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Colombia Action Network: Boycott Coca-Cola

By Tom Burke

Nine trade unionists at Coca-Cola in Colombia are dead – murdered by paramilitaries with ties to Coca-Cola management. In response, the Colombia Action Network (CAN) is calling on student, community, religious and anti-war groups, as well as unions, to join protests against the Coca-Cola Company beginning July 22.

There will be protests in Chicago and Milwaukee outside distribution centers. In Atlanta, protests by Mennonite youth have begun at the Coca-Cola Museum, with people holding posters saying, “Stop killer Coke!” Other cities will begin the campaign against Coca-Cola by doing education events.

Speaking to members of Teamsters Local 744, Luis Adolfo Cardona, a Colombian Coca-Cola trade unionist, said, “I escaped the clutches of the death squad who shot dead Isidro Gil, my friend and our union negotiator. The paramilitary death squad proceeded to burn down the union's headquarters. The next day, the Coca-Cola management had all the workers resign from the union.”

Luis Adolfo went on to explain, “I came to Chicago under the protection of the AFL-CIO and their Solidarity Program. Now I am applying for political asylum so corporate-sponsored death squads in Colombia do not murder my family and me. My union in Colombia, SINALTRAINAL, still receives death threats against me even though everyone knows I am in the United States.”

Luis Adolfo conveyed his solidarity with the Coca-Cola workers in the U.S. and Local 744 made Luis Adolfo an honorary member of the Teamsters Union. In addition, the United Steel Workers of America have sponsored Luis Adolfo Cardona in Chicago. Dan Kovalik, an attorney for the Steel Workers, has brought a lawsuit in federal court against Coca-Cola on behalf of the Colombian workers.

The Service Employees International Union has hosted Luis Adolfo and his SINALTRAINAL union President, Javier Correa, at important meetings of SEIU local presidents and international union representatives. Luis Adolfo plans to visit many more unions and students at universities to spread the word about killer Coca-Cola in Colombia.

The campaign against Coca-Cola is spreading like a prairie fire. The Colombia Action Network is supporting a boycott of Coca-Cola products and efforts by students to kick Coca-Cola off campus until Coca-Cola takes responsibility for the blood on their hands. A student activist at Northern Arizona University, Jeronimo, relates, “It is important to hit Coke where it hurts – the pocket book. If we don't affect their profit margins, we will never get them to change their policies. The boycott is also an effective way of getting exposure to the horrible human rights situation in Colombia.”

In Milwaukee, youth organizer Jonathon Brostoff says, “We are doing a fundraiser and a protest. I think we are making progress with the hard work to boycott Coke. We are raising money, having fun and selling drinks other than Coke now that the boycott has begun. We celebrate the struggle and have music, art, dance and audience participation. We will protest at the Coca-Cola plant on July 22 and are making protest posters.” Along with students and recent graduates from Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the campaign organizers are looking to hit the campuses in the region.

Following a successful protest of over 100 people at a Coca-Cola distributor in Chicago on May 3, organizers are building for the International Day of Action Against Coca-Cola and Death Squads in Colombia. July 22 will see the movement return to the Coca-Cola distributor in the mostly Mexican Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, where there is a lot of sympathy for the Colombian cause. It promises to be stronger and louder.

Jean-Anne Lesniewski of the Colombia Solidarity Committee says, “We hope to reach the general public and expose the murdering thieving liars at Coca-Cola. The Teamster workers in the plant know how greedy Coca-Cola is and don't find it hard to believe they would murder workers for profit. Coca-Cola is out to help themselves, not workers in Colombia or Chicago.”

In Chicago, six different campus student groups, like Students For Social Justice and United Students Against Sweatshops – which organized the Taco Bell Boycott – are lending a hand. The unions under the AFL-CIO are speaking out about stopping the killing of trade unionists in Colombia. The Colombia Action Network is building the campaign against Coca-Cola and death squads in Colombia. Coca-Cola cannot hide. Soon, everywhere, protesters will shout “Hey Coke! We say no! Killing workers has got to go!”

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