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

 
   
   
   
Home> CFO in the Media 2002
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Maquila Workers Celebrate Victory in Struggle for Freedom of Association

AFSC-TAO
TEXAS ARKANSAS OKLAHOMA

March 2002

By Greg Norman, AFSC-TAO Volunteer

Austin activists and CFO organizers joined in the struggle for global justice. (photo by Alan Pogue, 1999)

Picture a dusty colonia, houses made of scrap wood, tin sheets and cardboard. Imagine skinny dogs, children laughing and running, and the constant sound of
hammering as the neighbors build stability and hope through determination and blocks of concrete. You commute to work each day in a crowded, rundown bus for a ten hour shift on the assembly line. Feel your despair when these earnest efforts fail to provide even a basic subsistence for your family.

Can you imagine the plight of so many industrial workers in the world? Can you imagine this Third World poverty that is the reality for your neighbor, your Mexican brother or sister living 200 miles away?

Community activists in Austin have organized to learn from and support the efforts of the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (Border Committee of Women workers--CFO), a grassroots organization that works to promote union democracy and workers’ rights in six cities along the Mexico-U.S. border. With the support of the CFO, thousands of rank-and-file maquiladora workers have won substantial wage hikes, improvements in working conditions, positions in union’s executive committees, severance payments that comply with Mexican law, and restoration of benefits illegally withdrawn by maquiladora firms. Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (Austin So Close to the Border--ATCF), in cooperation with AFSC-TAO, has organized 13 delegations over the last three years so that Austinites no longer have to imagine what life is like for one of the millions of employees of U.S.-owned maquiladora factories on the border, they get to see for themselves. Thanks to the willingness of the CFO to educate us, we can be eyewitnesses not just to corporate greed and exploitation, but also to the power of knowledge of collective action as workers build better lives for themselves in the globalized economy.

The next ATCF/AFSC-TAO delegation will visit the CFO in Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico from March 15-17. This delegation will learn about the ongoing struggle between workers and management at Alcoa’s Macoelmex plant #2, in Piedras Negras. Workers at this plant met with repression in response to a union membership meeting held on February 22, when they voted overwhelmingly to change union leadership. A vast majority of workers rejected the union leader of the plant, Ricardo de los Reyes, and his advisor, Leocadio Hernández, head of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos--CTM) in Piedras Negras. Historically the CTM has defended company interests instead of workers’ rights.

Alcoa Macoelmex plants #1 and #2 manufacture electrical components in Piedras Negras, and each employs approximately 2,000 workers. The union local at plant #1 is affiliated with the CTM, and Alcoa maintains that the collective bargaining agreement it has signed with that local covers both plants. The union committee in plant #2 is fighting for its right to choose its own union affiliation.

Management response to the workers’ vote was immediate and violent. Outside the February 22 meeting, two CFO women work-ers, Amparo Reyes and Margarita Ramírez, were beaten on the orders of Leocadio Hernández, head of the CTM in Piedras Negras. The following Monday, February 25, company officials let several of Leocadio’s operatives into the plant, where they beat up one of the members of the new committee, causing a head in-jury.

The same day, Alcoa fired Reyes and five other workers who helped to organize the worker meeting. Hernández carried out these expulsions, which were supported by Alcoa management, despite their recognition that the workers have a clean job record. These firings used the "exclusion clause," which permits the union to ask the company to fire certain workers, although a recent Mexican Supreme Court decision declared the application of that clause illegal.

Alcoa and the CTM attempted to avoid recognizing the new union committee. The backing they received from local labor authorities left the new committee with no choice but to agree to a repeat election, which was scheduled for March 4.
Over the weekend preceding the March 4 re-vote, the CTM reportedly distributed 20,000 leaflets blaming CFO coordinator Julia Quiñonez for the closing of other maquiladoras in the city, and urging workers to "vote for de los Reyes, otherwise the company will leave.

By an overwhelming majority, workers at Alcoa Plant #2 in Piedras Negras reaffirmed their support for the democratic union committee they had previously elected on February 22. The vote of 892 to 592 showed the determination of workers to stand up to a powerful campaign of negative propaganda and intimidation by Alcoa management and the CTM union confederation. The workers maintained their unity, reaffirming the February 22 vote to unseat the local’s previous CTM-affiliated leadership. The lopsided result refutes Alcoa’s claim that only a few "troublemakers" had been "infiltrated" by the CFO. After this victory, the Alcoa workers and the CFO will continue making efforts to ensure that the management and the CTM will respect the new union committee.

After being contacted by institutional shareholders who advocate for the workers, an Alcoa U.S. executive responded via fax that the company "does not take a position in elections [for] union representation." However, shortly before the voting began, Paulino Navarro, head of Alcoa’s operation in Piedras Negras, instructed his line managers to tell the workers to vote for the CTM slate in the election, or else the company would move elsewhere.

The ongoing struggles at one Alcoa plant illustrate many of the problems that plague maquila development along the border. The maquiladora system thrives by routinely violating the Mexican Constitution, federal labor laws and environmental regulations. Local governments most often collude or close their eyes to the problems faced by workers.

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www.cfomaquiladoras.org is produced in cooperation with the
Mexico-U.S Border Program
of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
Monterrey #1103, Col. Las Fuentes
Piedras Negras, Coahuila
C.P. 26010, México