Comité Fronterizo
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CFO

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

 
   
   
   
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Organizing for Justice in the Maquiladoras

AFSC-TAO
TEXAS ARKANSAS OKLAHOMA

August 2001

Por Juan Pablo Hernández
CFO Organizer, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, México

As organizers for Comité Fronterizo deObreras (CFO, or Border Committee of Women Workers), we provide information on the Mexican Federal Labor Law, its regulations and its statutes regarding workers’ rights. The importance of the organizer is to let the workers know that every worker has the right to the same labor guarantees be it at the border, in the U.S. or in any other country. We all have the right to work and should organize to defend our rights with the support of the international community.

For example, as a CFO organizer, I tried to coordinate the effort to elect new plant delegates to the union of the Dimmit plant. Dimmit, which makes pants for Levi’s, Liz Claiborne, Polo and Calvin Klein, was established 23 years ago by Galey & Lord. Today they say that they are leaving Piedras Negras because their business is no longer profitable.

We know this is not true, because they have opened another plant two hours away in Monclova with 4,000 workers and several other plants in the states of Hidalgo and Puebla. What they don’t want is to pay a good salary which we used to have through our initial collective bargaining agreement, but which the official union does not work to defend. Years ago a worker earned about $120/week. Today workers earn only $31/week. This is totally unfair, because what every person wants is upward mobility not downward. So we have tried to educate and organize the workers about severance packages and fair salary, so that they understand and demand their rights.

But the moment my partners and I started organizing we were fired. The owners did not want an independent union aside from the official Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) which is a corrupt union that has worked hand in hand with the Mexican government for 70 years. If the workers demand transparency from the CTM this is considered conflictive according to the point of view of the union and management. Management has said publicly they don’t like the CFO and they accuse us of destabilizing labor. They say this to frighten people but in reality, this strategy has been counterproductive because it has helped to boost publicity of the CFO among workers. For example, some of the workers did not know about the CFO.

The Dimmit plant is going through a crisis and lately they have been firing a lot of people. If the factory declares bankruptcy they will close the local factory but they will continue in Monclova paying lower wages. They took advantage of the cheap labor here and now they’ll go somewhere else. Many workers are afraid. They worry that if the plant closes, that they would prefer to receive meager severance payment than to demand what is fair according to the Labor Law. They fear that if they stand up for their rights that they won’t get anything. This is what makes it so difficult to organize workers, and it’s a sad reality. Workers are not informed about their rights because normally they are an uneducated person from the Mexican countryside. They just work, worried for the survival of their families. The management is only worried about making profits and they try to disregard national and even international regulations related to salaries, benefits and the environment. What we want the worker to know is that his rights should be respected and that these are protected by national and international laws.

It is important to mention the current political situation in Mexico. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was finally defeated last year by the National Action Party (PAN) after over 70 years of institutionalized corruption. Now that the PRI is in a downward fall the CTM is not as strong as it was before. That means there’s a space for worker organizing, more so, knowing that the Mexican Labor Law is one of the fairest and most comprehensive laws written on behalf of workers. It is a shame that the Mexican worker doesn’t know the labor law, but this is because there hasn’t been a labor culture in this country, we have not been educated about it. We don’t learn about it in school. It would be another story if we’d learn about it when we were kids, we’d learn about our rights and responsibilities and would be better prepared when we joined the workforce.

This article is based on the transcription of a conversation between Josefina Castillo and Juan Pablo Hernández recorded July 25 at Pablo’s styling salon in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, México. Juan Pablo is an organizer for the CFO, a group that has worked to educate and empower maquiladora workers for 20 years.On July 28, the Dimmit plant referred to in this interview laid off 2,000 workers in Piedras Negras. See the "Border Update" on page 5 for the story.

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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