Jorge Parra, a former employee at Colmotores, says that he was fired because of health problems related to his job at the plant outside Bogota. Others tell similar stories. GM denies the allegations.
By Victoria Cavaliere
Progressive America Rising via NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
August 15, 2012 - Nine days into a hunger strike in which he has sewn his mouth shut, Jorge Parra, a former worker for General Motors in Colombia, says his condition is deteriorating.
With mouths sewn shut, a group of former General Motors workers in Colombia started their third week of a hunger strike Wednesday, demanding compensation after allegedly being fired when they were injured on the job.
"We are all totally prepared to die," said Jorge Parra, a former metal worker at the Colmotores plant outside Bogota. He spoke in a mumble, his lips just loose enough to get words out, but not loose enough for food to pass through.
"I have terrible pains in my stomach, my lips are swollen and sore, and I am having problems sleeping … But I will not give up," he told The Toronto Star.
Since Aug. 1, seven former workers have used needle and thread to stitch their lips together. They said more were planning to join the protest.
The protesters say they are willing to die for their cause.
The workers have also been demonstrating outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogota for more than a year to demand Detroit-based GM and Colombian authorities address their grievances.
They say they want two things: medical compensation and help finding new jobs.
Protesters in Bogota, pictured from left, Carlos Trujillo, Manuel Ospina and Jorge Parra, have sewn their mouths together to prevent them from eating.
Parra, 35, said he was fired by GM after suffering years of injuries on the job, including herniated discs and muscle tears. He says he’s gone through three costly surgeries and GM has refused him compensation.
“We are now in a critical situation and we had to do something serious,” he said of sewing his mouth shut.
The men accused GM of firing them when they became ill or injured.
He also accuses GM of erasing company medical records and failing to compensate employees who were injured on the job at the Colmotores plant.
GM has denied those claims.
Their lips are bound tightly enough that they can’t eat, but they are able to mumble to get their point across.
"GM Colmotores is respectful of the law and has never put the health or the well-being of its employees at risk," GM said in a statement earlier this month. "Furthermore, the company would like to reassure and reaffirm that no employee has been discharged for health reasons."
The workers also accuse GM of capitalizing on Colombia's lax labor laws.
They say both Colombia and multinational corporations, like GM, have largely ignored a new labor action plan agreed to by Washington and Bogota that was supposed to improve labor standards.
Colombia is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for labor unions. Roughly 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered in the past 20 years, the AFL-CIO estimates.