Colombian trade unions lead major rallies for social reforms and peace

Colombian trade unions are leading major rallies across the country today, Wednesday 27 September, to show support for the progressive government’s social reforms and peacebuilding policies. In towns and cities, trade unionists will be joined by social organisations, students and pro-peace activists as they attempt to present a united front to concerted opposition among the conservative wing of congress to the government’s reform agenda.

The three major reforms presented in congress – to existing health, pensions and labour legislation and structuring – have faced varying obstacles to their passing into law, as opponents of the Historic Pact coalition tied to longstanding economic and political elites seek to block the proposals. The labour reform suffered a defeat in June, when it was shelved due to the lack of a quorum, raising serious concerns over its future. Unions back the reform, drafted under Minister of Labour Gloria Ramírez, a former trade union leader, as vital to tackling high levels of inequality, exploitation and job insecurity.

Today’s mobilisations are also intended to signal mass support for the Total Peace policy which promotes the pursuit of negotiated settlements with armed groups, several of which have expanded since the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC. While talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest guerrilla movement, are progressing, and the government recently agreed a ceasefire with the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) dissident group, many regions of the country continue to experience violent conflict and human rights violations on a large scale.

In a statement encouraging people to join the rallies, Colombia’s largest trade union federation, the CUT, said the social reforms ensure ‘the recovery of rights that advance the quality of life of Colombians’, and that the mobilisations are intended to ‘support the main policies promoted by President Petro such as peace, democracy and against corruption’.