Colombian workers strike to fight austerity, increase wages, 1997


1) A 21.5% wage increase to match the inflation rate
2) An end to the austerity measures, including layoffs and spending cuts
3) A stop to the privatization of state-owned companies, including telephone, gas, oil, and electricity.

Time period

11 February, 1997 to 18 February, 1997



Location City/State/Province

Bogotá and provinces
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

Methods in 2nd segment

Methods in 3rd segment

Methods in 4th segment

Methods in 5th segment

Methods in 6th segment

Segment Length

Approximately 1 day


United Labor Federation (CUT), CUT President Luis Eduardo Garzón


The Workers Confederation of Colombia (CTC), the General Confederation of Democratic Workers (CGTD), and the National Federation of State Workers (Fenaltrase)

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Not known


President Ernesto Samper

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not Known

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

The government deployed security forces, which made arrests on charges of "terrorist activity."


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Colombian workers and public employees

Groups in 1st Segment

The Workers Confederation of Colombia (CTC)
the General Confederation of Democratic Workers (CGTD)
the National Federation of State Workers (Fenaltrase)

Segment Length

Approximately 1 day

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

4 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The union leaders achieved their main demand to increase wages. They were partially successful in pressuring the government to agree to delay and review their austerity measures and plans to private state companies, though they did not receive promises to stop plans entirely.

Database Narrative

In January 1997, the Colombian government under President Ernesto Samper declared a state of economic crisis. They planned to cut spending, increase taxes, and reduce wage increases in order to reduce the budget deficit, which had reached $4.4 billion in 1996. They developed additional plans to privatize industry, including selling state-owned mining and electrical companies. President Samper had previously supported social welfare programs and labor unions but said that the austerity measures were necessary because there was simply no money available. 

In February 1997, union leaders announced that they were planning a nationwide strike. The government responded by stationing army troops and security forces at airports, roadside checkpoints, and entrances to the capital of Bogotá. 

On 11 February 1997, at least 800,000 workers and public employees from multiple industries walked out on their job to begin a nationwide work stoppage. Teachers shut down schools and universities. Public transit workers walked out, leaving traffic gridlocked. Hernando Hernandez, head of the oil workers’ union said that oil workers were on strike and that production was cut by more than one-half at Ecopetrol, the state oil company. 

Health workers joined, paralyzing hospitals. Telecommunications operators, coroners, judiciary workers, prison guards, state bank, and utility workers walked out as well. Airlines were forced to ground flights from Bogatá before Valentine’s Day, which seriously hurt the nation’s flower industry. 

About 30,000 workers marched on Bogatá’s historic Plaza Bolivar. Security forces made about forty arrests, on “terrorist charges.” Workers marched again on the capital on 13 February.  

The United Labor Federation (CUT) led the work stoppage. The Workers Confederation of Colombia (CTC), the General Confederation of Democratic Workers (CGTD), and the National Federation of State Workers (Fenaltrase) supported the strike and agreed to take major labor action if the negotiations had failed. They demanded a 21.5% wage increase to match the inflation rate, an end to the austerity measures, and a stop to the privatization of state companies. They rejected the 13.5% wage increase that President Samper offered. 

Government officials stated that union leaders and workers were operating with drug dealers and leftist guerrilla fighters. Though the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) were waging an armed struggle with the government at the time, there is no evidence that the union leaders worked with the revolutionaries. However, the revolutionary leaders announced their support for the workers’ strike and independently called for an armed struggle. The CUT president Luis Eduardo Garzón denied the government’s accusations that the strike was infiltrated with drug traffickers and guerrilla fighters and claimed the government was trying to stigmatize the unions.  

On 17 February, union leaders threatened to shut down more key oil companies and call on private industries to join in solidarity. They also planned to bring in workers from around the country for a massive march in Bogotá. Government officials and union leaders continued their negotiations for about thirty hours. 

On 18 February, the government agreed to many of the union demands. They promised a 20% increase in salary for public workers. They also set up bi-lateral commissions to promote trade union rights and to study social security reforms. They also agreed to create a commission to analyze the consequences of privatizing the state-owned telephone, gas, oil, and electricity companies, thus delaying plans to open these industries up to private competition. These agreements mark a significant win for the unions. 


The Ecuadorian general strike of 1997 that overthrew President Bucaram influenced the Colombian campaign, though the Colombian unions never made explicit demands for the removal of President Samper. (1)


Brown, Tom. “Colombia Agrees to Stiff Wage Hike.” Sun-Sentinel. 19 February 1997. Web. <>

“Colombian Army Prepares for Nationwide Strike.” The New York Times. 11 February 1997. Web. <>

Cuzco, Hilda. “800,000 Protest Austerity in Colombia.” The Militant. 3 March 1997. Web. <>

Darling, Juanita. “Colombian workers march on capital in 3rd day of national strike.” Houston Chronicle. 14 February 1997. Web.

Ettinger, Shelley. “Colombia’s workers open general strike.” Workers World. 20 February 1997. Web. <>

“General strikes in Colombia.” Union Ring. Obtained 27 April 2013. Web. <>

Johnson, Tim. “Strike Fails to Bring Colombian Government to a Halt.” The Miami Herald. 12 February 1997. Web. <>

“Protesters, Police Clash in Colombia.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 12 February 1997. Web. <>

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Nick Palazzolo, 29/04/2013