With union leaders from Neuquén

“At Coca Cola Polar 
our struggle was beautiful”


During the 60th  Congress of FATAGA, Sirel maintained a dialogue with Bernardino Herrera (BH), general secretary; Omar Navarrete (ON), union secretary; and Garabito Leonardo (GL), deputy secretary of the Unified Union of Carbonated Beverages and Related Industry Workers (SUTIAGA), on the facts and success of the Union and the Federation at Coca Cola Neuquén.


-Are you satisfied with the outcome after so many days of struggle?

-(BH) Imagine. It was a conflict we did not deserve, which was born abroad, in Chile –where the head office of Grupo Polar is located. This is not our first conflict with this company, our relations have always been difficult.


After so many days at the plant, we are satisfied to take part in this Congress, aware that we have delivered. It was not easy, but the strength of workers and the solidarity of many unions, including the  IUF, succeeded, with the result that the plant is operating.  


-I think that the presence of Raúl Álvarez, general secretary of FATAGA was a key moment…

-(GL) As we expressed at the plenary meeting of the 60 Congress, his presence, his words and his approach were crucial, he injected the will to struggle, which was renewed, and so was our morale. Also delegates from the Federal Capital and from Bahia Blanca were present, which is very much appreciated.


People felt supported, as you stated, we felt the cold climate while we were at the plant, but never the cold of loneliness, because we were supported at every step either personally or through letters coming from everywhere.

The company closed the plant, paid severance packages, but today the plant is working again ... it is something we will not easily forget, it is a win we must feel proud of. It was a beautiful struggle.


-Is it true that the support and solidarity letters from foreign unions used to be read at the General Meetings?

-(ON) Yes, and it was useful to build confidence and feel strong to go on struggling despite everything. We received letters from Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, Uruguay, we felt very supported. And also the support from FATAGA, which was essential to be successful.


Today, our people in Neuquén wear the colors of FATAGA, because they feel it is part of their history. Formerly it was hard for many brothers to understand the Federation and how it works, which is understandable because we are more than 1,200 kilometers apart. The same used to happen when we spoke about the IUF…our brothers did not know what it was and did not understand what it was about.


But now everyone knows the significance of  FATAGA and the IUF, and also know how crucial their support was.


-(GL) Now our brothers understand the important role of  Raúl Álvarez as general secretary, because we were at the plant, but he was applying pressure from Buenos Aires and coordinating actions internationally.


For us, this struggle and its results are a hallmark. The company closed the plant, paid severance packages, but today the plant is working again ... it is something we will not easily forget, it is a win we must feel proud of. It was a beautiful struggle.


Reporting that we had won this battle, that we had saved our jobs, was very moving This happened at approximately 11 pm on 15 September and the most emotional moment was the General Union Meeting the next day It was the moment to ease the tension, the time for crying and celebrating.


-What would be your message to all the unions who supported your struggle?

-(BH) I think this has been a learning on how to carry out these struggles, on how to contribute among ourselves. This has been an example of unity, solidarity and we are very thankful.



Garabito Leonardo and Bernardino Herrera from FATAGA


Garabito Leonardo and Bernardino Herrera from FATAGA


Part of the Neuquén delegation at the 60° Congress of FATAGA


From Mar del Plata, Gerardo Iglesias


October 6, 2010




Photos: Gerardo Iglesias


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