Maquila women defeat company union
Josephina Hernandez tells University of Memphis audience of U.S.-Mexico border factory struggles. The Tennessee Economic Renewal Network and Women's Action Coalition sponsored her.
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Memephis, Tenn.--The Mex Mode factory in Puebla, Mexico began functioning on Nov. 8, 1999. At that time, there wasnít a union and the situation was calm. They respected us, we had good productivity incentives, and a normal salary. But then the FROC-CROC (Revolutionary Federation of Workers and Farmers, a pro-boss and government union) came.
The bosses told us, "You have to affiliate yourselves with it." Many of us resisted, because we didnít believe in that union. But they affiliated themselves with us automatically. Then, things began to change.
WAGES FALL, RODENTS RUN WILD
In Mexico, the government gives people a little extra money if they donít earn a lot, a "salary credit." If you earn a little more the government stops giving you the salary credit. Our salary never went up but they took 10% out of our salary credit. The production incentives went down from roughly $10 a week to $1 a week.
We also began seeing more rodents in the company cafeteria and the food was rotting. We reported this to the union, but they never did anything for us. The only time a representative came to the factory would be on Friday to get his check. So one day we decided to organize ourselves, independently of the union.
The first thing we did was stop eating at the company cafeteria. Out of the approximately 1,000 workers, only 10 ate in the cafeteria. We knew this action would have repercussions. We said to ourselves that if they tried to fire anyone, they would be firing everyone. This action gave us a successful model to follow so that when we did something larger, there would be the necessary support.
The day we returned from vacation in January 2001, they fired five of us. They said we were responsible for the protest, and that they didnít want leaders. Thatís weird, because all companies want leaders, right? But not leaders who move with the people. The next day co-workers said that they were going to do a work stoppage, and wanted our help.
We told them, "Of course." I had found out about a student group in the U.S., United Students Against Sweatshops, and they aided us in the strike.
FROM STRIKE TO INSIDE STRUGGLE
When they set the riot police on us, we told ourselves that we shouldnít cry, that the struggle needed to go on. Something that stays with me is the image of some company men laughing at the women getting hit by the police. This made us think that we canít keep on like this.
We decided to organize ourselves so that people could fight from the inside. We made it so that the people could come back to the factory. In Mexico that is historic, because a leader never returns to the workplace. But we returned. Then for nine months we suffered all types of abuses, verbal and physical. We resisted until finally on Sept. 21 we officially formed the Independent Union of Mex Mode Company Workers.
The first improvements dealt with respect, because before they would verbally and physically abuse us. Now, a boss canít yell at a worker or insult her intelligence. We also got raises in wages. We also have won respect for pregnant women. Pregnant women need to eat a little more, they need more breaks. We won women the right to leave five minutes before lunch and five minutes before the end of the day, and also to have a few less work responsibilities.
It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see my friends benefiting from the struggle that we made.
Published by News and Letters Committees