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Letters to the editor

May 25, 2001 | Page 4

Student confronts racism at Columbia
Mike's Lemonade ad makes me sick
"Corporations are ruining my school"

Colombian trade unionists stare death in the face

Dear Socialist Worker,

It has never been easy to be a labor organizer. The boss always tries to intimidate you and may even hire thugs to do so.

But there are times and places where organizing is more than just risky--where thugs are child's play and where organizing might be paid for with one's own life.

One of these places is Colombia. In just this past year, almost 100 labor activists were killed--1,600 more were killed in the last five years.

At least 2,000 trade unionists have had to flee the country in the last five years for fear that they or their families would be killed by death squads. "Here in Colombia, you can't be a trade unionist if you can't assume the risk of losing your life," said Jacinto Morales, a member of the teachers union.

Insurance companies won't even sell life insurance to labor organizers. "One gets used to always being in the company of escorts, imprisoned by the constant threat of being murdered," says Julio Gómez, leader of the General Confederation of Democratic Workers.

This campaign of death has been carried on by a group that calls itself the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), which means United Self-Defense of Colombia. Its paramilitary death squads have been organized by active and nonactive elements of the Colombian armed forces.

It depends on the complicity of the whole Colombian state, which covers up the active participation of some of its officials. It also depends on the complicity of the U.S. government and its $1.6 billion Plan Colombia, which helps fund the government's repression of protest.

Orlando Sepulveda, Chicago

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Student confronts racism at Columbia

Dear Socialist Worker,

Elite institutions like Columbia University in New York City would like you to think that they are havens of tolerance and racial equality. But at Columbia, recent events proved that this isn't the case.

On May 1, graduate visual arts student Victor Cervantes began erecting a piece of installation art on the main campus throughway. Victor's artwork consisted of a large box painted with murals depicting indigenous rights movements like that of the Zapatistas. One side depicted the police officers who murdered African immigrant Amadou Diallo as racist KKK members.

Victor isolated himself inside the box for five days, waging a hunger strike to protest the lack of physical and intellectual space for people of color on campus. At midnight on May 5, students held a candlelight vigil as Victor broke his fast and emerged from the box.

Several hours after he left, a person or group of people viciously kicked in one of the walls of the box and defaced the inside, leaving beer cans at the scene. Although this must have created substantial noise, Columbia security did not respond. When a security guard was asked if knew anything about the incident, he said it "must have been the wind."

The vandalism was quickly recognized as a hate crime, and students organized an emergency speak-out that drew nearly 100 people on less than a day's notice. At the speak-out, Victor revealed that every night prior to the vandalism, people had banged on the walls of the box and yelled anti-Mexican racial slurs. "Nobody can deny to me that there is racism at Columbia University," Victor said.

Although activity around hate crimes at Columbia has died down momentarily with the end of the semester, many of the activists involved pledge to continue next year.

Laura Durkay, New York City

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Mike's Lemonade ad makes me sick

Dear Socialist Worker,

I can't begin to express my outrage at a series of commercials for Mike's Hard Lemonade that have aired on TV.

One in particular shows a construction worker falling off the side of a building into a pile of rebar (twisted metal stakes). Then he gets up with a piece of rebar sticking through him.

His coworker tells him he should get that checked out, but the guy just laughs it off saying he would rather go get a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade!

I'm a construction electrician, and serious injuries are no laughing matter. In the past two months at a construction site I've worked at, an ironworker fell 30 feet onto a concrete pit and is still recovering from massive head trauma. Another one lost two fingers, and the third fell 15 feet and suffered minor injuries. And this was at just one worksite!

According to the AFL-CIO, construction work is the most dangerous major industry in the nation. And although workplace fatalities have been cut in half since the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, 17 workers are still killed every day on the job, and another 50 are injured every minute of the 40-hour work week!

Making light of workplace injuries just two months after George W. Bush nixed the ergonomics standards seems to me to be indicative of how much contempt big corporations have for working men and women.

Much more needs to be done to prevent injuries. While Mike's Hard Lemonade may be a tasty beverage, I find that I can no longer stomach the thought of drinking it.

Carole Ramsden, IBEW Local 134, Chicago

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"Corporations are ruining my school"

Dear Socialist Worker,

I am a high school freshman, and I'm writing about how out of control commercialization in our schools is getting.

Microsoft, for example, gave our school a grant for new computers and computer-related activities--but there's a catch. The computer teachers can only teach with Microsoft products--and must promote them!

Then we have the infamous Channel One that's beamed into our classroom every morning. Channel One reports on the current events like other corporate media--very biased, antiworker and pro-America.

But the real purpose of Channel One is to infiltrate our young minds with commercials and other corporate garbage. From acne medication to soda, from bubble gum to the latest teen pop supergroup, they have it all. Of course, they also have ads for the failed "war on drugs."

The most disturbing are the ads for the marines and navy. Their ads make killing--uh, wait, I mean serving in our nation's military--look like a video game, which is obviously the intended purpose. These ads run for four minutes of a 20-minute show.

But the sad truth is that without corporate funding, the schools wouldn't be able to fund much of anything. I call on all people to combat corporations in our public schools and demand more government funding.

Chris Mobley, Seattle

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