In the following we want to share a report of Colombian Comrades about a ongoing strike in the northern of Colombia. This unofficial translation was found on demvolkedienen.org.
On December 20th 2019 some gathered under the harsh sun of Barranquilla Harbor on the Colombian Caribbean coast to open the Pumarejo Bridge. In the opening speech, the governor of Magdalena, Rosa Cotes, thanked Germán Vargas Lleras for the "construction". Some local media interviewed Barranquilleros near the bridge and some thanked for the construction.
The story told in this way is as absurd as if we were watching a football game on TV and only the referee, the ball and the team coaches arrive. Suddenly the ball starts to move on its own, as if there are invisible forces that bring the ball into the net and the referee points to the center of the field to start the magical movement again.
For over four years, more than 3,500 workers have given their strength, their energy and their commitment to the installation of the mega structure made of steel and concrete. The 3.2 km long bridge that crosses the Magdalena River consists of 180,000 cubic meters of concrete and 33,000 tons of steel.
About 10% of all steel was processed in the SAC metal construction company in the Soacha community south of Bogotá. Various steel parts are prepared, cut, welded and assembled in this system. Just over 50 men have spent their lives converting steel and other metals for decades. Most of them are experienced workers. Depending on the area in which they are located, they operate all types of machines and give the final finish to the huge pieces of steel that were used for the mast construction of the Pumarejo bridge. These men and the more than 3,500 workers involved in the work were the ones who actually built the Pumarejo.
It is not a story. It was the SAC workers who burned to shape the steel during long hours. They have not received their salaries and statutory benefits since August 2019. These include the December premium and social security such as health insurance and pension. Business capital is the product of labor exploitation. The owners legally steal part of what the worker does. Of the billionaire contracts signed by companies to build and assemble construction work, the buyer only owes the salary. The money that the entire company receives is not distributed according to the effort that each worker makes in his working days. But the case of the owners of SAC is pure and hard theft that breaks the law. The SAC workers' misfortune is the other side of the Pumarejo medal.
SAC was founded in 1947 by the Correa Matallana brothers as a metalworking workshop. Juan Manuel Correa and his sister Ana María Correa are currently the heirs of the company, whose portfolio includes participation in key engineering work such as the bridge over the Ariari River, the control tower of the new Eldorado Airport, components for the Cartagena refinery and several contracts with the IDU in Bogotá. A company involved in work of this size can be considered financially successful. So much so that the Correa family founded other companies. At least in the construction industry there is GRADECO S.A, a construction company dedicated to residential buildings and luxury offices.
The Correas' successful business, in which they lived an opulent life thanks to the sweat of others (real estate in the USA, vacations all over the world, cars, farms, etc.), was not enough and they decided to defraud their workers. The company used various coercive measures. So working was prohibited, the workers, without water supply, were locked up while the machinery was to be sold.
In these days of tension and uncertainty, Juan Manuel Correa, heir to the SAC, decides to call the union president, tells him SAC is no longer running, there is no money and things are not forever ». The one who works the shortest in the company is a fitter who has been in the business for 16 years, but most have been with the company for more than 35 years and some even achieve 45 years of work.
A few days later, they gathered all the workers and referred to the Labor Code. "During the term of the contract," the article says, "the employee has the right to receive the salary even if no service is provided through the employer's will or fault."
The job buyer's strategy was to combine a few days off and a day off, send the workers home and demobilize them, to prevent any possibility of a worker reaction to the dismantling of the facility.
There was no time to wait, there was no money and very soon there would not even be a place to make a claim. On September 26, 28 workers decided to go on strike. They improvised a tent at the entrance to the plant in Cazuca and were distributed in shifts to be present in the facilities 24 hours a day. The aim is to prevent the sale of the property, machines and tools that serve as a guarantee for the payment of what the company owes them.
Since the end of September, these experienced workers have raised the flags of the struggle for their rights parallel to the tent. You have initiated a cumbersome legal process. No response has been received so far. The police accompanied armed men at dawn to forcefully remove tools and machines. The company's lawyers also filed a lawsuit to remove the machines from the company, and the court approved it. As the job buyers themselves acknowledge: "There is no law that protects the worker, they all benefit the employer."
The workers faced a state serving the owners of the country and the great capital. They realized from their own experience that the nature of the police and state institutions is to defend the country's rich.
While workers recognize that the state and its institutions are real enemies, they have found friends in other workers, teachers, and students. Expressions of solidarity with SAC workers have not stopped since the strike began. The heroic days of the national strike in November and December 2019 spiced up this strike, which aroused the students' interest in uniting with the people and fighting with the workers. They presented the problem at universities and collected more than 500,000 pesos. The sympathy aroused by the SAC strike in the heart of youth was fundamental to the morale of the workers. A student in the tent said, "If you see us as your children, we will see you as our parents." This is the family atmosphere that is perceived in the tent at the entrance to the factory. Brotherhood, love and solidarity are the values that oil the struggle for the rights of the working people. Expressions of solidarity do not only come from students. Other unions have organized lunch in the tent for the strikers and their families, as well as food and money donations to maintain the more than 120 days of the strike. The same thing happened on the side of some teachers. They exchange experiences, support the struggle and promote the understanding and morale of the strikers.
The support and accompaniment is not only expressed while waiting in the tent. The big rally that took place on January 24th at the Gradeco facilities (subsidiary of SAC) north of Bogotá is an example. A subsequent demonstration to the ministry succeeded in receiving a delegation to address the problem, a ministry that had been silent in complicity with the exploiters during all of these months. There were messages of solidarity throughout the route.
So the strike of the SAC workers continues. In more than four months of resistance to enduring the sun and cold of the savanna, they have learned that the strike and the tent are the guarantors of their rights, which is the only thing the job buyer's plans to bring them into the savanna throw, has stopped. They know that they must continue to pressure and understand the limitation of legal resources. The example of their struggle is accompanied by an atmosphere of camaraderie, when someone approaches, they are greeted with love, the problem is explained and, as with all humble and simple workers, they are offered food and more.