Unionists get murdered as a matter of course in countries like Colombia. Visit the website of the Colombian Labor Monitor, and you can see the number murdered so far this year: 103.
Coca-Cola, a very global corporation, operates numerous bottling plants in Colombia. This July, the steelworkers’ union and the Colombian bottle workers’ union, Sinaltrainal, filed a suit against Coca-Cola claiming that it has allowed “multiple acts and threats of murder, kidnapping and extortion” to prevent unionization at two Coke bottlers in Colombia.
The campus organizations that represent arts and science students and part time students are now considering boycotting Coca-Cola. Why? Consider this.
The rule of the global economy is people have to compete for jobs. But the rules aren’t fair. The jobs come from corporations that can pick up and move if they want, forcing workers to compete with those from other countries. What makes people more or less competitive for these jobs is usually only how cheap they are willing to work.
Unions restore some fairness to the rule of competition. Unionization usually gives people the confidence and organization to hold out for more money—and work less cheaply. Corporations don’t want this. Competition works fine for them. They want people who work cheaply.
By way of example, the Colombian Labor Monitor’s site offers an alarming story by John Sugg. According to Sugg, in November of 1996 the union presented one of the Coke bottlers, Bebidas y Alimentos—owned by American Richard Kirby of tony Key Biscayne in Miami—with its demands for $400 a month, medical benefits and protection from paramilitaries. Two weeks later, two men came to the plant entrance and asked if the gatekeeper was Isidro Gil, the union’s negotiator. When Gil acknowledged his identity, he was shot 10 times and his body left at the gate. The paramilitaries burned the union hall, and two days later called a meeting at the plant to tell workers to quit the union or be killed. Gil’s wife was murdered by the same paramilitaries last year, leaving the couple’s two children orphans.
In reply, Coca Cola’s representatives say they “do not own or operate the plants.” Of course they don’t. Yet they take advantage of these abhorrent circumstances. It’s called contracting out—and it can be done for bottling soft drinks or providing health care. Coke may not commit the murders, but they don’t seem to do much to discourage them and, worse, they stand to profit from them in the form of the fear and lower wages they lead to. International law says Coke’s responsibility doesn’t end at operations it owns—at least that’s the hope of the unions engaged in the lawsuit.
Should Coke be held responsible for the murders of workers who bottle their drinks? They could almost certainly stop the murders—deciding not to use subcontractors who are implicated in the murder of unionists would probably do the trick. The idea behind the steelworkers’ lawsuit is to force them to do just that. If the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) and the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) are considering boycotting Coca-Cola because of its labour policies, especially in Colombia, that would be pressure in the right direction. Let’s all move in the right direction and boycott Coke on this campus.