INTERVIEW by ERNIE GOTTA
I sat down with Lupe Agrado, a veteran banquet server at the Hilton Hotel in Stamford, Conn., to discuss the protest movement in Colombia and the recent solidarity statement released by her union, Local 217 UNITE HERE. The statement was introduced by Lupe and her co-worker Ines Orujela, a room attendant. The statement was also signed by the union leadership. Lupe and Ines are also shop stewards and rank-and-file members of the Executive Board of their local. As committee members, they led a successful 2017 union organizing drive at their hotel, which inspired workers at the nearby Sheraton Hotel. Ines presented the union’s statement during a panel discussion on Colombia hosted by Socialist Resurgence and La Voz de los Trabajadores on May 12. The union statement is included below. — E.G.
ERNIE GOTTA: How do you feel about the situation in Colombia? Why should workers in the U.S. care about what’s happening in Colombia?
LUPE AGRADO: I feel devastated but hopeful because people have shown in this past month a tremendous amount of resistance. Watching people be brutalized by the Duque government is sickening, I don’t take injustice lightly. It also hits home because my family roots are in Colombia. While I was born in the U.S, I lived there for part of my childhood.
Workers in the U.S. should care about what’s happening in Colombia because things like police murders and labor exploitation are happening in both countries. Our tax dollars in the U.S. are going to fund a government in Colombia that is keeping people from a better quality of life.
EG: Why did you feel it was important to have your union local release a statement in solidarity with the movement in Colombia?
LA: I wanted to show the workers in Colombia that we care about their struggles. Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a union member. Many union and social leaders have been murdered. We have many Latinos and Colombians that work in our hotel and are in our union local whose families are being affected by what is happening. We wanted show that hospitality workers are fighting in support of them. Workers who migrated to the U.S. from Colombia wanted a better life but found similar struggles here that they had back home. It’s important to show union solidarity. We had to be organized to win our fights with the hotels here in the U.S. In Colombia they’re going to have to be organized for an even bigger fight and they’ll need our support.
EG: What are your hopes for the outcome of the movement?
LA: I hope that this struggle brings the people together. I hope that this moment wakes up the people that supported Duque and his capitalist regime, and in doing so supported his policy of torture, rape, disappearing and murdering many young people. I hope that it moves people enough to understand that the only way we are going to have any change in Colombia is by joining in the fight together with the millions who have been in the streets. I hope that there’s justice and that people can have what they truly deserve. I want them to have a livable wage and to live with dignity. I want them to have peace of mind, meaning an end to police, ESMAD (riot squad), and military brutality. I want them to have a voice and feel empowered, so their demands are heard.
EG: What can other union members do to support the movement in Colombia?
LA: Union members should write statements, pass resolutions, take solidarity pictures with coworkers, make solidarity videos, and go to protests. I recently went to a march that was showing solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and the Colombian struggle. We need more of that.
Union solidarity with the general strike and protest movement in Colombia! Stop the repression now!
A STATEMENT BY UNITE HERE LOCAL 217
Hospitality workers in Local 217 Unite Here stand in solidarity with the heroic struggle of workers, students, farmers, elderly, social leaders, LGBTQ people, youth, and all oppressed in Colombia against the repression of the Duque regime. The brutality by Duque’s police and military is unacceptable. The targeted assassinations of activists in the streets must stop. The working class and oppressed of Colombia have a right to be heard without the threat of being killed or injured at a protest.
We can’t help but recognize the fight for good wages, health care, vaccines, and a dignified way to retire with our own fight here in the U.S. We also recognize the brutality of the police in Colombia as being similar to the brutality of police toward Black, Latino, immigrant, Indigenous, and oppressed communities in the U.S.
We call on the Duque regime to end its campaign of brutality, to dismantle ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Riot Squad), easy access and free vaccines for all, and the immediate end to U.S. military and security aid to Colombia. We urge other unions, workers’ organizations, and community groups to also write statements of solidarity with the movement in Colombia.