Comité Fronterizo
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CFO

For the labor rights and all human rights of the maquiladora workers

 
   
   
   
Home> CFO in the Media 2002
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Combating Exploitation
Safety Training Helps Identify Worker’s Needs in Maquiladoras

Steelabor
Volum 67/Number 2 Spring 2002

Working conditions in the Maquiladoras were the focus of a trip by Steelworkers Gigi Baker and Fina Otero as they spent a week in Mexico teaching a “Train the Trainer” course on Safety and Health.

The bilingual Women of Steel traveled to several locations in meeting with workers eager to improve their quality of workplace life. Their first training session was held in an unheated church hall in Piedras Negras with the weather a chilly 36 degrees, unusually cold for the area.

The training moved to different locations, reaching out to as many workers as possible. One session for Alcoa workers was to be held in the office of Julia Quiñonez, an organizer helping border women gain work-place rights. Word leaked out from the plant that Alcoa management was going to have her office invaded and computers destroyed. The women wanted no time in dismantling the equipment and moving it to the hotel where the training was held.

Later the women went out to visit the area around the Alcoa plant. Uniformed police in jeeps stopped them for questioning. When the police discovered that the Women of Steel were Americans, they hastily departed. The women asked the police for their identities, but they would only give the number of their jeeps.

Training Sparks Discussion

The safety and health training continued in spite of all the obstacles. The sessions were usually a 50-50 mix of men and women. The Mexican workers were hungry for information on how to solve their workplace problems.

A popular training session used “body mapping” to get the class to discover how the workplace was affecting their health. The workers were asked to draw the outline of a body and mark places where their jobs brought discomfort. Some marked the feet indicating that they had to stand too long. Some marked the wrist indicating that a repetitive motion might be causing carpal tunnel problems. If the nose or eyes were marked, it often indicated that there might have been harmful chemicals or fumes in the workplace.

The body mapping brought some lively discussion and led the groups to develop action plans. They learned to identify problems and search for solutions. They also discussed stress management.

“The workers want to know how to fight their battles,” Baker said. “We helped out a little. We got the ball rolling.”

Steelworkers can help the workers organize and develop a strategy to improve working conditions but the workers must win their struggles under the laws and workplace rules of Mexico. From what they’ve shown, they are eager to get started. By helping Maquiladoras workers win their rights, we help prevent the working conditions in the U.S. from being undermined by companies operating in both countries.

 

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