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Belfast meeting on coke boycott

John McAnulty

13th November 2003

Luis Garcia, a Columbian employee of the local Coca-Cola franchise and a trade union activist, spoke at a meeting of activists in Belfast’s unemployed centre on Tuesday 11th November organised by the Columbian solidarity committee.

There was much to celebrate about the meeting

Firstly there was the heroism of the speaker.  To become prominent in Luis’ union, Sinaltrainal, is to face a very real risk of death.  To tour the world denouncing Coca-Cola is to magnify that risk enormously.

The case that he puts is very simple.  The workers face a major economic offensive with mass layoffs, long work hours, speed ups and wages of $85 a month.  When they try to resist the local coke bottlers threaten them with the death squads.  He cites instances where union organisers are killed on factory premises and where all the workers are lined up and told to sign a letter resigning from the union or face death.

Coca-cola’s response is preposterous – it has nothing to do with them because they franchise the plants rather than owning them directly.

We have to celebrate the fact that Coca-Cola are on the run.  They failed to attend the meeting despite being invited and despite the fact that a major figure from their Latin American operation was jetted to Ireland in a damage limitation exercise.  This exercise failed when Coca-Cola were confronted on national radio by an activist of the Latin America Solidarity Committee, Gearoid O’Loinseigh, who conclusively demolished their case.

Finally we can celebrate reports from local supporters on the management of the John Hewitt bar and a worker from the Irish centre Culturlann on the ease of a boycott.  In neither case had there been any fall in trade – on the contrary there had been much support and a number of other centres keen to extend and support the boycott.

All of this should not blind us to real difficulties.  Sinn Fein members have supported the boycott, but Sinn Fein itself has faced controversy over its acceptance of donations from Coca-Cola of thousands of dollars.  Ann Speed, a leading member of Sinn Fein, has campaigned against the boycott. The Unison trade union deserves credit for funding Luis’ trip, but SIPTU have been fighting tooth and nail (under the leadership of Ann Speed, who is a senior official) against the boycott – shockingly using Coca-Cola propaganda in their campaign.  Many activists oppose US activity in Latin America while seeing a progressive role for the US in Ireland!

To be successful the campaign must go beyond moral indignation and direct action.  It must mount political action that sees a boycott endorsed by leading elements in Irish society – trade unionists, student and cultural organisations, political parties while confronting those elements in government and political life that capitulate to imperialism.

Coca cola are fearful. Ireland has a strategic role in the European production of coke and Irish institutions serve as a direct pipeline to their heartland in America.  It up to us all to make their nightmares a reality.



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