Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Countries: G.M. in Canada and Colombia

Corporations have, shall we say, a rather checkered history in dealing with the workers who make possible their profits, often viewing them as disposable commodities to be chewed up and then spit out.

As contract talks with the Big Three automakers get underway, CAW president Ken Lewenza has issued this warning:

Canada's 24,000 auto workers deserve to share in the gains the auto makers have made since 2009 when a multi-million dollar government bailout and worker concessions helped keep a struggling industry in business, he said.

“The companies have profited because of our members' sacrifices. They have no economic or ethical right to demand further concessions,” Lewenza told a press conference Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto.

Of course, the big hammer the automakers wield is the threat of relocating their operations to jurisdictions where labour costs are lower, and workers are deemed 'expendable'.

Places like Colombia, where on-the-job-injury results in dismissal.

But the workers there are not going "quietly into that good night."

Nine days into a hunger strike in which he has sewn shut his mouth, Jorge Parra, a former worker for General Motors in Colombia, says his condition is deteriorating. “I have terrible pains in my stomach, my lips are swollen and sore, and I am having problems sleeping,” he says. “But I will not give up.”

The 35-year-old is one of a group of men who say they were fired after suffering severe workplace injuries at GM’s Bogota factory, Colmotores, and have taken drastic action to demand compensation.

After protesting for a year outside the United States embassy with no results, four of the ex-workers sewed shut their mouths on August 1, followed by another three men a week later. More will undergo the procedure every week until their complaints are answered, they say.

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