From the TUC

TUC nominates Colombian union leader for Norwegian prize

01 Feb 2014, By

TUC 2013 delegates hold photos of Huber. Photo Jess Hurd,

TUC 2013 delegates hold photos of Huber. Photo Jess Hurd,

Huber Ballesteros is the Vice President of Colombian agricultural workers’ union FENSUAGRO. He was due to address our Congress last September, but on the way to the British Embassy in Bogota he was arrested and taken to prison, charged eventually with the catch-all crime of ‘rebellion’, like so many Colombian trade union leaders (most of them released months later without trial, evidence, or even an apology.) He is still in jail, but he knows that we have not forgotten him.

Today, the TUC nominated Huber – who also sits on the Executive Committee of the CUT trade union confederation – for the prestigious Norwegian Arthur Svensson Prize, with the support of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and several individual unions such as the British National Union of Teachers (NUT), the GMB and the USW from the United States.

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights is an international award established by the Norwegian trade union Industri Energi to recognise individuals or organisations which have promoted trade union rights and organisation. Previous winners of the award have included trade union leaders in Zimbabwe, Palestine, Cambodia and Russia.

The TUC’s nomination said that the nomination was:

“As a result of his courageous and unrelenting dedication to the promotion of trade union rights, the strengthening of trade union organisation and the search for social and political equality in Colombia, all in the face of persistent dangers and persecution from paramilitary groups and the Colombian state.”

More than 13,000 people from more than 25 countries, including over 50 MPs signed a petition calling for his freedom. Backing the nomination, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“We have nominated Huber Ballesteros for this prestigious prize in recognition of his admirable work in support of workers’ rights and also to send a clear signal that the persecution of Colombian trade unionists will not be tolerated by the international community. Mr Ballesteros is a brave man, someone who has stood up of for the rights of Colombian agricultural workers, despite the constant death threats and persecution he has faced and who has now suffered months in prison facing trumped up charges as a result of his refusal to be silenced.”

Ballesteros has also recently played a central role in the development of the Patriotic March Social and Political Movement, a process which has brought together more than 2,000 organisations including many trade unions to call for peace with social justice, and has worked to ensure the voice of the trade union movement is very much central to the development of the movement. Since being imprisoned, he has continued in his tireless work to organise and ensure that people’s rights are respected. He was responsible for organising a hunger strike to ensure a proposed reduction of meal sizes as part of a privatisation plan was not introduced.