Patrick Kane has extensive experience of working with social movements and trade unions in the Global South. As well as his long-standing involvement in international solidarity activism around human rights and labour rights issues, he has previously worked as a trade union organiser, academic researcher, and development practitioner. Patrick holds a PhD from the University of Sussex, and has published research on social movements, trade unions, human rights and popular struggles in Colombia. Patrick previously worked as a researcher for the Global Labour Institute on the ‘Organising Informal Workers’ project undertaken with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), co-authoring the publication ‘Organising Informal Transport Workers – A Trade Union Guide’. He is driven by a passionate commitment to internationalism and solidarity, and firmly believes that activists in the Global South should be at the forefront of the international struggle for social justice.
SNI Regional Meeting in Brazil (Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, United States, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela)
On May 23, 24 and 25, 2022, the StreetNet International Americas Regional Meeting took place in São Paulo, Brazil.
We recently chatted with Guillermo Giraldo, President of the Unión General de Trabajadores en la Economía Informal – UGTI (General Union of Informal Economy Workers), a national organization in Colombia that has managed to unite workers of the informal economy, working as street vendors, and challenge public policies. We wanted to discover more about their work and what we can learn from their collective struggle.
UGTI (Unión General Trabajadores Independientes y de la Economia Informal) (Colombia)
General Union of Own Account and Informal Economy Workers in Colombia.
Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia (CUT) (Colombia)
The CUT is today the strongest workers’ union in Colombia.
“Cruel Treatment Of Street Vendors” In Colombia (Colombia)
20 July 2016
By Pedro Luis Ramirez B.
Pedro Luis Ramirez B. is a member of StreetNet International’s (SI) Audit Team which forms part of StreetNet’s Executive Committee. He is also National President of the Unión General de Trabajadores en la Economía Informal UGTI-CUT (Colombia). Below he talks about the situation of street vendors in his country.
The world watches with complacency as the Colombian government prepares to sign a peace agreement between itself and the guerrillas of FARC. It is hoped this will end the political violence that has characterised the history of our country over the last 60 years. Most Colombians would want to express their support for this event.
However, it is the same government which has now decided to declare war on poor street vendors by passing a Police Code that prohibits their trading activities. This has set back the gains made by traders in their struggle for the right to work. Such gains were formally recognised by the Constitutional Court which is the highest judicial authority in the country. Local mayors are now making a mockery of these constitutional gains. They have proceeded, as has happened in the capital city of Bogota, with the persecution and cruel treatment of street vendors, including the confiscation of their goods.
Of course, the Police Code is one of the components of an organised police state which wants to deter and prevent the emergence of social mobilisation and protest in a society characterised by inequalities, injustices and inequities. Within this, poverty is criminalised; the poor are stigmatised as a dangerous class. Street vendors become "scapegoats" for state authority actions. The state uses the media to explain its actions as part of fighting urban insecurity. However, its real purpose is to intimidate a population that is awakening to the realisation of the need to defend its dignity and citizen rights.
In Bogota, progress was made in the last decade in this regard, thanks to the organized mobilisation of street vendors and consultation with governments of the democratic left wing, which won in three successive local government elections. Norms were set to allow for the economic use of public spaces and the protection of street vendors from police abuse and that of mayors, through due process and laws.
As a result the city authorities are obliged to change their behavior of permanent persecution of street vendors, which has marked them throughout their history in the twentieth century. This obligation is clearer after the Constitutional Court found that in a social constitutional state, it is understood that a street vendor engages in vending as a livelihood, because of the inability of the state to guarantee decent employment; that evictions and seizures prevent him from performing this activity, leading the worker to total unemployment; and that this approach not only does not correspond to the exercise of authority within the Constitution that governs us, but also aggravates the problem of unemployment that afflicts us as a society. Thus, the activity of an informal worker must be understood as a solution that contributes to cover responsibilities that the State does not fulfill, which are related to employment policies and the right to work.
However, the arrival of the new mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, has changed matters. Penalosa is described as the enemy of street vendors because of all his actions to eradicate street vending, destroy their organisations and violate their rights as citizens, in his first term in the period 1997-2000. There have been actions from the government in the same direction with evictions, abuses and confiscations. These are illegal but are glossed over as necessary for security. Street vendors are presented by the media, as people who are manipulated by "mafias" of their organisations and leaders who exploit them and commodify the public space.
Recently a judge ordered Penalosa to meet the street vendor organisations; he publicly said that he would not do so.
The UGTI, which has become the heart of Local and District Committees in the capital city, has played a leading role in the country, in the amendment of norms and governance practices that criminalise the activities and allow for the evictions of street vendors.
We also organised a mass mobilization of street vendors on February 29th. We are working very hard to hold a town hall meeting – a form of citizen participation that will allow street vendors to publicly confront the current mayor about his slanderous speeches that stigmatise them, as well as about the unconstitutional and illegal measures that violate their rights as citizens and workers, and force a consultation and social dialogue.
STREETNET Americas affiliates contribute to important book (Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela)
By Lauro Morillo
Eleven organisations affiliated to StreetNet Americas, have written on their experiences in a book published by Trade Union Confederation of Americas (TUCA), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Bureau for Workers´ Activities (ACTRAV-ILO).
TUCA, ITUC and ACTRAV-ILO published the book Experiencias Sindicales de Formalización Mediante Organización Sindical y Diálogo Social en América Latina y el Caribe in 2015. It is a collection of the experiences of organisations in the region, as well as information materials produced by the Working Group for Union Self-reform (GTAS), CSA, Sindical Obrera (USO), and StreetNet International.
It is important to note that 11 of the 14 affiliates of StreetNet Americas, have provided valuable insights and records of their experiences in this publication. They are SINTRACOPEA (Costa Rica) through its affiliate CTMC/FENATSEA, FESTIVES (El Salvador), FENTRAVIG (Guatemala), FOTSSIEH (Honduras), FNOTNA (México), CTCP/FNT (Nicaragua), UGT-I/CUT (Colombia), FEDEVAL (Peru), FUTRAND (Venezuela), SIVARA (Argentina) and CUT/SINTRALOC (Chile).
Given its importance, this collection was presented by the TUCA in the 103rd and 104th ILO Conference (Geneva, June 2014 and June 2015), during the negotiation process around Recommendation 204 (adopted in June 2015) which addressed the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy.