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Colombia: Workers and Students Take to the Streets in Protest

October 2011 has been a tense month in Colombia. The upcoming regional elections on Sunday, October 30, the approval of a new Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and a higher education reform have all triggered several demonstrations.

On October 7, unions called for a national strike due to the possible approval of several decrees that would change current conditions for public sector workers.

The Estudiantes de la Universidad de Pereira [es] (“Students of the University of Pereira”) blog and other websites [es] have published a press release in which labor unions assert [es] that some of those changes would leave a lot of people without a job:

 Public worker's demonstrations in Bogota. Image by Luis Gómez, copyright Demotix (7/10/2011).

Public worker's demonstrations in Bogota. Image by Luis Gómez, copyright Demotix (7/10/2011).

En cuanto al Paro Nacional Estatal, sus organizadores aducen como razón principal el incumplimiento del Gobierno en la expedición del decreto sobre negociación colectiva en el sector Estatal, que reforma el Decreto 535 sobre la materia. El texto del nuevo decreto fue acordado hace 4 meses por el Gobierno, las centrales y los sindicatos estatales, pero aún no ha sido firmado por el Presidente Santos.

Las otras razones del paro estatal tienen que ver con otras disposiciones del Gobierno. Una es que la Comisión Nacional del Servicio Civil se niega a aplicar el Acto Legislativo 04 de 2011, con perjuicio para cerca de 120 mil funcionarios provisionales; otra es la poca voluntad política para erradicar la tercerización laboral en el sector público; y una cuarta es el proceso de reestructuración de entidades estatales, que según los sindicatos implicará la pérdida de empleos para miles de empleados públicos.

Regarding the national strike, the organizers of the demonstration believe the main reason is the government's failure in passing the decree about collective negotiation in the State sector, which the 535 Decree reforms. The text of the new decree was agreed upon four months ago by the government, public and state unions. Yet, it has not been signed by President Santos.

The other reasons for the strike are related to other government regulations. One reason is that the Comision Nacional del Servicio Civil (National Commission of Civil Service) refuses to implement the 2011 Legislative Act 04, affecting around 120,000 temporary workers; another is related to the lack of political will to eradicate outsourcing labor in the State; the fourth reason is the restructuring process of the state institutions, which according to the labor unions will involve losing thousands of state jobs.

Daniel Echeverry, from the blog Cosas que se deben cambiar (“Things that must change”), asserts that not only state workers participated in this demonstration, but also high school and university students [es]. In addition, he expressed his concern that people don't know the reasons behind these protests:

Con tristeza nos dimos cuenta de que hay más fuerza pública contratada, que profesores, la gente está más a la expectativa de los conflictos o disturbios que se puedan presentar, y no tiene idea de lo que se está pidiendo ni por qué se está protestando..

Unfortunately, we realized there are more state-contracted employees than teachers, people are more expectant about conflicts or disturbances, and they have no idea about what protesters are asking for or the reason why they are protesting..

Julio Roberto Gomez, a labor leader, affirmed that the government has failed to fulfill an agreement in which it committed to negotiate a collective contract for the 800,000 state sector [es] workers. Some of these workers are under a temporary contract.

The reasons for the strike are summarized in an 8-item list which include “The tough conditions which professionals and public and private health care workers are going through and the right for education and a public university” [es].

Regarding this item, on October 12, university students demonstrated in many parts of the country. The Fosforito blog quotes the following text [es] that has been re-published by other bloggers:

En Colombia más de 250.000 estudiantes dijeron NO a la privatización de la educación; la única respuesta del gobierno son encarcelamientos arbitrarios, heridos y un estudiante asesinado por las habituales fuerzas oscuras del estado colombiano.

In Colombia, more than 250.000 students said NO to the privatization of education; the only answer from the government was arbitrary imprisonment, wounded people and a student murdered by the dark forces of the Colombian state.

The Fosforito Blog also quotes a press release [es] published on October 12 by the Mesa Amplia Nacional Estudiantil (“Student National Board”) [es]:

En el marco de la Movilización Nacional en contra de la Ley 30 y su respectiva reforma, y por la construcción de un modelo educativo mas justo e incluyente, los estudiantes organizados a nivel nacional en la Mesa Amplia Nacional Estudiantil, MANE, acordamos realizar un paro nacional universitario de carácter indefinido tras la radicación del proyecto de ley, el cual se mantendrá hasta que el gobierno nacional lo retire y dé garantías para la construcción de una reforma realmente democrática y que responda a las necesidades de la universidad y del país, estableciendo para ello como hora cero, el 12 de octubre del presente año; dicha jornada se venia desarrollando de manera exitosa, durante el día de hoy con la participación de más de 200.000 personas entre estudiantes, trabajadores, profesores y padres de familia quienes se movilizaron a lo largo y ancho del territorio colombiano.

Within the framework of the National Mobilization against the Law 30 and its reform, and in support of the creation of an equal and inclusive education model, students throughout the country organized under the Mesa Amplia Nacional Estudiantil, MANE, agreed to go on an indefinite university strike which will be maintained until the national government removes the law and guarantees a real democratic reform that meets the needs of both the university and the country. The strike began at 0:00 on October 12 of this year; the day had been developing successfully with the participation of more than 200,000 people including students, workers teachers and parents who mobilized all over the Colombian territory.

On Twitter, opinions were published under the hashtags #NoReformaLey30 (“No to reform Law 30) and #NoLey30 (“No to Law 30″). Juan D. Barreto R (@Jdbarretor) [es] writes:

Quiero tu propuesta! quiero tu PROTESTA!!! #NoReformaley30!

I want to hear your suggestions! I want your PROTEST! #NoReformaley30!

Vida Torres (@LaVidaTorres) [es] thanks those who have tweeted with this hashtag:

Infinitas gracias a Tod@s los chicos q han hecho esta protesta virtual #NoreformaLey30 en su TL. Sí a la educación de calidad!!!!

Thanks so much to all who have demonstrated virtually with #NoreformaLey30 on their time line. Yes to quality education!!!!

Porfirio Gaia (@idealibertaria)[es] refers to the loans proposed by the higher education reform:

Estudiando, 5 años. Pagando 20 años. #NoReformaLey30

5 years studying, 20 years paying #NoReformaLey30

Sharito Otero (@Sharito_O_P) [es] emphatically says:

#NoreformaLey30#NoLey30 !! Vivaa El #ParoNacional Universitario!!

#NoreformaLey30#NoLey30!! Long live #ParoNacional [National University Strike]!!

And Katherine Galvan asserts [es]:

Jajaja hoy me preguntaron cuando me iba a graduar, y no estoy segura quizas en el 2089 o 3000 pero todo por una buena causa #NoLey30

Hahaha today I was asked when I was going to graduate, and I am not sure, maybe it will be in 2089 or 3000, but never mind, everything for a good cause  #NoLey30

Todo lo que hay (“This is it”) published the following video of protests in Medellin [es]:

The worker's strike was considered a success [es] because of the number of people who participated, and because there were neither public order problems nor confrontations with the police. But during the student protest there were confrontations with the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron) and a student died in Cali due to a potato bomb explosion.

Follow the #Ley30 hashtag to keep up with what happens with education reform in Colombia.

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