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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

SABMiller Picks up Union-free Colombian Brewer

Posted to the IUF website 17-Aug-2005

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In the 1980s and early 1990s, the IUF and many of its affiliates gave international support to the struggle to build a strong union in the Bavaria beverage company, one of Colombia's largest companies, in which the brewery transnational SABMiller recently acquired a controlling share.

The union grew to become a substantial force of several thousand members within Bavaria under the leadership of Luis Pedraza, currently the IUF representative in Colombia. The union built its strength through tenacious organizing and, when necessary, by confronting the company. This confrontation included a successful strike in March 1991, with substantial international support, to secure the first national collective agreement of its kind in Colombia's private sector industry.

The strike had massive support throughout the company and lasted 35 days. Once the breakthrough to a single national agreement had been reached, however, the union refused an immediate return to work until the company also agreed to settle an ongoing conflict in a Bavaria plant in Ecuador. Under Pedraza's leadership, SINALTRABAVARIA's insistence on this condition for a resumption of work produced a victory in Ecuador as well as Colombia and greater union strength in both countries. And therein lies an important lesson for today, where there is much talk of "globalizing solidarity".

The collective agreement that emerged from this union power included unprecedented rights to time off for union activities. This extended to SINALTRABAVARIA's participation in IUF international activities, particularly in our international brewery union work in which the union at that time played an important role.

Following the 1996 change of leadership SINALTRABAVARIA has been in serious decline, to the extent that virtually its only members today are the 30-40 national executive committee members who are still covered by the collective agreement's rights for union officers who are on full time paid union leave. Inside the plants themselves the company which SABMiller has now bought is effectively non-union, a tragic development when viewed against union strength at Bavaria only 10 years ago.