Maquiladora Organizing

Tony Abdo aabdo at
Tue Mar 13 21:00:23 MST 2001

It has been just a little over a week, since I witnessed the terrible
defeat inflicted on a small group of workers at the Duro Bag Company in
Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.     I call it terrible what I saw,
because the workers themselves had been led to expect that a victory was
possible.     And this was done partially, by a group of well
intentioned US Leftists, who really are trying to help out.

But a terrible defeat it was, indeed.   A group of workers battled
against tremendous odds against an armed group of thugs, aided and
supported by every level of Mexican and US... government and industry.
And who did they have as allies?

The allies were Global Exchange, the Coalition for Justice in the
Maquiladoras, the United Electrical Workers Union (UE), the Canadian and
American Paper Workers unions, and an assorted group of others from the
US and Mexico, including the Frente Autentico de Trabajo ) which is an
independent Mexican union.

The problem was, that the positive thinking of the US and Canadian
allies was not anywhere near enough to help counter the odds, of the
near total isolation of the workers in their struggle.  
  At the time of the vote, essentially no local support had been
mobilized to side with the workers at Duro Bag.

Workers without local support, will go down in terrible defeat.    
their demoralization and terrorization are likely to follow.

Victories cannot be stolen on the cheap against the international
corporations that dominate maquiladora production on The Border.    
it's worthwhile to think and explore some, just what needs to be done to
lead to a
different outcome.

First, it should be realized that there are three big concentrations of
maquiladora production, and binational commerce, on The Border.

1) Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, Mexicali.

2) El Paso, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua

3) Laredo, McAllen, Brownsville, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Matamoros,
Monterrey, Saltillo with Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and

Second, let us also realize, that nothing this big (organizing the
maquiladoras) is possible, without a multi- organizational campaign on a
grand scale.     The same uneasy coalition that made Seattle
possible, has to decide that they are going to commit themselves to
winning where it will hurt the multinational corporations the most-----
The US/ Mexican Border.

This is to say that the churches, the students, and the trade unions
must all come together, but first the American unions have to decide
that they really want to take on this struggle.
Nothing can begin to occur, if the AFL-CIO stays in hiding, and will not
commit any resources to a real fight.   Whispering into DP politico
ears from time to time, is not commitment to winning this battle.

Third, a battle to mobilize the local communities into action on both
sides of The Border must be waged.     That will not be easy,
precisely because the local areas (both sides) have NEVER seen the least
interest in their well being come from the outside.     These are
the Borderlands..... out of sight, out of mind.  

  And none of the Borderland locals expects any gifts, without
something being demanded of them in return.
Under 'globalization', the Borderlands have moved center stage, yet old
attitudes die hard.     Distrust of outside others is one of the key
values of this area, both sides.

For the workers at any maquiladora to win, the local communities have to
be moved to take up the cause.     This was not done, in any
effective sense, at Duro Bag.     Too few people give a hoot, and
the locals are sometimes the worst offenders in regards to taking this
How are the local population organized?     It must be emphatically
understood that the dominant organization on the border is the Catholic
Church.   If the Catholic Church is moved to develop an element
willing to struggle around this issue, then the struggle shall advance.
  If not, then it will stall.

What can be done outside the local area to continue to advance the
struggle of the victimized Duro Bag employees?     The most
promising idea is the idea of initiating a campaign against Hallmark
Cards.     Then there is the idea of fighting for closed votes in
Mexican union elections by putting politial pressure on the Mexican

None of this is worthwhile, unless the AFL-CIO is committed to
organizing community support for these workers in the McAllen, Reynosa,
Harlingen, Brownsville, Matamoros areas.     It will take money and
organizers to do that.     And it will take a long term commitment.

For The Border as a whole, what has been stopping the AFL-CIO in
campaigning centralized against Delphi, the largest maquiladora
employer?           Dephi is General Motors.     Michigan
is now the US-Mexican border.     Where is the AFL-CIO?

The movement to organize the Maquiladoras has to be centered not just on
companies like Levis, or Duro Bag, but ultimately on companies like
General Motors, Panasonic, and Sony.     Delaying doing this, is a
program for non- representation of union members interests, as well as
defaulting on organizing the unorganized.
But the least the AFL-CIO can do short term, is to mobilize support for
the Duro Bag workers.      Let people know what's going on.

Boycott Hallmark.   Boycott Neiman Marcus.     And Boycott any US
or Canadian firm that buys from Duro Bag.   And send some organizers
and funds to help build Rio Grande Valley support for the workers.
That's what can be done to help the workers in the maquiladoras.

But it takes political will, and a commitment to help with financial
resources.     It would mean using US union resources this side of The
Border, to go and help workers on the other side  win a union contract.
Hey!      That's internationalism and solidarity.     The AFL-CIO should
give it a try in a big way.    The benefits would soon become obvious.

Tony Abdo

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