Colombian BP workers on strike

This video is about the workers’ struggle in Colombia, and anti-trade union violence in Colombia.

By Andy Higginbottom in Britain:

Crackdown in Colombia

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Workers at BP‘s central processing facility at Tauramena, the hub of the Cusiana oil field in Casanare, Colombia, are in their fifth week of indefinite strike.

The workers are members of the national oil workers union USO which has only been able to organise in Casanare in the last year. Their strike met police repression last week and is now at a critical stage.

USO started recruiting members among construction workers at the Tauramena storage and pumping installation. They were working for the contractor SAR Energy, which in turn had procured them through an agency.

SAR Energy went bust and the workers were told to enter contracts with a replacement intermediary company, but in reality they work for the pipeline company Ocensa.

Ocensa transports the region’s high-grade oil 800km to the Caribbean, from where it is exported to the US market.

In the face of the deliberate confusion over their status, the workers stopped work on January 22 for improved wages and more secure conditions and mounted pickets and protests.

On February 15 the notorious ESMAD “anti-mutiny” police attacked the workers’ picket line and the local community with teargas and beatings.

Despite three workers being hospitalised and numbers of local school children suffering after-effects from the tear gas, the strike strengthened.

A feature of the conflict has been the combination of labour demands with broader community concerns. USO is seeking social investment in the community.

Tauramena council, the local chamber of commerce and transport association all back the strike. On February 16, as USO communications officer Oscar Garcia explains, “we had a great demonstration of citizen support for the strikers, with a parade in Tauramena of more than 700 motorcyclists, cars and townspeople.”

The next day saw another march, this time into the countryside passing by Chaparral, Tauramena CPF and El Venado, all entry points into the Cusiana field.

This is a great turnaround for a region emerging from the grip of fear. Ever since BP arrived in the early 1990s, communities in the area have been hit with blanket military occupation and paramilitary executions.

Jonathon Glennie of Christian Aid comments that BP benefits “from the climate of fear created by the ongoing violence which stifles union and civil society protests against their installations,” which brings us right back to BP‘s responsibilities with respect to the current stoppage.

BP calls the shots in Casanare. The corporation is already under fire for “green-washing” [and] its involvement in the hugely destructive tar sands extraction in Canada.

The Tauramena conflict again brings into focus just what the claims of corporate social responsibility really mean.

So far, BP denies any connection with the strike, stating it has no employees involved and it is a matter for Ocensa and its operator, state oil corporation Ecopetrol.

Yet not only does BP benefit from Ocensa’s services, BP set up the pipeline company in the first place, so completing the infrastructure necessary to realise its £3 billion investment in Casanare.

Latest public information reports that BP is Ocensa’s largest private shareholder, carrying with its 25 per cent shareholding a place on the consortium’s board.

Sub-contracting may offer distance, but by all reasonable tests the dispute between an Ocensa contractor and its workforce still falls within BP‘s corporate “sphere of influence.”

USO is urgently seeking a negotiated solution and calls for BP to join it in substantive talks.

But at this point there is no telling if BP will meet even this bare minimum of respect for union organisation.

Indeed, this begs the question of why hasn’t there been any union organisation of BP‘s own employees in Colombia?

Garcia emphasises that BP’s refusal to recognise USO “is in clear violation of ILO article 87 on trade union freedom … we will not renounce that we represent our comrade workers in the oil industry across the country.”

In the meantime, in the last few days military intelligence officers have been blatantly filming picketers, which in the Colombian context is a direct precursor to being targeted for assassination.

Andy Higginbottom is secretary of Colombia Solidarity Campaign.

After more than a month on strike, the workers and their families need economic support. USO is appealing for food and donations. Messages of solidarity to the workers can be sent via USO’s human rights commission at email: or through the community NGO COS-PACC at email: Colombia Solidarity Campaign has called an emergency picket of BP tomorrow Friday February 26 at 4pm outside BP HQ 1 St James’s Square, London SW1.

See also here.

Apparently, the corporate media doesn’t consider this to be newsworthy: the confession to a Colombian prosecutor of 30,000 murders by paramilitaries linked to the regime of President Alvaro Uribe: here.

Left-wing opposition leaders and unions hailed a sensational court ruling on Sunday that prevented Colombian President Alvaro Uribe standing for a third term as “saving democracy from authoritarianism”.

In response to the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s call to his ambassadors to ban the screening of Insurgency of the 21st Century, Australian activist groups have started promoting the documentary: here.

The killing of a Colombian human rights activist has sparked calls for an urgent investigation into his death: here.

A retired police major said on Monday that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s younger brother commanded a right-wing death squad in the early 1990s from the wealthy family’s cattle ranch.

A high-profile court case in the United States, involving British-based oil multinational BP, has hardly been reported here. Yet it tells us so much about how giant companies and the law operate: here.

BOGOTÁ, Apr 12, 2010 (IPS) – The front-runner in the polls for Colombia’s presidential elections, Juan Manuel Santos, has come under fire from his rivals for his role in the scandal over young civilians killed by the army and passed off as guerrilla casualties, which broke out while he was defence minister: here.

Colombian prosecutors have revealed that investigators had exhumed 3,131 bodies of people murdered by the right-wing paramilitiaries that President Alvaro Uribe claimed had been “demobilised”.

On June 5, Hernán Abdiel Ordoñez Dorado was shot to death while out with his mother. This wasn’t some random and unexplainable act of violence; Hernán was killed because he was a unionist. He was on the executive board of The Prison Workers’ Union (ASEINPEC) in Cali, Colombia, and had been involved in a campaign against the corruption of top prison officials: here.

9 thoughts on “Colombian BP workers on strike

  1. Prosecutors reveal military deathlist

    Colombia: The Attorney General has released a list of 2,321 people, including 125 children, suspected of having been killed or disappeared by the military over the past 25 years.

    Prosecutors have so far convicted just 40 soldiers or officers in connection with the crimes, which included the extrajudicial executions of abducted peasant workers who were then dressed in combat fatigues so that soldiers could claim a reward for having killed “guerillas.”


  2. Death squad leader arrested

    Colombia: A veteran death squad leader and reputed founder of a bloody right-wing militia faction has been arrested after more than a decade on the run.

    Bogota police force commander General Cesar Pinzon said on Wednesday that Hector Jose Buitrago was captured on Tuesday in a rural area 40 miles north of the capital, where he had been passing himself off as a local rancher.

    “Today he looks like Father Christmas, but he has 21 arrest orders out for him for massacres, disappearances, kidnappings, forming paramilitary groups, criminal conspiracy, homicides – anything you want,” Gen Pinzon declared.


  3. Seven army officers killed in crash

    Colombia: Seven military officers have been killed after a helicopter carrying one of President Alvaro Uribe’s top army generals collided with a light aircraft in the south of the country.

    Army General Joya Duarte died together with the commanders of an elite task force charged with tracking down insurgents from the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in the department of Tolima.


  4. Uribe called to testify over spying

    Colombia: Prosecutors have called for President Alvaro Uribe to testify as part of an investigation into illegal wiretapping and spying directed at journalists, opposition politicians and even Supreme Court judges.

    Some 12 officers of the state security services have already been summoned to court to testify on the scandal, which was exposed after Senator Gustavo Petro of left-wing opposition Polo Democratico revealed that he had been a target.

    Foreign visitors to Colombia have also been targeted, including Human Rights Watch director Jose Miguel Vivanco, and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.


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