The Union Sindical Obrera, the union of workers in Colombia’s state oil company ECOPETROL, is on strike, trying to prevent further privatizations of the oil company. They are risking a lot. USO’s strength has been in the oil regions around Barrancabermeja, and several years ago that city was taken over by paramilitaries by block-by-block, house-to-house slaughter. Some very terrible massacres took place, and much of the social movement in that city was destroyed. The USO remained, as did the Popular Women’s Organization, the OFP, but both have suffered severe repression.
They went out on strike again on April 22 (the same day the family of the Coca-Cola bottler’s unionist was gunned down in their home) and the strike was immediately declared illegal by the government. In some ways the future of the Colombian oil sector depends on this strike.
About a year ago, Hector Mondragon discussed USO’s problems when they were planning a strike, and compared the situation with that of the Venezuelan oil sector. Both groups of oil workers had the problem of management and engineers controlling the high-tech aspects of the business and being able to run the business (or stop it from running) without the worker’s participation. In Colombia, however, the military and the repression will be against the workers, on behalf of the privatizers, unlike in Venezuela, where the national guard intervened to stop the management-led ‘strike’. This makes things far more difficult for the workers of USO.