Leo Gerard, in his keynote address to the 31st Convention of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), proudly announced international guests from 40 unions from 17 countries. He asked them all to stand to rousing applause from the delegates. In his speech, and in the convention proceedings, the Steelworkers targeted capitalist globalization and U.S. transnationals as destroying “more than two million jobs in the U.S. and Canada.”

In speaking of the tough job that American and Canadian unions have in fighting for their rights, Gerard cautioned that there are other trade unionists in the world who have it even tougher. Gerard said that the transnationals are “exporting their violence along with our jobs.” He pointed out that over 3,500 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered in the last ten years. He said that the USWA’s lawsuits against Coca-Cola and Drummond Coal are to highlight the transnationals’ role in Colombia.

Gerard told the delegates that, in the early days of union organizing, some gave their lives fighting for their rights. He said, “As hard as things can be for us at times, for some in the world it is still a matter of risking everything.” He pointed to Luis Adolfo Cardona, sitting among the international guests. Gerard told the delegates that Cardona, a Coca-Cola worker from Bogotá, Colombia, had been targeted by Colombian death squads because of his union activities. “He could be killed immediately if he went back to Colombia,” Gerard said.

During a break I sat down with Cardona to ask him about his trip to the U.S. Cardona is on a tour, speaking to trade unionists around the country, sponsored by the Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center.

Cardona was actually kidnapped by paramilitary forces who were preparing to execute him. He said that in most cases the local authorities turn a blind eye to the death squad activities. In his case, however, because he was so well known in his neighborhood, when community leaders demanded action, the local authorities had to intervene and force his release. Still he had to flee the country in fear of his life.

Cardona said he is getting a great response from American trade unionists. Cardona said that the most important solidarity that American workers can give is to fight against their tax dollars going for “Plan Colombia” and other U.S. government aid.

“It is mostly going for guns, ammunition and training for more violence and repression,” Cardona said. Even the defoliant programs sponsored by the U.S. are mostly ruining legal crops and forcing poor farmers off the land and into wretched conditions in the cities, he said. Cardona also cited the infamous “School of the Americas” in Georgia, as a terrorist training ground for paramilitaries in Colombia.

Cardona said that U.S. transnationals are taking advantage of the economic crisis sweeping South America to drive wages down even further. They are instituting all kinds of temporary work schemes that allow workers only two or three months work at a time, to help stop unions. He said the Colombian unions vigorously oppose the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) because it is only an agreement to strengthen the grip of the transnationals on the Colombian economy.

The author can be reached at scott@rednet.org