In Colombia, where I live, I worked as a welder at a Chevrolet assembly plant near Bogotá, for General Motors’ South American subsidiary Colmotores — until my back began to hurt. I underwent three surgeries and now walk with a cane and have several screws in my spine.
When I could no longer work due to my occupational injuries, GM fired me, paying me no medical benefits or severance.
Other workers were also fired when they were similarly injured on the job. Back, shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries are most common.
As a worker and as a Christian, I was horrified by GM’s actions. I believe God is a God of justice, that the poor will be filled and the rich will be sent away empty.
But our situation was the opposite. The rich sent us away empty.
Jesus taught us that when faced with injustice, we are called to creatively work to build the kingdom here on earth.
That’s why we created a workers association, ASOTRECOL, to demand justice. On August 1, 2011, we started a protest, camping out across the street from the U.S. Embassy. Our tents have been there now for over 400 days.
After a year without justice, some of us started a hunger strike—we even sewed our mouths shut. After 22 days of our hunger strike, GM agreed to begin mediation, but that mediation lasted only four days and failed to produce a just settlement offer from GM. So, on Labor Day, we restarted our hunger strike. And on Tuesday, I flew to Detroit to seek direct talks with GM’s corporate officers.
Our demands are simple: just compensation for their workplace injuries and being re-hired into GM’s workforce or offered an acceptable financial settlement. I hope, for the sake of my former co-workers and our families, that GM sits down with us to negotiate a just settlement as soon as possible.
You can join us in this work for justice but fasting with us for a day, sending a message to GM corporate executives, or joining other actions; the website of Witness for Peace, a U.S. solidarity organization, has more information.
Jorge Parra is a Colombian who worked for nine years at GM’s Chevy assembly plant in Bogota before being fired due to work-place injuries. He is the president of ASOTRECOL, the Association of Current and Former GM Colmotores Workers.