Comité Fronterizo
de Obrer@s

CFO

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

 
   
   
   
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Reverb

January 2008

Mary K. Isaacs / Interim Director of Religious Education

Every now and then we're blessed with an experience that reminds us just how fortunate we are.  When I signed up for the American Friends Service Committee bus trip to the border cities of Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuna to support work being done for the laborers in the maquiladoras (factories) there, I expected to be impressed and moved.  I was not prepared for just how much it affected me.

The women who run the Committee for Border Workers (CFO) and the Maquiladora Dignidad y Justicia (Dignity and Justice) have been patiently, quietly doing their work for almost twenty years.  They do not lose hope.  They operate "like ants," by their own description, informing workers of their legal rights one person at a time or in tiny groups, and never, never in the workplace.  Labor unions are legal, but are rigorously suppressed, and anyone perceived to be an organizer is instantly fired.

See, an informed populace is a powerful populace, and the companies taking full advantage of the pitiful wages they can pay (US$35-70/wk) to desperate Mexican laborers don't want them powerful.  The companies don't want workers to know their rights, to ask for things, to be able to defend themselves.  This is the environment where one employee happily reported a recent victory:  workers now have fifteen minutes for lunch instead of ten.

The CFO has had significant successes.  They forced fans to be installed in a factory where fiberglass insulation was being handled without gloves, long sleeves, or masks.  The same legal decision required the factory to provide protective gear, but they don't do that.  So the fans, that reduce fiberglass material in the air of the unairconditioned factory, are the victory for now.

This, and so much else, was hard for the American visitors to bear.  The conditions were awful, but that wasn't the worst of it.  The change seems so slow!  We're accustomed to being able to do something, to lodge complaints and take action, and for most laws to mean something.  Not only could we do little ourselves, we had to be content with their contentment with doing things so slowly it truly qualifies as underground, like roots growing.

We have to remember, though:  they are doing everything allowed by their circumstances.  Their timeframe is in an entirely different scale.  And, perhaps fortunately, they don't have the almost souldeep disquietude that seems bred into most Americans.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we celebrate this month, preached that the time comes when people have waited long enough.  Sacred impatience.

But it is a luxury of our society that we can feel that way.  We're safer than we realize.  Protected.  And it's easy to lose sight of what we owe to ourselves and each other to take care of the less privileged, to return some of what we have benefited from, and to be fervently grateful for our blessings.

I was reminded of my obligation to the world by my trip to the maquiladoras.  Guilt is not the guiding principle here; gratitude is.  I wish for all of us that we take the chances that come our way, big or little, to contribute to the good of the world, our community, each other's lives.  I give thanks to all that's holy that I don't have to wait twenty years to do it.

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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