The Worker's Struggle at Duro Bag Company and Why It is Important

Tony Abdo aabdo at SPAMwebtv.net
Sun Mar 4 03:31:10 MST 2001


This last Friday- March 2- international supporters came from Canada and
the US, to help support a small local group of workers in a virtually
unknown town on the US/ Mexican border.   We were there to observe and
monitor a union recognition election, held by the Mexican governmental
Labor Board.     Why the importance of this event in Rio Bravo,
Tamaulipas?

Rio Bravo is another of those exploding Mexican border towns, whose
population growth has been fueled by the destruction of the Mexican
countryside, and the subsequent desperate search for a new income. It is
really almost a part of nearby Reynosa, a sprawling explosion of
industry and poorly planed growth. all pegged to the US market. Reynosa
employment is dominated by Dephi (General Motors) and other US
companies, and has a population close to 700,000.

The company, Duro Bag, where the workers were struggling to have an
independent union, is not even a dominant employer in the area.   Yet
the militancy of the workers stood out in their brave struggle for
workers dignity.     And that's what this strike was about, even as
much as it was a struggle for a higher wage.

Most of us observers from Canada, and the US, had major problems in
understanding all that was going on chaotically around us in Spanish.
Both culture and language were significantly different than our own. Yet
one thing was clearly understood by even the most superficial glance;
these were a group of workers that clearly felt terrorized by their
employer.

These were a group of workers that had been held captive in the plant,
on more than a single occasion.   They were a group of workers, that
had been repeatedly threatened with losing their jobs, as many already
had.     But there was yet an even greater threat than that, that
was constant around us.

These were a group of workers that felt that they might be killed, or
injured physically.     And maybe even their families might be hurt,
too.   And from what the international observers saw, this was not an
unreasonable fear.

As we arrived at the hotel where our meetings were held, a small group
of thuggish individuals kept watch on us.   The hotel workers appeared
fearful of even smiling, or appearing to be cordial in the most minor
manner.

Leaving the hotel the next morning to go to the plant gate, we were met
by a bizarre scene.     The workers supporting the union, were
locked outside the plant gates in the mud.     And the second shift
of workers was locked inside, and not allowed to leave.

Police in unmarked vehicles soon began to arrive and looked on at us
with derisive and sullen expressions, as they sandwiched us from two
sides on the isolated dirt road.     An ambulance and a paddy wagon
also pulled up ominously.     Why do I say ominously?     It was
because the workers had been already been threatened by armed thugs,
both inside the plant, and outside in their own neighborhoods, where
many had been given surprise visits in the days before.

As the morning passed, tension rose.   Chants of .... Rats, get out,
leave!.... and.... Look who's scared, now!.... began to change into an
ominous silence of sorts.     This was because the police presence
had mounted, and also because of the loud music emanating from inside
the plant.

The plant administration had combined the kidnapping of the second shift
workers, with a party inside.     The effect of this, was to combine
loud music, sleep deprivation, fear of personal injury from armed goons
both inside the plant and out, PLUS the fear of losing one's job. All
voters had to declare their vote in front of company managers.

Meanwhile, shortly after one in the afternoon, in the eery silence of
the created tension..... a car left from the plant, that supposedly then
struck a worker.... that led to the car being thumped on the side.  
  A van then cut off the departure of this car.

At this point, police began to converge on the vehicle, and over half
the workers from around the gate left, to run and see what was
occurring.     Rumors began to fly, that guns had been found in the
trunk that were being snuck out under the pretense of escorting a
pregnant worker off the plant grounds.

Later it turns out, that the union lawyers inside, were told that an
incident had occurred with the departure of the woman from the plant.
They were accused of being in support of violence against a pregnant
woman, and were threatened verbally and menaced with possible harm, due
to the supposed evil misdeeds of the workers they represented..

At that time they felt forced to leave the building to see what the
ruckus was about and to seek a solution, but the voting was continued in
their absence, and in an unobservable manner.

What was found in the trunk of the car, was the torn and removed
campaign literature of the independent union.     It seems clear,
that the tension and incident were fabricated to counter charges of
violence against the workers (endangering a pregnant woman), but also to
deliberately remove the lawyers from the area of the vote count.

As it was, almost as soon as the car incident was over, so was the
'open', yet secret 'vote'.     At that point, workers and scabs
emerged from the plant and were marched over to the fence to chant ....
Get out, get out!... to the workers who already were out standing,
demoralized and silent in the mud.

After 5 minutes or so of this, like an army controlled, they were
marched into 6 school busses, and left the plant grounds. All of this
had a very definite feel of being orchestrated and choreographed.  
 

Included in this charade of an election on company grounds, was a woman
spokesperson for the CROC and company, accusing the international
observers (to TV Azteca) of being 'terrorismo de internet' against the
company.     The feeling was definte, that the workers were valued
less than animals, and that it was resented that others would be there
in their defense.

As observers, what we saw was workers that were forced to declare their
vote publicly in front of the plant administrators, without a secret
ballot that would provide even a minimal guarantee of protection from
victimization.   We saw the Mexico of total PRI control at work, even
as the new national government proclaims a new day.     We saw a
vote, and a process of holding a vote, that was hidden away from
observation.

We saw a local area that was unwillingly to not use company and state
backed unions against the independent union organization picked by the
workers themselves.     And we saw a law enforcement apparatus
assisting in creating a climate of terrorism, something that is
reminiscent of US union/ company battles in the early '30s, and the
Civil Rights struggles in the South of the '60s.

In other words, we saw a state of official lawlessness in Rio Bravo at
the Duro Bag company.     A public vote, as called for by Mexican
labor law inherited from the PRI era, was used in coordination with
local law enforcement complicity with the company, to violate the rights
to public safety of a portion of the citizenry.

What also seems clear, is that only the presence of several priests and
the international attention to this struggle, provided a buffer to keep
even worse from having happened.     And this is in fact also, what
underlines the importance of this struggle.

With attention on the Quebec City meeting in April, where the push to
make NAFTA hemispheric will occur, alongside the delicate operation of
trying to disarm the Zapatistas, a flare up along the Texas- Mexico
Border was the last thing that the powers wanted to get out of hand.

The US and Mexican governments are banking that this repression that has
already been used in Rio Bravo, will be enough to stifle the continued
battle for Worker Rights at Duro, and all along the Border, too.    
Are they right, or will the struggle continue, despite the injustice
that was done to these workers and their families through this
fraudulent process of a 'public' vote, in front of the goon squads of
the employer, and yet hidden away from the genuine public?

What can be done?

Tony Abdo














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