Colombia Solidarity Campaign

- Fighting for Peace with Justice -


Only Triumph will make Social Justice and Dignity Possible in the New Year Print
Bulletin archive - Bulletin Issue4 SPECIAL EDITION January 2002
Monday, 08 September 2008 17:44
New Year's message to the workers of SINTRAEMCALI and the people of Cali

From the Centro Administrativo Municipal – EMCALI - CAM Tower

Comrades, friends, families, fathers, mothers, sond, daughters, brothers, to all of you, and in a very special way to the workers who are heroically resisting here in the name of the people of Cali, of the Cauca Valley and of Colombia, today is 31st December 2001. Right at this moment in many places in the world hundreds of children are dying of hunger, peasants are being forced off their land, and thousands of workers are far from their homelands and their families.

Today, like yesterday, while some enjoy the exploitation of others, people like ourselves rise up with banners high resisting a return to the days of slavery.

From inside and outside the EMCALI tower, we must give birth to a better future for our families, by defending our rights and those of the people of Cali. The historic example that today we give to the world will be written in the pages recording the dignity of peoples.

Justice and perseverance are the fundamental conditions of this struggle. What good would it do us if today we were at home, fulminating in defeat, with EMCALI liquidated and in the hands of those few who want to appropriate it by force? What would we be celebrating if we were not here defending our corporation, which is for all the people of Cali, as we are today? Would we be celebrating the prospect of being out of work, having handed over what we have built with our sweat and efforts over so many years?

We have a clear objective, and we are perfectly determined and conscious that life is at stake. We are not going to yield, neither today, nor in 2002, nor in the years to come. We will not allow neoliberal policy and privatisation to tear away our rights and include us in the long list of unemployed in our country.

This peaceful occupation is a new push to save EMCALI. We have already demonstrated through the Stop programme, through Work Brigades, Work without Bonus and the strategic plan, that it is possible to administer a State Corporation honestly and transparently. The dimensions of this struggle are incalculable, for it is the continuity of historical efforts. We should not forget that EMCALI, the Municipal Corporation of Cali, is the result of the glorious struggles of the workers in Cali in the 1930s, under the leadership of the workers leaders Ignacio Torres Giraldo and Julio Rincón. They led workers' mobilisations that created EMCALI, foiling the North American companies who were trying to get the business of supplying water, sewerage and the then new born telephone system to the city. We are indebted to this is proletarian inheritance, and we too must live up to the legacy of our class.

Today we ask, Who are really responsible for the current bankruptcy of EMCALI, expressed in an external and internal public debt of more than 900,000 million pesos [ £265 million ]? When will there be real judgement of the politicians responsible for the terrible management of the corporation in previous administrations under bi-partisan Liberal and Conservative political rule?

EMCALI was a case study of all forms of corruption and administrative shambles, these have been denounced by the trade union. But more than 1,000,000,000 pesos was lost, and that is what today compromises the economic viability of invaluable public assets.

EMCALI has an average cash flow of a million US dollars a day, it provides domestic services to over 1.5 million users in the metropolitan area. 83% of our users receive subsidies from the social fund by virtue of the fact that EMCALI has formal status as an Industrial and Commercial State Corporation.

The principal point to take into account is that if the corporation is not kept as a state supplier, it is forecast that users will be transferred to financially agressive companies, and they will demand continuing increases in their charges for services. The likely result, according to SINTRAEMCALI and our representative's calculations, besides the Superintendent of Public Services own projections, is a rise in 2002 in charges for water supply, sewerage and telephone services of 30% for the highest strata of the population, and increases of up to 100% for the badly off sectors in strata 1, 2 and 3.

[Editor's Note: Colombia's urban population is officially classified into six strata, according to quality of housing. In this schema strata 6 are the very rich, descending in levels to strata 1 who are the very poor. In an unusual official acknowledgement of social need, charges for state services increase up the strata, strata 6 households pay significantly more for their services than do strata 1. There are some anomalies and, more importantly, significant numbers of completely destitute people do not even achieve the strata 1 classification.]

Take into account also that due to government policy the monthly minimum wage in Colombia will not be increased by more than 8% in year 2002 [barely keeping pace with inflation], and that is without the thousands of sackings predicted in the coming year. Besides which, in speaking of Cali we are speaking of a population that is currently suffering one of the sharpest economic and social crises in our history, as is indicated by the following facts:
  • 70% of Cali's population (estimated as two million inhabitants according to the last national census) does not receive income of more than two minimum salaries. [Note: the minimum salary is only £90 a month. Progressive commentators estimate that four minimum salaries are needed to allow a family to live with any dignity].
  • According to the figures of the Education Secretary for Cali Council 200,000 children do not have access to the education system.
  • As far as health is concerned, we can see how the clinics and hospitals have become battle zones, where by the minute human lives are lost that could be saved were they to receive the required attention. Life expectancy in Cali has fallen since 1985, in the popular sectors of the city have seen the reappearance of epidemic illnesses such as tuberculosis which had been controlled in previous times. 51% of the population is not covered by the health system.
  • In the city of Cali there is a housing deficit of more than 100,000 units.
  • The proportion of the urban population living under the poverty line has increased from 30% to 40% in the last decade. The proportion population of the provincial capital's population in destitution has reached 10%. That is to say one in ten caleños is destitute and in absolute poverty. [Note: The official test for this is set extremely low, able to obtain one meal a day.] From 1997 unemployment rates have a three year average of 21%. This is how things are, more than a fifth of the economically active population are unemployed.
  • Finally, according to figures from the National Plan and the Bank of the Republic, 3,700 productive corporations were closed or liquidated in the Cauca Valley through the course of the 1990s.

This social and economic panorama cannot resist the impact of excessive increases in charges for public services as are being predicted through the liquidation of EMCALI and the privatisation of its services, which is what the National Government is trying to do. All of this is orchestrated from the capital, with the cowardly complicity of the political class in this region, who are responsible not only for the crisis in the corporation but also for the high degree of social and economic decomposition of the population in the Cauca Valley.

The Superintendent of Public Services is a den of neoliberal corruption, as can be seen by the previous superintendent, Dr. Enrique Yañez who is now in prison for corruption. And the current superintendent, Dr. Diego Humberto Caicedo, has been denounced by the Trade Union for activities in the past linking him to false declarations, swindling and irregular management of State moneys. Our denouncement has not been taken up by the communication media in Colombia, that opted not to report the news. This fits into the framework of impubity that characteristic the anti-social and corrupt regime to which the President of the Republic is himself committed.

Why not struggle? Why not fight?

Why should we resign ourselves to suffering the dictatorship and oppression of the national government and the bi-partisan political class? We will make all the sacrifices that may be necessary in this struggle, but never will we suffer injustice and defamation without doing anything.

It is said that we are disobedient for being here in the tower. Well we say long live civil disobedience fighting for the people, for our sovereignty, for our country! And it is said that we are rebels. Well we say long live rebellion! What can never be said is that we have lain down in the face of tyranny.

With this new protest action we are giving rebirth to building the workers story, in the real search for peace with social justice for which so yearned for by the people of the Cauca Valley and the Colombian people.

We are convinced that this is a small contribution to the hope for a secure future for the coming generations of young people, of boys and girls who are growing up in a city which is today hostile, unjust, and mortgaged to the market of capitalist misery and ignominy.

The calendars say that today is 31st December, however for the workers of EMCALI it is another day and night of struggle and tireless resistance. A final greeting to the neighbourhoods, to the common people, to the city's nomadic inhabitants, who we love and defend so much, and to the families who have broken their plans to celebrate the New Year alongside us the workers. Be sure that this action will not lose its way and that this land will be reborn in democracy and dignity.

For us nothing... for all, Everything

We are from you and for you.


Alexander López
Presidente Junta Directiva
Sindicato de Trabajadores de las Empresas Municipales de Cali



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