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News ::
04 Aug 2003
Don't drink 'killer Coke'


By Susanne Kelly
Washington, D.C.
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Aug. 7, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper

Don't drink 'killer Coke'


By Susanne Kelly
Washington, D.C.

Colombian trade unionists and their worldwide supporters launched the
"Unthinkable, Undrink able" Coca-Cola campaign across the U.S. and the
world on July 22 with news conferences in Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Washing ton, as well as in Britain, Colombia, India, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Switzer land, Belgium, Chile, Brazil, Australia and Venezuela.

Labor and community activists held demonstrations outside Coca-Cola
offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and New York.

SINALTRAINAL, the food and beverage workers' union in Colombia,
initiated the campaign. The union accuses the giant transnational
corporation Coca-Cola of collaborating with Colombian paramilitaries in a horrific campaign of murder and human rights violations against union activists.

Eight SINALTRAINAL activists have been assassinated since 1989. Sixty-
seven workers have been displaced and 38 have received serious death
threats. There have also been raids of union offices and homes of
members, mass firings, kidnapping and torture, jailing on trumped-up
charges and violations of union rights. SINALTRAINAL represents 2,300
food and beverage workers in Colombia.

A number of North American unions have voiced support for the campaign
against Coca-Cola. The Communications Workers, Longshore Workers on the West Coast, Plumbers and Fitters Local 393, Canadian Labor Council, Service Employees Local 73, South Bay Labor Council, and the San Francisco Labor Council have all passed resolutions in support of the campaign.

Teresa Gutierrez, a national coordinator of the International Action
Center (IAC), chaired the Washington news conference. Gutierrez said,
"Plan Colombia means billions of U.S. dollars going to fund a war on the indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, workers and peasants of Colombia, while millions in the U.S. go hungry, homeless, jobless and without health care."

Gutierrez said, "Don't drink Coca-Cola, Minute Maid or Dasani water."

On July 9, the Bush government had released over $31 million in
additional funds to the Colombian military, despite ongoing allegations of human rights violations in Colombia.

At the Washington news conference, union, community and church activists announced their solidarity with the campaign against Coca-Cola. Speakers included Baltimore City Council member Kwame Abayomi, Chuck Kaufman of the Nicaragua Network, Macrina Cardenas of the Mexico Solidarity Network, Henrick Voss of the School of the Americas Watch, Berta Ceci of the IAC in Philadelphia, Steelworkers Local 8751 President Steve Gillis from Boston, AFSCME District Council 47 President Tom Cronin from Philadelphia, Mike Gimbel of AFSCME District Council 37 and the New York Central Labor Council, and others.

A Colombian worker forced to flee Colombia for her life also addressed
the media.

Last December, the IAC sent a delegation to Bogotá, Colombia, to attend the World Forum on Coca-Cola organized by SINALTRAINAL. At this
conference, worker after worker told of threats, torture, arrests,
thefts and more that they have been subjected to.

LeiLani Dowell was a participant in the IAC delegation to Bogotá and in a West Coast press conference on July 22. Dowell said, "The
paramilitaries that are murdering Colom bian union organizers are being supported by the Colombian military, which receives millions of dollars a year from the U.S. government. Our goal with the Coca-Cola campaign is to raise awareness about the role that the U.S. government and U.S. corporations play in generating this terror campaign against trade unionists in Colombia."

Confronted with this worldwide campaign, Coca-Cola was forced to
respond. The company, no surprise, issued a statement denying all
charges. In Atlanta, corporate headquarters of transnational Coca-Cola, the Atlanta Journal Consti tution reported that the Service Employees union, AFSCME and SINALTRAINAL were part of this effort and that "news conferences and demonstrations [were] held across the country."

The Associated Press, reporting on the press conference in San
Francisco, quoted Hector Rincón, president of a food industry union in
Colombia: "The workers' movement has lost some of its best leaders with these killings. Knowing there is international support for us is very important."

The Bush government has presented Plan Colombia as a scheme to help in
the fight against drug trafficking. Groups like the IAC argue that in
reality Plan Colombia commits U.S. money and troops to Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe's right-wing government and its efforts to crush any progressive social movements in Colombia.

Violence against union activists continues in Colombia. On July 15,
Marco Tulio Díaz, president of the union of retired oil workers,
ASONAJUB, was murdered at his mother's house and his brother was
seriously wounded. Díaz had been a devoted leader in his union and was
always in solidarity with the struggles of Colombian workers and
community activists.

Javier Correa, president of SINALTRAINAL, says, "We want justice, we
want people to know the truth about what is going on in Colombia against Coke workers. Now that you know, will you please help us?"

In Chicago on July 22, 100 people gathered for a rally in front of the
Coca-Cola distribution plant in Chicago's predominantly Mexican
neighborhood of Pilsen as part of the campaign.

The Colombia Solidarity Committee, the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee
and the Mexico Solidarity Committee built the Chicago action. The rally was addressed by Colombian Coca-Cola trade unionist Luis Adolfo Cardona. Other speakers represented Service Employees Local 73, Jobs with Justice, DePaul University students and Chicago Day Laborers.

The rally received numerous honks of solidarity from workers driving by. The march that followed brought residents out of their homes to join in the chanting and to take leaflets that explained the campaign against "killer Coke."

[Nathalie Alsop and Beth Semmer contributed to this article.]

- END -

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