Colombia - August 3 General Strike
(The following short story is translated from the FARC-EP website - http://www.farc-ep.org - with thanks).
At 6.30 a.m. on 3 August I leave home, as I do every day, to go to work. I know that a strike has been called by the three major union organisations but the truth is that I feel pessimistic about it. I didn't think it would happen. But now it turns out there's no way of getting to work.
Caracas Avenue is full of people. There's no transport. There are only a few vehicles about, just some lorries and vans crammed with people. Other people are walking purposefully hoping to find transport. Ahead you can see several army tanks, soldiers in camouflage gear, scowling in an unfriendly way. I wonder what I should do. First I must try and find out if my colleagues are going to turn up at the bank where we work, the Cafetero Bank. Of course, Alberto, Marina, Gloria and Juan definitely won't go in because they are trade-union leaders and have been busy organising the strike, distributing newspapers and pamphlets, holding meetings, etc., all to denounce our economic system, structural adjustment, privatisations, redundancies, wage cuts, the flouting of our collective agreement, trying to convince us that the only way to put a stop to this attack on us workers is for us to go on strike.
I'm sure that of the 50 people working at the bank the 18 unionists won't go in. They'll call the personnel manager to say there's no transport. The 20 who are ununionised, one of them being me (not because I wouldn't want to be but because I'm afraid of being sacked) must already be on their way to work, hoping to make it somehow. The management must have slept at the bank or somewhere near and they'll be in on the dot. What should I do? The best thing would be to go back home, listen to the news to find out how the strike is going and call my boss so he doesn't screw things up for me.
"What's happening, love?", asks my wife, Rocío.
"Can't you see we're on strike and there's no transport", I reply.
"Yes, I knew that, but what will we do if they sack you?"
"Don't worry. It's no big deal. We'll listen to the news and then decide what to do."
Radio Caracol is announcing that there has been some minor reduction in transport services but things are otherwise completely normal according to an official statement issued by the government. I change to RCN, which is commenting on an official publication of the National Association for Industry and Development. This states that in the last 2 years Colombians' income fell by 15% and unemployment increased to 22%. The number living below the poverty line has also increased and is now 55% of the Colombian population.
Radio net is broadcasting live from the Cartagena de las Indias Conference Centre where the 56th Annual Congress of the Federation of Colombian Industrialists is being held. Its chairman is announcing that production is up by 10% and sales by 8.2%. The commentator remarks that the main importance of this Congress lies in the presence there of US political Under-Secretary, Thomas Pickering who, in the opening session of the Congress, announced that the reason he was there, along with Barry McCaffrey (the anti-drugs czar) and Charles Wilhelm (chief of the US Southern Command) was to demonstrate their commitment to Plan Colombia, the only guarantee for investment and democracy, and to call on the industrialists present to prepare to generate employment for the guerrilla fighters who will sign the peace deal as a result of Plan Colombia being put into effect.
At 8.30 Carlos and Ana are back home. Their school was closed. The teachers were all supporting the strike, as were healthcare workers, petroleum workers, transport workers and the vast majority of workers in general.
On Caracol radio they're giving news of the sacking of DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] agent, Baruch Vega for having told the media about his organisation's recent meeting with the paramilitary chief, Carlos Castaño, who apparently undertook to make various drug dealers surrender themselves to the authorities in return for being given arms and full control of all drug production and marketing. The commentator says that the Procurator General is putting four generals on trial for their proven participation in three paramilitary massacres during the course of which 120 people were killed.
It's already 10 a.m. I call my boss and tell him there's no transport and what should I do? "That's your problem. Sort it out or face the consequences". I get worried. I don't know what to do. I'm contemplating finding some way of getting to work when our neighbour, Mariela, appears and tells me she's not going in. She works at Bavaria, the brewery. She's worked there, she says, for 25 years and all she has to show for it is her poverty. "So there's not a lot to lose," she continues. "The kids are old enough to fend for themselves and if they sack me, what the hell, let them. There comes a time when you need to speak out, to follow what your conscience dictates, to stand up against injustice, to shout out that you're a human being and that you've got rights, to tell the employers that they're inhuman. If it weren't for the kids, I'd go to the mountains and join FARC. That's where the new Colombia is being built, the real Colombia that belongs to us all."
Finally she says: "OK, José, I'm off. We'll carry on this conversation tonight. Must see how things are going at home. See you."
I'm left in a daze thinking about what to do next. Rocío brings me back to earth:
"Let's have dinner, love, it's already 12 o'clock. Then you can go to work."
We have lunch. We watch the midday news. The union leaders are saying that the strike has 90% support throughout the country. I make up my mind. I'm not going to work, but what I will do straight away is to go out and somehow or other get myself into the centre of town to take part in the workers' rally being held there, and if tonight I have to walk home, who cares. As Mariela said, sooner or later you have to make up your mind, and this time I'm going to do it.
It's 5 p.m. In the centre of Bogotá the army is out in tanks, on horseback and on foot. They're staring menacingly at us but we're entering Bolivar Square. There are more than 100,000 of us shouting 'Down with neo-liberalism, Yankees out of Colombia'.