Embattled Colombian Unionists Rally Against ‘Free Trade’


Gathering with fellow unionists in Washington, D.C., Jose Hugo Yanini speaks firmly about labor rights in Colombia. But a few weeks ago, the industrial janitor and shop steward feared that he soon might never utter another word.

Yanini, who is campaigning with SEIU and other groups against the pending U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, is a typical target in his home country. Last month, on his way home from collective bargaining talks, labor activists report, he got the anonymous phone message that every Colombian union activist dreads: "Tell that man that he should be careful with his tongue or we will cut it out."

So far, the case hasn't been fully investigated and the public doesn't know who was behind the menacing call. But people do know Yanini's boss: the multinational company Sodexo, a major provider of food and custodial services in the U.S. and other countries, and a notorious union-buster at home and abroad.

What brought Yanini and other Colombian unionists to Washington is a simple demand that the U.S. simply not continue to do business with a country where speaking out for labor rights can be a death sentence.

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