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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

Cannibalism on the Left

by Ben Field, South Bay Labor Council

At a time when economic inequality has reached record levels and unions face existential threats, you would think the Labor movement would refrain from eating its own, but no.

In a recent article in the online newsletter Counterpunch, “long time unionist” Alberto Ruiz attacks the AFL-CIO sponsored Solidarity Center, whose mission is to strengthen unions in countries like Colombia, as an “imperialist organization.” Pointing to a half dozen WikiLeaks cables that document meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Ruiz claims that Solidarity Center staff are working to undermine the very unions they are supposed to support.

After reading the WikiLeaks cables, a very different picture emerges. The reality is that Solidarity Center staff meet with Embassy officials in order to draw U.S. government attention to the dangers facing unionists in Colombia. There have been 2,837 murders of union members since 1986. The murderers are paramilitary assassins, who avoid prosecution 96% of the time. Colombia is the most dangerous country to be a unionist. That is exactly why the Solidarity Center is active there.

Two summers ago I attended meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and the Colombian government’s Office on Human Rights after a fact finding trip to the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia. The primary purpose of those meetings, which were organized by the Solidarity Center, was to report our observations of the risks to union organizers and to advocate for improved security for them. We had seen firsthand the threats they faced. We heard their stories and saw the pictures of the “fallen ones” on the walls of their union halls.

The dangers extend to Solidarity Center workers as well. One member of our delegation was followed by a known paramilitary operative, and we had a run-in with the secret police, who were trying to secretly photograph us. Ruiz’s article, which repeatedly names Solidarity Center staff, lacks sensitivity to the real risks they face. The article’s inaccuracy is bad enough, but even worse is its recklessness.


This article originally appeared on the South Bay Labor Council blog.

Posted on 01/19/2012Permalink

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