Interview with Javier Correa, President of Sinaltrainal, on the Coca Cola boycott campaign
interviewer - Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
16th June 2004
Q. What is your evaluation of the campaign one year after the beginning of the boycott?
The world wide campaign against Coca Cola is an on going systematic global process which includes various activities of protest, mobilization, a call for disinvestments in those institutions where Coca Cola is represented and a consumer boycott of its products; any way of expressing your rejection of the company.
The campaign against Coca Cola is in its third phase of the process of struggle against the multinational. The first part was about conscious raising and the second part was the holding of public popular hearings and the presenting of a lawsuit against Coca Cola in Florida. The campaign is indefinite in character until such time as the company sits down with our union, Sinaltrainal, to talk about a solution; the proposal for full reparations that was put to them (Coca Cola) on the 22 of January 2003 in Bogotá.
Our evaluation of the third phase is one of an on going large increase in our support which is manifested in different forms. One of these is the case of the universities, such as Ireland, the USA, Britain and recently work has begun on this in Zaragoza in the Spanish State where the possibility exists that the university will sign up to the campaign by pulling out of their contracts with Coca Cola.
At the same time there have been huge solidarity actions by some sectors which are campaigning for disinvestment, as is the case in New York through the work of politicians such as Miriam Montserrate and others who have been closely following our reports on the company.
The campaign is increasingly welcomed and as we meet new organizations in different countries we have become aware of other things that the company has done. The most recent example is India where there is a large movement. It is not the workers, though, that are protesting but the community that has been affected because the company has taken control of the underground water and also because of the dumping of industrial waste that has contaminated the water that the farmers use and something which is worrying, in the case of India, is that according to the farmers the company has distributed industrial waste to the farmers telling them that it was fertilizer for their crops. In the same way we have also come across the case of Venezuela where there is a movement of ex employees of Coca Cola that were sacked that are today organizing themselves and have begun legal action.
We believe that as people become aware of the campaign it is well received by them.
Q. Have you received support from the trade union movement in other countries?
Yes, we have received the support of many unions in the world such as the United Steel Workers of America. They gave us access to lawyers and made all the contacts and presented the lawsuit against Coca Cola in the USA and now this year they have presented another one. They recently filed a lawsuit against Coca Cola FEMSA which is the new company that took over the bottling plants in Colombia.
Q. But there isnít any support from the Union federations?
Here in Colombia we have the support of the CGTD (Central General de Trabajadores Democraticos) and the Central Unitario de Trabajadores CUT and the Central de Trabajadores de Colombia, CTC has also expressed their support. In the Spanish State the federations in Galicia have also expressed their support and have publicised the campaign. Another example is Brazil where we came into contact with the chemical workers union and other unions which support us. In Venezuela the new union federation has openly supported the campaign against Coca Cola.
Yes, but is this support for the wider campaign and not the boycott?
It includes the boycott. When we speak of the campaign we include the boycott. There is the case of the Teamsters in the USA, the union of lorry drivers in Coca Cola. They are supporting the campaign on a very concrete point i.e disinvestment. They are working in the USA for the disinvestment from the banks and societies of Coca Cola. There is even a sector of the church in the USA which has openly supported the campaign against Coca Cola.
In Europe there are federations and unions that say that you donít have international support from people such as the Teamsters and that the USWA supports the lawsuit but not the boycott, that in Colombia you donít have much support in Colombia and that other unions in Coca Cola donít support the boycott. What is your view?
Well, we should sort out different things here. The campaign which was launched on the 22nd of July 2002 was matched by a counter campaign launched by the company. First of all they have tried to confuse public opinion, secondly they have sought out allies who will parrot what the company is saying. In this sense, there are organizations which in our opinion do not know what is happening here that are taking up a position which is the same as Coca Colaís.
The other aspect that we should mention is that there are unions in Coca Cola that were formed from minority currents of Sinaltrainal. Unions and workers that were manipulated and whose leaders due to their agreements with Coca Cola led them to set up these other unions. So, we are fighting here in Colombia and internationally against Coca Cola, the Colombian State and yellow bossesí unions. However, we are sure that as we are trying to show the truth of what has happened here that this will rise above the campaign of lies that Coca Cola and its allies have tried to wage. As an example of that many delegations have come here to find out what is happening, politicians, unions, religious groups, democrats, people that still have some ethics and morality and they are increasingly convinced by what we are saying. We have the proof to back up each case. I think that those who from abroad try to give lie to the campaign are doing a disservice. I canít find any explanation as to why they say that here there arenít orphans whose parents, Coca Cola employees, were murdered; that here in Colombia there havenít been workers jailed, the documentation is in the court houses. More than fifteen of our brothers have been imprisoned and later released, I was one of those. I have been imprisoned on two occasions. I have been imprisoned and falsely accused by Coca Cola in frame ups with false witnesses that they brought forward. I, who have lived through this, cannot understand how people from abroad dare to say that this is all a lie, we have the proof to back up what we are saying. I am willing to reaffirm this in any part of the world, any court house that I have to and I am able to prove it.
Q. In Ireland there are some trade unionists that have said that boycott puts their jobs at risk, that it is a bad tactic. What do you think of such views?
We respect the views that people in other countries and organizations may have, in this case Ireland. However, with respect we cannot share that view for one simple reason. We believe that life takes precedence, we believe that not consuming Coca Cola products is a valid mechanism of pressure in order for Coca Cola and the Colombian State to respect the lives of not just the workers but also of our families that have also suffered this persecution.
I understand that in a country where trade unionists do not die on a daily basis, where you are not witness to how they try to kidnap our children, where you do not see thousands of workers sacked, where the levels of hunger and misery that exist in Colombia are not part of your daily reality, where there is a lack of democracy, where there is not an open war going on or the State terrorism against the people that we have in Colombia, in other words in a country where there is relative peace and the level of concern is not the same as Colombia, to my way of thinking it is normal that they think that the boycott is not an adequate tactic. But we are in such a country as I have described, where the trade union movement is being destroyed, where every second you are playing with your life, every day we are fighting for the very existence of the union, the collective agreements and where every day we have to put up with all sorts of pressures, not just as trade union leaders, because now they interfere with out families also. We believe that the boycott is a valid tactic.
Q. How then do you explain the position of the IUF? They have unions in countries in other countries where although the levels of misery may not be as high as Colombia they are high and also where there have been political assassinations. However, the IUF not only does not support the boycott, it says that the allegations are empty political slogans.
First of all, the lawsuits have been accepted into the courts of the USA, that alone shows that they are not slogans or lies. The mere fact that the US courts have accepted the lawsuits shows that the IUF and those unions and people that think that Coca Cola is innocent are wrong.
Secondly, there are judgements from the courts here in Colombia where it has been shown that functionaries of Coca Cola have violated the right of association, expression and engaged in illegal sackings. We have shown that the paramilitaries have entered and remained in the bottling plants and have had meetings with management. It is plain to see and very difficult for them to hide.
The type of support that the IUF is giving is ideological in nature. They ally themselves with Coca Cola because deep down their relationship with Coca Cola is not antagonistic from any point of view. This ideological agreement, this common interest leads the IUF and some unions to form an alliance with no regard to the situation that we live through here. This ideological component is precisely what gives them a different view and activity to that of Sinaltrainal which has launched the world wide campaign against Coca Cola.
Q. Where is this campaign going to? What do you propose for the future?
As I said at the beginning this is an indefinite campaign until such time as Coca Cola sits down and gives a favourable response to the petition for full reparations which was presented on January 22nd 2003. This proposal seeks to mitigate the harm caused to the victims and the union. We say mitigate, because if Coca Cola makes reparations there is no way they can fully make reparations for the harm caused.
Our campaign continues. We will draw a balance sheet on the 22nd of July with some mobilizations and we are even thinking of shutting down production here in Colombia. We are also thinking of carrying out occupations of buildings of international organizations and governments as well as some institutions belonging to the Colombian State.
Also the campaign has phases and on July 22nd we will publish a report on the first year of the campaign. We are going to show other cases, to deepen the public discussion on Cokeís involvement in Colombia such as how Coke affects the environment, how it affects the wetlands, an important area of balance in the ecosystem. How Coke produces industrial waste. How the State favours it with legislation. We also have some legal documents on how Coke has taken over water sources. We believe that this is a vital resource for humanity and we are not of the view that the multinationals should control such a vital resource for humanity like water.
Another aspect which we are going to develop is health. After the 22nd of July we are going to publish some studies that we have carried out. In some cases we already have the results and are awaiting certification. We want to establish the levels and criteria for certain substances in different foodstuffs in order to be able, on the basis of our studies, to discuss with national and international public opinion which foodstuffs are beneficial and which ones cause harm to the body. We will bring this before the WHO and also look at the possibility of legal action.
We are also thinking of bringing criminal charges against the company in relation to other cases, because in the US lawsuit there are only four cases and we have a list of more than 120 examples which would be worthy of legal action.