarity from IUF affiliates in the region and in the global sugar sector. Through the website of the IUF Latin American regional secretariat, you can add your support by sending a message to the government of Colombia and to the employers' association ASOCAÑA. The message calls on the the government to intervene immediately to bring the employers to the negotiating table to discuss the union demands presented on July 14.
To send a message in English, click here.
To send a message in Spanish, click here.