On 21 May workers involved in construction operations in BP’s Tauramena installation entered into occupation demanding:
• a wage increase; the establishment a wage scale;
• due process in disciplinary decisions;
• labour guarantees for the workers.
On 2 June army forces entered the plant. At time of writing they are harassing the workers, who stay overnight chaining themselves to plant equipment so that they cannot be dislodged.
Since BP began oil exploration and production in Casanare, Colombia in the early 1990s, six thousand people have been assassinated and three thousand people disappeared.
Every time there have been complaints or protests in opposition to BP’s interests, the community leaders concerned have been killed. This indicates an elimination strategy of violent social control. The agents have been the military and paramilitary groups, but BP as a corporation hás itself been complicit in the human rights violations.
Despite its public statements accepting the right of trade union organization, in practice BP has refused to grant a collective agreement with the National Oil Workers Union USO or recognising any of the principal elements of trade union recognition. USO organisers have been driven out of the region or into exile.
There has been an upsurge in workers ‘and community protests against BP in Casanare since the beginning of 2010. Workers at the Tauramena Central Processing Facility (CPF) starting 22 January went in strike supported by USO, the National Oil Workers’ Union of Colombia. On 15 February riot police brutally attacked the picket line, sending three workers to hospital.
Demonstrations and popular assemblies in support of the stoppage took place in Tauramena and surrounding villages from February onwards. The USO union and many different community sectors came together to form the Movement for the Dignity of Casanare. The strike ended after 30 days when BP promised talks.
BP agreed to enter negotiations and there have since been five commissions dealing with labour issues, the environment, local supply of goods and services, social investment and human rights. The community has deep and long standing grievances. Environmental damage, for example, is extensive stemming from BP’s production practices such as diverting water sources underground to pressure up the oil; contamination from gas flaring and ground failures from seismic testing.
The workers and community report that BP has not taken the negotiations seriously. At first the corporation attempted to decide who the community and labour representatives would be, but this was thwarted by a letter signed by three thousand residents naming their representatives. Next BP threatened legal action because of complaints against it in a Petition of Demands presented to it by the union and the community. Then BP swamped the community with leaflets claiming what a great corporation it is.
Finally, and despite other provocations, initial “pre-agreements” were negotiated in the commissions concerning the environment, local supplies, social investment and human rights; but BP has continued to block substantive progress towards accepting the right of a collective agreement covering its workers, and those employed by its subsidiaries and contractors, at the CPF plant.
The workers and community wanted talks to resume on 12 May, but BP has delayed this until 23 June. Meanwhile threats against community and union leaders began to grow, which is grave indeed given the history of elimination of community leaders in the recent past.
UK solidarity with the Casanare occupiers
On the 2nd of June, activists from Workers' Climate Action and representatives of a number of Colombian workers’ associations, activists from climate camp, and Colombia Solidarity campaigners. attended a protest outside the St James Square offices of BP, in solidarity with workers at the Tauramena plant in the Casanare region of Colombia, who have occupied their plant as part of their campaign for union recognition.
The picket will now be taking place in support of the occupation every Thursday, between 5pm and 6pm, for the duration of dispute, in front of the BP offices in St James Square, London SW1.
For networks like Workers’ Climate Action, which see mass struggle by workers and their allies as the means by which we can put industries under democratic control with a view to protecting the environment, the movement of workers and local communities in Casanare is of key importance.
We should support their fight for a union and for control over the activities of big oil in their region – as a step towards winning fuller democratic control over the energy sector. We should approach other energy workers around the world and help organise solidarity between them and the Casanare workers.