Delegation to Mexico
Witness for Peace Meeting with Centro de Apoyo
Trabajador (CAT) in Puebla, México - July 25, 2006
Topics: NAFTA -- Immigration -- Corn
Mexico trip home page
Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT) is a non-profit organization that was founded in May of 2001. CAT’s work involves human rights, labor rights, and sexual reproductive rights. However, with Witness for Peace’s time in Puebla, much of the meeting with CAT involved labor rights. It is in this area where CAT plays a very important role for workers. When workers need help in changing the conditions that they work in, they come to CAT to learn about their rights. CAT recognizes the importance of independent unions. The problem, however, is that governments have been denying workers the freedom to form independent unions.
Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), many assembly plants have been built. A big part of the controversy surrounding these assembly plants, which are referred to as maquiladoras, is the use of cheap labor. Much of the workers in these maquiladoras are women and young children. Women and young children work long hours, receive no overtime pay, inhale particles inside the factory, experience discrimination, and rarely every see the sun outside. With these horrific working conditions, it is no wonder why forming an independent union is so important.
While forming an independent union may seem like somewhat of an easy task, the results reveal the contrary. In reality, it is basically impossible for workers in maquiladoras to form an independent union. This is where CAT’s support for labor rights comes to be effective. CAT has been able to use codes of conducts, which provide standards that must be abided by in the workplace, to apply pressure on certain companies. As a result, CAT has been having some success in changing the pay and working conditions that exist in the garment industry.
Recently, CAT has been involved in three major campaigns in the garment industry in Puebla, Mexico. The first of these dealt with a Korean owned factory in which the campaign lasted eight months. With the government denying workers the freedom of association and the existence of sexual and psychological abuse in the factory, the workers decided to do a work stoppage. Much of the workers at the factory were underage. The workers organized with CAT and were able to establish an independent union. As we were told, this is the only independent union in the garment industry with collective bargaining rights.
The second campaign was not as successful. This campaign involved the Madam Juarez Garment Company. One main difference between this campaign and the first one discussed above was that this company was in a very bad economic situation. That being said, the workers were not paid for a long time. Altogether, there was a tremendous amount of labor abuses. Eventually, the company shut down and denied its workers what they owed them.
The third campaign involved a Los Angeles based company. This company produced jeans for major corporations, like Levis, Express, Tommy Hilfiger, and so on. With overwork and bad working conditions, the workers decide to go on strike. CAT workers expressed to us that this was the strongest struggle. In the end, the workers were able to form an independent union, in which 700 of the workers decided to join. However, the company did not recognize the union. The company then shut its doors on the workers. Workers filed a complaint at the international level, which is still waiting to be resolved.In closing our meeting, CAT articulated the links between NAFTA and migration. With factories closing down and moving away to a different location, many people in Puebla were left with no choice but to migrate to the United States. The state of Puebla itself has lost 30,000 jobs since the implementation of NAFTA. Furthermore, as a result of NAFTA, the government cannot sanction companies to abide by certain rules because it could be seen as a barrier to trade. No matter what it comes down to, CAT believes that we must globalize human rights and link the workers of the world together. In a final point, one of the spokeswomen for CAT stated that “it is the international solidarity that gives organizations, like CAT, the strength to keep fighting.”