DALLAS – June 10 did not turn out to be such a good day for the Coca-Cola company here, and they had such nice plans! Coca-Cola management had decided that June 10 would mark their 100th anniversary as a Dallas bottling company. The State Historical Society had prepared a very nice historical marker at their old business site on Elm Street, and they had the local bigwig politicos lined up to praise the soft drink company at the dedication. They set up a tent with nice tables and linen for their invited guests, who were almost all white.

It was the uninvited guests that changed the nature of the day for Coca-Cola. Dallas civil rights leader Lee Alcorn led a multiracial group of about 25 supporters with picket signs that charged Coca-Cola with racial discrimination at Dallas facilities.

A few months earlier, Coca-Cola’s “minority” employees had filed a class-action lawsuit. Coca-Cola had made a halfhearted attempt at negotiations, but had broken off discussions three weeks before the event.

Silently, the picketers carried their not-so-silent signs and posters around and through the crowd while manager Rick Gillis tried to look enthusiastic about the occasion. One of the signs read, “Rick Gillis is a liar!” People began to drift away. Nobody sat down under the spacious tent to enjoy “the pause that refreshes.”

It was really a lot worse for Gillis and Coca-Cola than they may have thought. Among the picketers was Wilson Borja, a slight Colombian man on crutches. The entire crowd, including Borja, had just returned from a press conference at the Coca-Cola facilities north of downtown. Borja had completed seven news interviews, four on radio and three on television, before he came to the anniversary celebration.

The airwaves were hot with the story that the civil rights case in Dallas had been compared to another lawsuit against Coca-Cola that had been filed by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). In it, the USWA charged the transnational corporation with complicity in harassment and murders of labor organizers at bottling and distribution facilities in Colombia.

Borja told reporters that transnational corporations may use racial discrimination in one place and horrible violence in another; but they used both for the same reason – to increase their profits by keeping the workers’ wages and benefits low.

Before Wilson Borja left North Texas the following day, he had completed 19 news interviews and had spoken to two union groups, two college classes, and a mixed audience at the Guadalupe Cathedral in downtown Dallas. Peace activists, civil rights activists, and unionists all over North Texas heard his message about the exploitation that transnational corporations visit on the people in other countries and at home.

Wilson Borja, a major trade union leader and congressman-elect in his home country, is very convincing because he knows his subject. He bears three bullet wounds from an assassination attempt in his home country.

More bad news for Coca-Cola and the transnational corporations: twice-weekly pickets are continuing in Dallas, and Borja isn’t through. From Dallas, he went to New York. Other activists in Pittsburgh and San Francisco have already invited him there.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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