Colombia: Workers’ strike defeats tax measure

(Photo: Luisa Gonzales/Reuters)

A national workers’ strike, which left 13 dead and hundreds injured, forced the Colombian government to withdraw a controversial tax reform law that aims to reduce and/or eliminate many tax exemptions, such as those on product sales. Trade unions said that the plan favoured the rich while placing more pressure on workers. 

The massive protest, which started on 28 April and continues even today, was led by the CTC, CUT and CGT, the country’s biggest trade union confederations. The protesters also demanded the government universal basic income, healthcare system improvements, pensions and better COVID-19 management. 

The strike took a violent turn on 1 May when police forces tried to disperse the protesters. Strike organisers said that at least 500 people were arrested. They also reported cases of sexual assault against protesters.

On 2 May, Colombian President Ivan Duque shelved the proposed tax reform even as he insisted the so-called reform is still necessary to ensure fiscal stability.

The BWI-affiliated Inter-union of Construction and Wood Workers of Colombia (INTERGREMIAL), which joined the protests in Medellín, Cartagena, Bogotá, Cali, Cúcuta, Barranquilla and Santa Marta, hailed the withdrawal of the tax measure as “a big victory.” 

"The government did not withdraw the measure on its own. It was the workers who forced them to do so,” INTERGREMIAL General Coordinator José López Posada said. 

In addition, INTERGREMIAL Deputy Coordinator Manuel Fernández said that the protests will continue as the government failed to commit to their other demands. 

“The strike and the mobilisations will continue. The government still has to commit to our other demands such as improvements in the healthcare system, pensions and better COVID-19 management. We also want the government to stop its persecution and killing of trade union and social movement leaders,” Fernandez said.