Since the 7th of February, work has been stopped at the Cerrejon mine, one of the largest open cast coal mines in the world, which is operated by Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd. Since last November, the union Sintracarbon has led the struggle of its members to get the mining company, which is owned by the multinationals Xstrata – Glencore, Anglo American and BHP Billiton to hear and respond to their complaints. The strike is costing the company millions of dollars a day as 100,000 tons of coal a day go unmined, yet still Carbonnes del Cerrejon refuses to budge.
The statement put out by Sintracarbon, translated here, details a number of concerns from the workers, showing the impacts that UK consumption of Colombian coal is having at the point of extraction. They are protesting about chronic health risks and bad working conditions, destruction of the local environment including the only river of the Guajira and the lives of thousands of people who depend on it, as well as the continued displacement of indigenous communities in the surrounding area who face loss of income and their customs at the hands of profit-seeking Carbonnes del Cerrejon.
This resistance and show of solidarity from the workers with their surrounding communities has had a big effect. It sparked protests where people came out in support of Sintracarbon’s position. The local communities are also protesting the lack of royalties going back into the community from the mine and pointing the finger to corrupt politicians. Merchants and local business people have also spoken out against the environmental and social destruction that comes along with the giant coal mine.
It is an all too familiar story, of the big company making huge profits whilst subjecting people to poor working and living conditions and destroying their land and environment. Colombia is one of the worlds largest coal exporters, it is also
Since speaking out against Carbonnes del Cerrejon negotiators for the striking workers have received death threats against them and their families.
An anonymous action has also been taken against mining machinery in the area, four trucks were seriously damaged by explosives. Both the mining company and spokespeople for Sintracarbon have publicly denounced the bombing.
Negotiators have recently returned to talks with outside mediators after previous failed attempts to solve the conflict.
It was not a good month for Colombia’s coal exports. Drummond Co., Colombia’s second largest coal producer had it’s port operating licence suspended after they dumped 300 tons of coal into the Caribbean sea. Exports were down to one fifth of the normal amount of ships. Also, a third producer, La Francia, is losing 15,000-20,000 tonnes a day of production because of a strike.
Last year 77.4 million tonnes of coal were exported from Colombia, some of which comes in through Scottish ports and is transported to power stations in the UK.
To see how you can support the striking mine workers at Cerrejon, see here.