Friday, October 10, 2014

La Guajira, Colombia, Coal Miners Against Coal?

Hi Folks.  In 2006, I was a very lucky person who was able to go on a Witness For Peace (WFP) tour of Colombia.  We met many Afro-Colombians, Union people, the Cerrejon Mine officials, and communities affected by the take over of their land by the Cerrejon Mine.  The lovely town of La Roche where we had our Conference in August 2006 is now gone and it is a coal pit.  What a pity!  This place was right on the warm Atlantic sea coast where the water was like a warm bath.  We enjoyed our selves in the local bars and ate with the locals.  I will miss it and so will the many people who will never get to see La Roche.

The following is an article sent by Prof Avi Chomsky from a delegate to last summer's delegation to La Guajira.  I hope you find this educational and invite you to go to Witness for Peace to find out more info on their various delegations www.witnessforpeace.org
Thanks
Debbie

A great article by one of last summer’s delegates to La Guajira:

Coal miners against coal?


8 October 2014
Cerrejón mine
Cerrejón mine
– By Ewa Jasiewicz
Freddy Lozano leads a union of coal miners who are against coal mining.
Let me break that down for you. SINTRACARBON, headquartered in Riohacha, North Eastern Colombia, organises in one of the biggest open-cast coal mines on earth – Cerrejón. The name is taken from the indigenous Wayuu peoples’ name for the area meaning ‘Sacred Mountain’. Over the past 30 years that sacred mountain has become a vast network of pits run by Anglo-American, BHP Billiton and Glencore Xstrata. Seventeen indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities have been displaced and see the operation, in the words of Aurellio, a leader from the Campo Allegre community, as ‘terrorism against our people’.
It was when Freddy, President of the Porto Bolivar Section, visited communities impacted by the mine eight years ago that he and the union embarked on a journey that would see them protest side by side with community members last year against the expansion of the mine.
The company wanted to access 500 millions tons of coal under the Rio Rancheria river, the only major river in the dry province of La Guajira, by diverting it for 26.2 kilometres. Local communities reliant on the river were outraged.
Jairo Quiroz of the executive of the union explains, ‘We were union members, students, environmental groups and indigenous people, all out demanding our rights and common needs. We could see that re-directing the Rio Rancheria would have a devastating impact on the communities which have already suffered so much. It was an unjust move on the part of the company and we stood on the side of the communities’.
Due to the strength of popular resistance, the project has been shelved but Cerrejón has since shifted attention to re-routing 3 km of a smaller river, the Arroyo Bruno, which would still impact on water access for Indigenous communities. SINTRACARBON is working with environmental group CENSAT (The National Center of Health, Environment and Work) on a study of the effects of this plan.
In recent years, the union has effectively become an advocate for the rights of indigenous communities. Last year leaders mediated between the company and the community of Roche when the government wanted to evict it. SINTRACARBON is also echoing the call for the fair re-settlement of the violently uprooted people of Tabaco, the first community to be ousted from the area in a military offensive involving the bulldozing of their homes in 2001. Furthermore, it has been asked by the community of Chancleta to mediate between them and the company over their threatened displacement. Freddy Lozano explains: ‘Currently we are studying the social and economic impacts of relocating communities and examining opportunities for sustainable development that would allow these communities to continue existing.’
SINTRACARBON activists at Cerrejón. Photo by IndustriALL.
A changing climate
The union is aware of its members’ strategic power in the national and global energy industry. Colombia is the fourth biggest coal exporter in the world and Cerrejón alone exported 33 million tons of coal last year, most of it to Europe. But the union knows the game is changing: the price of coal has plummeted due to a global glut, mainly through increased US exports from $130 per ton in 2011 to $63 today.
The union isn’t against coal per se and the leadership stresses that they don’t see many viable alternatives at present in Colombia but they know that worldwide there are struggles as well as scientific consensus saying that we need to leave most fossil fuels in the ground. “We are worried about climate change”, says Jairo Quiroz of the executive. “We can see this is a problem and many groups are working to try and stop coal. SINTRACARBON wants to be part of the discussion. The company is destructive, but if it goes the workers will be poorer than before”.
As well as the big questions, such as the impact that carbon caps and climate change will have on their industry and ultimately their lives, the union is also having to deal with work related diseases and poor conditions. Last year they shut down the mine in a strike that lasted 32 days over the company’s failure to recognise and compensate 700 workers made sick by the mine. The union won wage increases, productivity bonuses and improved health and housing benefits.
Casualisation is a major problem. Since 2009, half the workforce of 12,000 are now employed as third party contractors – numbering some 6,000 workers. Of those 2,800 have joined the union and 10 different agreements have been jointly negotiated to improve their conditions. But, as is the case in the UK, the company has chosen not to renew contracts with subcontractor outfits where union organisation has been high. Union-busting? It looks like it.
SINTRACARBON doesn’t want any worker to be exploited whether in they are in Colombia or the UK. Jairo Quiroz acknowledges the unconscious role his members had in undermining the UK Miners strikes of the 1980s:
“In 1984, the Thatcher government realised it was cheaper to import coal from Cerrejón. It relied on imports from Colombia and it was our coal that enabled the smashing of the NUM”, he says, shaking his head.
Cultivating international solidarity and class consciousness among their cadre is key. Freddy explains, “We are trying to raise funds for an education programme for workers so they can gain a more sophisticated understanding of the working class and how it is formed. The mass media leads them to elect bad candidates and we need to challenge this”.
We’re on common ground. Here too the shadow of far right parties winning elections looms large, casualisation continues to degrade, climate change is ignored and corporate contempt for the impact of extractive industries on communities – particularly in the case of fracking – continues.
In Colombia, against all the odds, where union leaders are given armed guards and bulletproof vests (Freddy has one), and national union density is a death-squad driven 4%, SINTRACARBON is fighting for all and fighting it all.
Can we learn from them?

SINTRACARBON is seeking funds to help it develop worker education programmes. If branches would like to donate, please get in touch with contact@londonminingnetwork.org with SINTRACARBON SOLIDARITY in the header

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Our Adventures from Alexandria, Cairo and Giza

Folks, no one could possible know of the excitement we, especially me, we felt as we sailed into Alexandria, Egypt!  My heart was pounding, my excitement grew and I just couldn't wait to see a place I always dreamed of seeing.  It was a dream come true for me.

I find the magic of the ancient world so fascinating.  The picture of the lives of people like Cleopatra, Romans, the pyramids and the ancient beliefs that are still with us today.  I almost wished I would see these great characters when we docked.

I want to take you on my journey when I first set eyes on Alexandra and then on to Giza, where the great Pyramids of Egypt waited just for me.  To this day, I still can't believe I was there so to look back at my pictures, knowing this was a reality and I was really there is still a dream come true.

To ride in Egypt, you have to be awful brave or nuts.  Even my Egyptian friend Ami, who goes home each year to Alexandra, refuses to drive so she gets her friends to drive her.  She told me an interesting thing the other day, she said she never went to the Pyramids or saw other tourist sites.  She felt almost shamed but I knew what she meant,  I bet tourist to Halifax know more about my city than I do.  I think we take for granted the many things others enjoy when they visit.

The kids were lucky enough to go into the 3500 year old smaller Pyramid and they said I never would have made it if I went in too.  A person has to bend down too low and my knees just wouldn't let me do that.  It was rather cheap as well, only about 6 Egyptian Lira.  The costs to get into the Pyramids is very reasonable.

There are lots of vendors there trying to sell you items so take a moment and talk to them and purchase some things.  They do like to barter so do barter.  I bought a small set of the 3 Pyramids and the Sphinx for one dollar, they were asking for $10.  I felt bad that I got them down to such a low price.  They really depend on selling items for a living.

That night, we stayed in a 5 star hotel with our room facing the Pyramids but the next morning the smog was so bad, I couldn't even see the pool below.  If you lucky enough to get a good sunny clear day, be grateful.
I hope you enjoy this post as I have so many more to post on Egypt alone.  Take care all!


Alexandra as we saw it from our ship

Still hard to believe we were really docking here for our amazing trip

Looking back at the ship as we drove away with our private tour guide



Even seeing the name still excites me!

Beautiful Mosque

streets of Alexandra

I have a friend who is from Alexandra and she still refuses to drive when she goes home for a visit

You really have to be tough to drive here!

Some beautiful buildings

Taxis were the same


Now we begin to drive to Cairo

We saw many unusual buildings and things along the route


I'm still not sure what this building is

Coke seems to have a big presence here

The desert as we drove the long miles to Cairo

Now we are in Giza, we can't wait to see the Pyramids!!!!

My absolute first look at see the Pyramids. People actually are lucky to see this every day









Now we are going in to the Pyramid area

Little Rialey all excited

Is this not amazing!!

Lalyla and Rialey looking at all the sites


I really love this picture of the kids with the Pyramid in the background

Here I am and I can't believe I made it!!!!!!


You can see Giza in the  background. It was a good day but some days the smog is so bad, you can't see anything

Small crowds on their tour

A distance horse rider

They have both horse and camel rides here but watch you don't get ripped off



I guess they even have horse and buggy rides

Kids and guide walking towards the Pyramid





One of my favourite pictures

Yes, I did it!  Rialey is so happy

I loved seeing the two Egyptian camel riders in the desert sands


Look, isn't this just amazing! The 3 Pyramids with the 3 small Pyramids of the wives

Breathless!

Camel owner talking to Rialey about the ride and the camels