Comité Fronterizo
de Obrer@s


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

Spanish Version



Maquiladora Workers Demonstrate Solidarity at Gap Protest, Talk Solidarity at Church Forum

The Working Stiff Journal
Vol. 2 #8, October 1999

By Red Beard

Three women from a worker’s organization in Mexico joined the regular monthly protest against the GAP’s use of
sweatshop labor on September 4, the Saturday before Labor Day. The protest at the Guadalupe location of the GAP is held every month on the first Saturday to pressure the GAP to end abuses in the clothing factories on the island of Saipan. The protest is part of a national campaign sponsored by Global Exchange. The Austin Peace and Justice Coalition and the Austin Living Wage Coalition coordinate local demonstrations. One of the women, Julia Quiñonez from Piedras Negras, said, “We are here in Austin to share how to resist corporations in the global economy so that we can have better lives. Of course we want to help out our sisters in Saipan.”

Earlier in the day Quiñonez and two other women factory workers, activists in the Border Committee of Women
Workers (Comite Fronterizo de Obreras/CFO), had spoken about their experiences fighting for their rights in the
factories of the free trade zones of Mexico. “The border is being erased for corporations. We need to erase the
borders for workers in order to solve our problems,” said Quiñonez at “The Effects of NAFTA on the
Maquiladoras,” a forum held at Christo Ray Church. (The factories in the free trade zone are called maquiladoras; foreign companies pay no taxes or trade fees on their operations.)

The conference was part of a tour sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to strengthen ties between their struggles on both sides of the border. Said Josefina Castillo of AFSC about bringing the workers from the CFO: “We wanted to put a face on the conditions, to try to start sharing how to resist in this global economy.” The women related stories of their own lives and of the lives of the thousands of workers they have assisted in the border region.

Tere Hernandez, who used to work in the maquiladoras but now works full-time for the CFO, specifically mentioned that she had helped organize workers at Lucent Technology’s maquiladora. Lucent Technology also has a facility here in Austin, Texas. The workers here have a contract through the Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 6132. Other workers that the CFO has aided have worked for many Fortune 500 companies, such as General Motors and General Electric.

The primary impact of NAFTA on the workers’ lives has resulted from the devaluation of the peso, which overnight decreased the workers’ pay to a third of what it had been. Some of the corporations even tried to claim that the devalued peso kept them from raising wages, even though their profits were soaring. The CFO organized against this and in some places, such as Matamoros, was able to gain raises higher than those allowed by the nationwide agreement between Mexico’s main union federation, the CTM (Confederacíon de Trabajadores de Mexico) and the government. In most of the CFO’s struggles, they have had to work as much against the established unions as against the targeted company. In Mexico, most of the unions are controlled by the PRI, the political party in Mexico that has ruled as a corrupt dictatorship for almost 70 years. The CFO has had some success in changing unions to genuinely represent the workers. Two of the CFO volunteers who spoke had won elected positions in their unions, one of them in a union independent of the PRI. As Quiñonez said, “We tell the workers that they are the union.”

Even with some of these gains, it can still take three and a half hours of work to earn enough money to purchase a gallon of milk. Some workers supplement their wages by going across the border to donate plasma for money.
The women said that the corporations have taken further advantage of the destitute workers by speeding up production and cutting corners on safety. Quiñonez said that in many places, workers now do four assembly operations where they used to do only one. They endure all these conditions while working 10-hour days with a half-hour unpaid lunch.

In spite of all this misery, many of the women’s stories were also full of hope, because the CFO has accomplished much just by educating the workers about what rights they have under Mexican labor law and in helping them fight for those rights. The workers in one factory in Matamoros were able to gain a 100% increase in wages over several years due to organizing by the CFO. Other gains are more modest but are still important. Mexican law specifies high severance pay that the maquiladoras try to avoid paying, but the CFO has assisted many workers in getting the correct pay.

The CFO operates by member-to-member grassroots organizing. They organize in the factories and in the shantytowns that have sprung up in the maquiladora zone, inn the vast neighborhoods called colonias. The AFSC has built a relationship with the CFO and other border groups through many years of working together for justice, despite legal obstacles to international collaboration that conflicts with corporate interests.

“ Money can cross the borders, but not people,” said Josefina Castillo. “Two of the CFO members who were to speak at the conference were not permitted to cross the border by U.S. authorities, even though they had filed the paperwork and had escorts that were United States citizens.”

Red Beard is a Wobbly and is learning español.


    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