By Jeremias DeCastro
It is nine in the morning and there is a lot of excitement in the air of Bogotá. The sun is shining, it is warm outside and already workers from all sectors have already started to gather in their respective groups. Men and women together, accompanied by children have started to congregate along the central downtown street of Septima. They will continue to gather until the more or less 26 blocks from the Museum of independence to Bolivar’s Plaza are full.
Many different organizations are represented from Afro Colombian organizations, student groups from primary school to university, women’s community groups, political parties, unions and indigenous communities walk the streets, their streets with impunity. For this is their day – International Workers Day.
In Colombia, the working day is a long day, the minimum wage barely sustains living in the big city, and the rate of informal employment is quite high. Large swaths of the city are not fully cemented, public transit barely reaches some areas. Many places do not have running water nor do they have gas and might not even have any electricity. However, this does not reflect the full horror of everyday life for all Colombian workers.
They also live in a regime of fear. There is a long history of violence and impunity. This violence, perpetuated by the Colombian military, by drug traffickers, by paramilitary death squads is an everyday occurrence. Since 1996 close to 3000 union organizers have been killed. These numbers do not reflect the numbers of non-union workers and farmers who have been killed in this perverse dynamic. Colombia also has the second highest internal refugee status in the world with over two million internally displaced people. A mass grave containing round two thousand civilians killed by the Colombian military just south of the capital city was found in 2009.
This is precisely why this strength of numbers on Septima is important for all who are there. It is for those who are not here. Today is May Day, it is not the bosses’ day, it is ours.
The fact that Colombia and Canada have a free trade agreement introduces a deep importance of the fate of Colombian workers for us. Furthermore, in these multiple wars that Canada has managed to involve itself, we have managed to also be involved in very shady business dealings worldwide. In Canada a corrupt government has called an election between parties that have similar platforms, money being given to banks, companies and to the rich, while working Canadians are forever being asked to tighten our belts.
May Day 2011 is an opportunity to vote with our feet, so let us do it. For our brothers and sisters in Colombia are voting with theirs.