As your committee, we want to help our members appreciate the breadth of their membership. As well as the work we do local to the branch and University, the various rewards and benefits included in membership, we want to remind you of your part in the wider trade union movement. Not only are you part of a union that supports public sector workers nationally, UNISON also works with individual and global union federations to defend human and trade union rights around the world. You can find out more about the work UNISON does internationally on the website.
The Justice for Colombia campaign
University of Sussex UNISON branch members attended the National Delegate Conference 2023 last week in Liverpool, which is the annual conference where all branches vote on key motions that influence the direction of the union and the formation of new campaigns. We will be sharing more about the conference soon, but we wanted to urgently draw your attention to an international campaign we learnt about.
We attended a meeting at conference about Justice for Colombia (JFC), a British campaign group that UNISON is affiliated with, which works to support Colombian trade unions and progressive organisations in their struggle for human rights, labour rights, peace and social justice. During the meeting we heard from JFC director, Hasan Dodwell, and Colombian human rights defender, Darnelly Rodríguez, who briefed us on the current situation.
We heard how Colombia has long been the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. Last year 216 trade unionists and social activists were murdered, and 73 have been murdered since January this year – mostly by the military.
The progressive government of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez, elected in 2022 after 2021’s “Social Explosion” protest movement, has made important steps to resolve conflict and improve social justice. However, many activists who took part in the Social Explosion and helped to elect the new progressive government remain imprisoned on trumped-up terrorism charges, and president Petro is currently powerless to remove far-right attorney general Francisco Barbosa who was appointed by the previous president. Barbosa refuses both to review the cases of political prisoners and to take action against violations by military, police or right-wing forces.
Request for solidarity and support
Darnelly Rodríguez of the Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network (Red DDHH FIC), who spoke at the NDC meeting last week, reached out to University of Sussex UNISON activist Ruben Brett with an urgent request for support and solidarity. This was following a serious incident of abuse by prison guards which took place this weekend at Palmira prison in southwest Colombia.
On Sunday, two young political prisoners (members of the Jhonatan Sabogal Collective Process group) were physically assaulted and threatened by prison guards. The prisoners have attempted to resolve issues through dialogue with guards and other officials, but following the incident and in protest against the general poor conditions of their imprisonment, they have announced a hunger strike beginning on Saturday 1 July. This will be their third hunger strike during their two years imprisonment.
We hope that the situation will be resolved quickly and that the authorities will accept the political prisoners’ demands for safe and appropriate conditions, and for there to be a permanent table of negotiation between national government and political prisoners
How you can help
At Darnelly’s suggestion, our UNISON branch committee has put together a letter to the political prisoners in Palmira, expressing our solidarity and supporting their demands. You can read our letter online, which we have saved as a Google Doc.
If you would like to show your solidarity and write your own short message to the prisoners, please get in touch with Ruben, who will pass your messages on through Darnelly.
As always, please let us know if you have any questions.