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Cablegate: Colombia's Pro-Tpa Unions to Form Their Own Labor

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DE RUEHBO #0695/01 0571701
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P 261701Z FEB 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1514
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8063
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0007
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ FEB 9253
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5944
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1296
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6584
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4304
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000695

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

PLEASE PASS TO USTR: BENNETT HARMON AND AARON ROSENBERG

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PGOV PHUM CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA'S PRO-TPA UNIONS TO FORM THEIR OWN LABOR
CENTRAL

1. SUMMARY. On February 14, representatives from over 60
unions who support the U.S - Colombia Trade Promotion Act
(TPA) proposed forming a new labor group (central) as an
alternative to the three main labor confederations that
oppose the TPA. The 60 unions -- which represent more than
45,000 workers -- said the existing confederations do not
represent all members' interests. They plan to lobby for
permanent access to U.S. markets and better workers'
benefits. Leaders of the three existing confederations
dismissed the group, saying there was "no room" in Colombia
for another labor central. The pro-TPA group expects its
central -- which is subject to fewer incorporation
requirements but functions the same as a confederation --
will include members from unions and other labor federations,
as wellas individual workers. The organizers hope to form
the labor central by August. End Summary

-------------------------------------------
PRO-TPA UNIONS WANT THEIR OWN LABOR CENTRAL
-------------------------------------------

2. At a February 14 meeting, representatives from over 60
pro-TPA unions discussed forming a new "labor central" as an
alternative to the three existing labor organizations that
oppose the TPA. The group claims to represent over 45,000
workers in the food and beverage industry, fruits, minerals,
metals, flowers, textiles, and sugar sectors, as well as
public services employees. The group includes some union
representatives currently affiliated with the three main
existing labor organizations -- the United Workers' Central
(CUT), the Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC), and the
General Confederation of Workers (CGT) -- as well as
independent unions. They plan to form a new "labor central"
by August.

3. The representatives said they share the existing labor
groups' goals of strengthening the right to strike and
reducing the effect of workers' cooperatives on unionization
rates, but disagree with the confederations' stance on the
TPA. Some recently traveled to Washington to lobby in
support of the TPA. Ana Lucia Rojas, President of
Sinaltraflor, a large flower workers' union, said the CUT,
the CTC, and CGT are more concerned with "making political
points and waging ideological battles" than protecting
workers' interests. Rojas said sectors like hers depend on
access to foreign markets. Another representative said the
central would reach beyond the TPA to work with the GOC and
employers to boost productivity and seek increased workers'
benefits.

--------------------------------------------
EXISTING LABOR ORGANIZATIONS REJECT THE PLAN
--------------------------------------------

4. CUT President Carlos Rodriguez issued a statement
threatening to expel member unions that defied the
confederation leadership's authority. CTC President Apecides
Alvis said his confederation has no plans to meet with
pro-TPA union leaders. CGT President Julio Roberto Gomez
took a more moderate stance, saying the CGT would meet with
its pro-TPA member unions to discuss what would be best for
organized labor as a whole. Still, he said there is no room
in Colombia for another labor central, adding that a new
labor group would only weaken workers' interests. Gomez
claimed the new central was being propped up by the GOC. The
Ministry of Social Protection (MSP) said the GOC played no
role in organizing these labor leaders, stressing that they
came together out of mutual interest.

-------------------------------------------
CENTRAL EASIER TO FORM THAN A CONFEDERATION
-------------------------------------------

5. Gomez predicted the pro-TPA group would not reach the
legally required number of ten federations needed to form an
official labor confederation. Carlos Sierra, a leader of the
pro-TPA group, said they are forming a labor central instead
of a formal confederation to avoid the ten federation
requirement. MSP confirmed that the requirements for forming
a labor central differ from those for creating a
confederation, but said a central and confederation have

effectively the same rights and privileges. Rhett Doumitt of
the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center agreed that forming a "looser"
central of federations, unions, and individual workers would
exempt organizers from incorporation rules required of a
confederation.
Brownfield

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