Coke-Free Boston? City Council to Decide
BOSTON/Government Center - Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner introduced a resolution to “declare that Boston, Massachusetts is a "Coke Free" city” and asks the city administration not to serve Coca-Cola products. Underlying the resolution is a show of solidarity with Colombian workers. Councilor Turner, whose resolution is supported by Team Unity (including Councilors Yoon and Yancey) and a host of community and labor organizations, referenced the violent deaths of over 4,000 Colombian trade unionists over the last 2 decades.
The International Action Center organized an event marking both the resolution's introduction and a parallel “Peoples Tribunal” held in Bogota. The City Hall event drew in unionists attending the National Association of Letter Carriers convention as well as representatives from the Carpenters' local and Bus Drivers' union.
Eloquent speeches from Councilor Turner and local Colombian activist Dario Zapata provided the event's highlights. Turner noted that sometimes the City Council has an obligations to speak out on issues that go beyond “potholes and street lights.” Local government has to “speak out on issues of justice when we feel our government and corporations that are based here behave in ways that are not appropriate.” He emphasized that the atrocities committed in Colombia are supported by the US government and US-based corporations, “Every bullet that killed a Colombian unionist had our fingerprints on it.”
The New York-based Campaign to Stop Killer Coke affirms Turner's analysis in referencing the deaths of unionists organizing Coca-Cola's Colombian bottlers. Britain's Colombia Solidarity Committee also points to death threats from the right-wing "Black Eagles Front" directed at Coca-Cola's workers.
In February, union organizers received a note: "Son-of a-bitch terrorists as you have not obeyed our order to leave Santander now you will take the consequences that are going to be very inhuman we will start with your families and afterwards with you trade unionist sons of bitches." This corresponded to the bottling company's decision "to cease paying the social component of the workers’ remuneration package and paid leave for medical convalescence," according to the Committee's website.
Diana Garza Ciarlante of Coca-Cola rejects the connection and the City Council's proposed resolution stating that, "Such a resolution is beyond absurd and has no basis in fact." By way of background information, she adds in her e-mail response, "32% of Coca-Cola's workforce in Colombia is represented by unions" and that the corporation is spending $10 million per year to address the needs of "victims of violence."
The corporation has also been very assertive in promoting free trade with Colombia. In December 2007, it joined with Microsoft, Walmart, ExxonMobil and a host of other familiar corporations in urging passage of a free trade agreement with the paramilitary-dominated nation.
Richard Krushnic, a local Latin America solidarity activist, offered his analysis that the proposed Partnership for Trade Agreement with Colombia is likely to drive that country's rice industry out of business and increase pressures on Colombian workers to migrate in search of jobs.
Leaflets at the event pointed to the large displaced population generated by free trade policies and paramilitary violence. Some 4 million people have been uprooted from their homes as a consequence. For this reason, Kruchnic explained, the free trade agreement is being opposed by a large number Massachusetts-based organizations. Krushnic pointed to several effective grassroots lobbying efforts to reach all 10 members of the Massachusetts' House delegation. He noted however that the state's 2 senators have not yet committed to defeating the proposed agreement.
Other speeches drew on members of the International Action Center, allied trade unionists and community members.
[Note: With the Editor's permission, this article was updated to reflect Coca-Cola's response a few hours after its initial publication.]