Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Gains Support from International Labor

The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Gains Support from International Labor From International Labor Communication Association

Isidro Segundo Gil, an employee at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Colombia, was killed at his workplace by paramilitary thugs.

His children, now living in hiding with relatives, understand all too well why their homeland is known as 'a country where union work is like carrying a tombstone on your back.'

In a lawsuit filed in 2001, Gil's union, Sinaltrainal, the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers of America assert that the Coke bottlers 'contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders.'

Minutes after the thugs showed up at the Carepa plant gate, they fired 10 shots at Gil, a member of the union executive board, mortally wounding him. An hour later, another union leader was kidnapped at his home. That evening, a building that housed the union's offices, equipment and records was set ablaze.

The next day, a heavily armed group returned to the plant, called the workers together and told them if they didn't quit the union by 4 p.m., they, too, would be killed. Resignation forms were prepared in advance by Coca-Cola's plant manager, who had a history of socializing with the paramilitaries and had earlier 'given (them) an order to carry out the task of destroying the union,' the lawsuit says.

Fearing for their lives, union members at Carepa resigned en masse and fled the area. The company broke off contract negotiations, the paramilitaries camped outside the plant gate for the next two months, and the union was crushed. Experienced workers who made about $380 a month were replaced by new hires earning minimum wage ($130 a month).

No charges were ever filed against Gil's killers or those who killed at least seven other Coca-Cola unionists (see box below). Like many multinational corporations, Coke tries to have it both ways: tightly controlling the manufacture and distribution of its products overseas and collecting the profits, but denying any responsibility to workers. But the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1789, may hold the key to securing justice for foreign victims of corporate abuses.

In essence, the ATCA permits foreigners to sue in U.S. courts for violations of fundamental human rights that are clearly defined under international law. It applies to 'the law of nations,' which federal courts have interpreted to cover genocide, war crimes, extrajudicial killings, torture, unlawful detention and crimes against humanity.

Javier Correa, president of Sinaltrainal, adds: '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?'

We would like to summarize the gains that the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke has made working with the labor movement on the national and the international labor fronts. In addition to actions taken by national and international bodies, hundreds of locals and labor councils have been supporting the campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable for its human rights abuses. For more information, including news articles, Campaign reports and the gains made on campuses and with human rights groups.

Some of the labor highlights include:

A. California Federation of Teachers Boycott Coca-Cola

Resolution Passed by CFT State Council October 2, 2004

Boycott Coca-Cola Products

WHEREAS Coca-Cola has bottling plants world-wide in many underdeveloped countries, and

WHEREAS many of these plants are in countries ruled by autocratic regimes or governments that owe their existence to U.S. governmental support, and

WHEREAS in Colombia, where Coke has a bottling plant, the U.S. government provides billions of dollars annually as well as military assistance to defeat insurgent forces, and

WHEREAS Coca-Cola has collaborated with the Colombian government to target union activists, and

WHEREAS union activists at the Coca-Cola plant have been assassinated by right-wing paramilitary groups, and

WHEREAS union activists in Colombia and throughout the world are calling on their union brothers and sisters to boycott Coca-Cola,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the CFT, in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters fighting for basic democratic and trade union rights, calls upon CFT members to avoid purchasing Coca-Cola products (including soda, water, sports drinks, etc.) and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the CFT encourage locals not to serve Coke products at meetings and insist that such products are not served at CFT meetings, and

FINALLY BE IT RESOLVED that CFT publicize this issue on its website and in its publications.

B. On August 31, Communications Workers of America (CWA), which represents 700,000 members, passed a resolution at their national convention in Anaheim, CA, which resolved:

'BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, supports the 'Unthinkable! Undrinkable!' petition campaign directed at Coca-Cola's Board of Directors and will communicate to SunTrust Banks, Inc. that unless the Alien Tort Claims Act lawsuit is settled by October 15 and the safety and rights of workers in the Coca-Cola Colombian bottling plants are protected, the CWA will support SINALTRAINAL's divestment and boycott campaign against SunTrust Banks, Inc and will urge our members to do the same.'

This resolved was preceded by the following explanation of the SunTrust/Coca-Cola connection:

'WHEREAS, top policymakers and corporate structures of The Coca-Cola Co. and SunTrust Banks are so intertwined, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other;

'WHEREAS, five present and former CEOs of The Coca-Cola System and SunTrust Banks, Inc. as well as other top policymakers serve as top policymakers of both Coca-Cola and SunTrust Banks, Inc.;

'WHEREAS, SunTrust Banks, Inc. owns more than 5% of The Coca-Cola Company's common stock and provides hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to the Coca-Cola Co.'

Richard Wagner, president of CWA Local 1183 of New York City, introduced the resolution. In speaking on the resolution, Brother Wagner said: 'There are people dying in Colombia for being in a union. They are depending on us to help them. They are being forced to quit the union at the point of a gun and union leaders are being killed. This is not right.'

We already have a number of organizations that have substantial funds in SunTrust Banks that are ready to back the boycott and divestment camapign of the Bank. We expect this list to grow immensely. Please contact us if you are interested in working on or supporting this critical aspect of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. Please call Ray or Lew at (718) 852-2808 or e-mail to

C. In August, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), with 270,000 members, passed a resolution at their national convention in Los Angeles, CA, which resolved:

'That the national American Postal Workers Union requests that the United States Postal Service remove all Coca-Cola products from all postal facilities, and

'That the national American Postal Workers Union requests that all unions, State and Local American Postal Workers Unions, stop purchasing all Coca-Cola products until this issue (Colombian) is resolved.'

Delegates from Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota initiated the resolution and, along with others, distributed thousands of pieces of Campaign literature to the delegates.

Photos of convention delegates holding Campaign protest signs are now on our website in our Protest Pics section at: .

For further information, contact Greg Poferl at:

D. On August 27th, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), a constituency group of the AFL-CIO, representing the interests of 1.7 million Latino workers who are members of a union or labor association in the 50 states and Puerto Rico, passed a motion rebuking The Coca-Cola Co. at their national convention in Albuquerque, NM.

Upon arriving at the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement's (LCLAA) convention, held from Aug. 25-28 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, delegates learned that The Coca-Cola Co. was a co-sponsor of their convention. We were contacted by Jose Schiffino and Delegate David Galarza, both of CSEA Local 1000/AFSCME, asking for Campaign literature, which we immediately shipped.

We also sent a communiqué to the convention describing Coca-Cola's abuses in Colombia and elsewhere and made an appeal that: 'In light of this horrific record of abuse, LCLAA should not lend its name and credibility to Coca-Cola nor should it serve as a marketplace or venue for its advertising. We hope that LCLAA will take appropriate action to send the strongest possible message to The Coca-Cola Co.'

A motion was overwhelmingly passed that called for handing back to Coca-Cola its $10,000 sponsorship and to request that the AFL-CIO fund a LCLAA fact-finding delegation to Colombia.

The resolution was introduced by David Galarza, member of CSEA Local 1000, AFSCME and member of the LCLAA New York City chapter and the NYC Justice Committee. The motion was supported by New York City Central Chapter members Eladio Diaz of TWU Local 100, Ed Vargas of UNITE HERE, and Sonia Ivany of NYS AFL-CIO and LCLAA NYC Central Chapter president. SEIU Local 790 Delegate Frank Martin del Campo spoke passionately in support of the motion. After the motion was passed, Santos Crespo of AFSCME District Council 37 congratulated the body and stated that this was an historic moment in the history of LCLAA.

E. On July 4, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), with 1.3 million members, passed a resolution at their national convention in Washington, DC, which resolved:

'...take additional note of the responsibility of the international business community, particularly U.S. firms such as the Coca-Cola Company, to increase their own efforts to ensure that the workers who produce and deliver their products are treated with dignity and respect in accordance with the law, collective bargaining agreements and international treaties; and

'encourage AFT locals and individual members to participate in a letter writing campaign to the Coca-Cola Company to pressure its Colombian branch to stop its harassment of employees seeking union representation and to respect basic trade union rights...'

F. In June, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with 1.7 million members, passed a resolution at their national convention in San Francisco, CA, which resolved:

'Support the world-wide call to boycott Coca-Cola and work to win broad AFL-CIO support for the campaign against killer Coke...'

G. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, with 60,000 members, passed a resolution in Spring 2003 resolving:

'That the ILWU join the boycott of Coca-Cola and do all it can to publicize the boycott around the world.'

H. The South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, passed a resolution in June 2003 to:

'THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that our organization supports the 'Unthinkable! Undrinkable!' challenge to Coca-Cola's public image that SINALTRAINAL's Campaign to Stop Killer Coke is launching this summer, and we call upon our members, affiliates, the State Federation of Labor, our international union and the AFL-CIO to do the same; and

'BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, because we cannot support a company that profits from murder and torture, that we support SINALTRAINAL's campaign to distribute one million 'Unthinkable! Undrinkable!' protest petitions addressed to Coca-Cola's Board of Directors (P.O. Box 1734, Atlanta, GA 30301); and

'BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge labor and human rights organizations to sever all business ties with SunTrust Bank until such time as the bank severs all ties with Coca-Cola'

I. On June 25, UNISON, the UK's biggest trade union, with 1.3 million members, passed a resolution at their national convention, resolving to:

'continue affiliation to the Colombian Solidarity Campaign and Justice for Colombia and circulate their educational and campaigning materials to the membership, whilst co-operating with all other relevant non-governmental organisations and initiatives;

'support the call to boycott Coca Cola products'

J. The Human Rights Conference of Canadian Auto Workers Support Campaign The 2004 Human Rights Conference of Canadian Auto Workers was held in Port Elgin, Canada from June 9 to 11. The CAW is the largest private sector union in Canada, representing 270,000 workers, including 3,000 Coca-Cola workers. Campaign to Stop Killer Coke materials were distributed at the conference and the delegates endorsed a letter/petition drive to protest Coca-Cola's human rights abuses at their Colombian bottling plants.

A growing number of labor unions and labor councils in the public and private sectors in Canada are supporting the Campaign.

K. Coca-Cola hires former 'labor official' to try to do damage control

The growing labor support is of great concern to Coke. This summer, Coca-Cola hired Jack Otero, former AFL-CIO Executive Board member, to do damage control. His meetings with department heads at the AFL-CIO and his efforts at LCLAA have met with dismal failure. It should be noted that at the LCLAA convention Otero was soundly defeated in a debate, according to onlookers, in which he supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement. More on Otero at a later date.

» Find more of the online edition.