Info on Maquilas

LABOUR-MEXICO: Manufacturing Poverty for Women

Manufacturing Poverty for Women

Emilio Godoy

Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), MEXICO CITY, Nov 26, 2009

A group of workers in Honduras managed to prevent the closure of an assembly plant manufacturing sportswear for the U.S.-based sports apparel maker Russell Athletic, thereby saving 1,200 jobs.

But workers at the Vaqueros Navarra firm in the southern Mexican state of Puebla, which produces garments for several U.S. labels, were not so lucky: the owners decided to close the factory when the employees tried to form an independent union.

These cases represent the warp and weft of the textile sector in Mexico and Central America, which has been hit hard by the economic recession in the United States, the source of its largest orders for clothing. The frontline victims here, however, are women workers.

"Disregard for labour rights has worsened in the economic crisis. The companies take advantage of young people, by taking them on without contracts and without social security for an initial trial period, and when that time is up they fire them," Rosa Galicia, of the Guatemalan Association of Employed and Unemployed Women United against Violence, told IPS.

Galicia and a group of other women from Mexico and Central America participated in the "Women, Labour Rights and Democracy in a Time of Crisis" workshop this week in Mexico City, organised by the Maquila Solidarity Network, the Mexican Society for Women's Rights and the Central American Women's Fund, to share their experiences and strengthen contacts between the NGO.

Some 590,000 women work in garment-making maquiladoras in Mexico, and another 400,000 in Central America. Maquiladoras are tax-exempt factories with subsidised water and electricity that assemble goods for the export market.

Because of the economic crisis, Mexico has lost 300,000 jobs in this sector, while in the Central American region over 99,000 jobs have been done away with. Women workers have born the brunt of the layoffs in both cases.

Honduras was the worst hit, with 36,000 jobs lost in 2008-2009, followed by Nicaragua which has lost 30,000 jobs since 2006.

"Because of the crisis, some factories have temporarily suspended production, put personnel on part-time work, or fired people unfairly," Beatriz Luján, a leader of the Mexican Authentic Labour Front, an independent federation of unions, cooperatives and community organisations, reported at the workshop.

Enormous growth in textile maquiladoras took place in northern Mexico in the 1970s, encouraged by plentiful cheap labour and the proximity of the United States, the principal market. But as labour shortages began to bite and costs to rise, the industry moved south to states like Puebla, Chiapas and Yucatán, with links to southern U.S. ports in Texas and Florida.

The garment industry perked up again when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, the trade pact between Mexico, the United States and Canada) came into force in 1994.

But after 2000, dozens of maquiladoras closed down, moved to Central America, or relocated half a world away in countries like China, attracted by even lower costs, efficient logistics and secure markets.

As the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) with the United States came into effect in different countries from 2006 on, maquiladoras in Central America received the same tariff exemptions as their Mexican counterparts.

DR-CAFTA member countries can import cloth and thread from North America, tariff-free, to manufacture garments that are then exported back to the country of origin of the materials.

Mexican textile exports to the U.S. market contracted by nearly 19 percent between September 2008 and the same month in 2009, according to the Office of Textiles and Apparel at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Central American exports shrank by 21 percent, while those of its main competitor, China, decreased by only four percent.

"The government is in total denial about what is happening. All it has done is finance trade unions that are aligned with it," said Carla López of Nicaragua, head of the Central American Women's Fund, about the textile sector in her country.

In Mexico, maquiladoras pay a daily wage of at least eight dollars, nearly twice the official minimum wage. In Central America, monthly pay may reach between 118 and 400 dollars, for example at a Costa Rican electronics assembly factory for the U.S. microprocessor maker Intel.

Mexico and Central American countries are the object of several investigations by the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA), but only one of these is related to the textile sector.

In May 2003, the "Heroes and Martyrs" National Federation of Trade Unions of the Textile, Clothing, Leather and Footwear Industry (FNSHM) in Nicaragua filed a complaint with the CFA against a maquiladora, alleging management had excluded an independent union from collective bargaining, a basic union right.

In Honduras, the labour rights situation appears to have deteriorated since the Jun. 28 coup d'état against President Manuel Zelaya.

"We haven't got concrete details yet, but we have received complaints from women who have been made to work weekends to make up for days they arrived late for work because of the mass protests," the head of the Honduran Women's Rights Centre (CDM), Yadira Minero, told IPS.

"This crisis will pass, and unless we insist now on retraining the workforce for technology-based jobs, the maquiladoras will be back," said Sandra Ramos, head of the Nicaraguan "María Elena Cuadra" Working and Unemployed Women's Movement, which has fought for women's labour rights for 20 years.

Alternatives to the exploitative practices of the maquiladoras have sprung up, like the Dignidad y Justicia (Dignity and Justice) factory in Piedras Negras, in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. This cooperative was founded in 2004 by a group of women who had been fired from maquiladoras in the area.

The business is jointly owned by its workers, the non-governmental Border Committee of Women Workers, and the U.S. distribution company North Country Fair Trade, which takes orders and handles sales in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Nueva Vida International Women's Sewing Cooperative has been operating in Nicaragua since 1999. It is managed by the Fair Trade Zone company, with support from the Jubilee House Community, a U.S. non-profit organisation.

Lucha Obrera en Maquiladora Pacifico

Se manifiestan empleados de maquiladora en El Pacífico
TIJUANA, Baja California(PH)

Union Juventud Revolucionaria de México, 6/11/2009

Un centenar de trabajadores hacen guardia a las afueras de la empresa Punta de Oro, ubicada en el Parque Industrial Pacífico, debido a que dejó de producir hace una semana y al parecer pretende irse sin pagar los empleados.

Desde el pasado jueves se dieron cuenta de que algo extraño pasaba en la empresa y este viernes decidieron manifestarse saliendo de las instalaciones, pero sin dejar que los propietarios saquen la maquinaria y el equipo.

Se trata de una empresa que fabrica puntas para lanzas, y uno de los empleados, Socorro Urías, explicó que desde hace una semana dejaron de trabajar, al parecer los directivos sólo les dijeron que no había producción.

“Lo que queremos saber es si nos van a liquidar o no, no sabemos si hubo una compra-venta, si cambió de propietario, pero lo que queremos es que se nos informe”, comentó.

Los empleados manifestaron que hay abogados tratando la situación y negociando; lo que esperan es que la empresa no intente evadir sus obligaciones y se vaya sin pagar las liquidaciones correspondientes.

Por lo que los trabajadores advirtieron que permanecerán afuera de la empresa día y noche, y que no se moverán de ahí hasta que les resuelvan su situación laboral.


Maquiladora Sony Tijuana, June 2009


Sony will increase work force in Tijuana
Baja officials see it as sign of recovery
By Sandra Dibble

Friday, June 26, 2009 at 2 a.m.

TIJUANA – After months of layoffs and losses in the maquiladora industry, Baja California officials are celebrating the announcement this week that Sony is adding 1,500 positions to its work force in Tijuana, hailing it as a hopeful sign of the sector's recovery.

Sony's decision to expand in Tijuana follows the company's announcement last month that it is shutting down an LCD television manufacturing plant in Mexicali, one of five Sony factories being shuttered worldwide.

State officials say they are nonetheless encouraged by the company's decision, which represents a $10 million investment for Tijuana, and the expansion of the company's work force to 5,000 employees from 3,500 before the end of the year.

Alfonso Alvarez Juan, Baja California's subsecretary for economic development, said Wednesday that the investments are signs of recovery in the city's maquiladora sector, which has struggled with a drop in U.S. demand for cars, televisions and other consumer products.

“Companies are looking for ways to remain competitive, and that's something in favor of Baja California,” Alvarez said.

Sony's expansion in Tijuana is the result of moving operations from the Mexicali plant and another closed facility in Pittsburgh to Tijuana, Alvarez said.

A spokeswoman for Sony in San Diego said company officials would not be available for interviews this week. Sony officials have told Mexican media that the 500 remaining workers at the Mexicali plant, which had more than 2,300 employees in 2007, will be gradually laid off through September.

Sony, one of the largest maquiladora operators in Tijuana, had 7,000 workers there in 2006, according to the state of Baja California's economic development secretariat.

“Sony holds an important symbolic weight in the city,” said Alfredo Hualde, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Tijuana think tank. “But we need to examine the indicators before affirming that there is a recovery taking place.”

The city currently counts 140,000 manufacturing jobs – a far drop from its peak of 175,000 positions before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But economic conditions, including the peso's devaluation and rising oil prices, are again attracting the interest of manufacturing companies, said Jesús Manuel Sández, the city's secretary for economic development.

“Things are slowly recovering,” Sández said. “By December, we're going to be much better off than we are now.”


Sandra Dibble: (619) 293-1716;

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Mexican Labor Hits the Streets


Labor Hits the Streets as the Clock Ticks to 2010
November 12, 2009
Labor News

In the week leading up to the 99th anniversary celebration of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, workers across Mexico took to the streets. In the Tamaulipas border city of Reynosa, scores of former TRW maquiladora workers staged a demonstration November 10 outside the offices of the Federal Labor and Conciliation Board. Laid off from the US-based auto parts company earlier this year, the workers contended that they had not received severance pay in accordance with Mexican law.

"We're here to pressure them so they will pay attention to us," said worker leader Jovita Moreno.

To the southwest of Reynosa, in the industrial city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, about one hundred transit cops occupied department headquarters in protest of firings for alleged corruption and drug use.

By far, though, the biggest mobilizations, stretching from Chiapas on the border with Guatemala to Chihuahua bordering Texas and New Mexico, were held November 11 in support of 44,000 Mexico City-area utility company employees sacked from their jobs by presidential decree last month. In a one-day work stoppage, unions representing electricians, mineworkers, teachers and telephone workers joined with small farm, popular and student organizations to oppose the firings and restructuring of the publicly-owned Central Light and Power (LFC) company.

Almost reminiscent of the Villista and Zapatista convergence on Mexico City nearly 100 years ago, tens of thousands of people streamed into the capital city's Zocalo Plaza from all directions to hear speakers support the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) union representing the fired employees and call for a national strike. Solidarity messages were heard from Samuel Ruiz, former bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, and Bishop Raul Vera of Coahuila.

"We are at the point of the independence bicentennial and the Mexican Revolution centennial," said SME leader Martin Esparza. "And as before, we will defeat the transnationals, the dictatorship, tyranny and violations of the constitution. It's time for the people to organize," Esparza declared, adding that a new national pact and the peaceful recovery of power by the people was needed.

Actions in support of the SME were held in at least 22 states. In Chiapas, grievances also included recently approved tax hikes and the detention of farmer leaders accused of having links with armed groups. In central Mexico, highway blockades led to crack-downs by the Federal Police, while in Oaxaca, an estimated 70,000 school teachers stayed off the job.

In the north, hundreds of telephone workers, Labor Party members and social activists conducted various public marches in Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez, where marchers braved the border city's violent streets and even held a torch-lit procession through the city's downtown.

Eduardo Gonzalez Perales, secretary of the Ciudad Juarez branch of the telephone workers union, called for the restitution of the SME's collective bargaining agreement and an end to a "business attitude" towards unions in the country.

Considering that the LFC company only serves customers in and around Mexico City, the breadth of support for the November 11 protest was significant.

The LFC issue has stirred widespread controversy in Mexico. Some polls claim a majority of Mexicans support the Calderon administration's move against what is portrayed as a corrupt union hindering the economic progress of the nation. On the Internet, many writers back the government's action against the allegedly overpaid, lazy union workforce, while yet others strongly support the SME's stance that the federal government should keep its hands off the LFC and its workers.

In comments about the protest, Senator Gustavo Madero, coordinator of President Calderon's PAN party in the Mexican Senate, said unions have a right to meet and speak out just as priests can also "call people to mass."

Mexico's Supreme Court rejected a request this week from SME head Esparza to investigate the government's action.

Increasingly, Mexican labor struggles are receiving cross-border support from US and other international unions. Last month, a delegation of United Auto Worker (UAW) union members traveled from Michigan to south Texas to support the laid-off TRW workers in Reynosa and protest the North American Free Trade Agreement. While on the border, the UAW members held public demonstrations at the Hidalgo-Reynosa international crossing and later briefly blocked traffic at another bridge connecting Brownsville with Matamoros.

George Hardy, first vice-president of UAW Local 174, said: "We want jobs. We need to feed our families, but NAFTA wiped away all our jobs in Michigan and America. We are demonstrating with TRW workers because NAFTA pit workers against one another, but now we want to tell all corporations that workers are united."

In a separate statement on the LFC conflict, United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard charged that the mass firings were additional proof of the Calderon administration's anti-worker, anti-union agenda and its scorched earth policy against democratic and independent unions."

Sources: La Jornada, November 11 and 12, 2009. Articles by correspondents and Notimex. El Diario de Juarez, November 12, 2009., November 9 and 11, 2009. Articles by Carlos Pena Palacios and Rodolfo Sanchez Barron. El Universal, November 11, 2009. Articles by Alberto Morales, Julian Sanchez, Carlos Aviles, Jonathan Tapia, Ricardo Gomez, and Sergio Javier Jimenez., November 11 and 12, 2009. Proceso/Apro, November 10, 2009.
Article by Sain Mandujano. AFL-CIO, November 3, 2009. Brownsville Herald/McAllen Monitor, October 5, 2009. Article by Sean Gaffney.
Brownsville Herald, October 6, 2009. Article by Jazmine Ulloa. Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, October 2, 2009. Press release.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces,New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription email: fnsnews@nmsu.ed

Do Maquiladoras Herald Economic Recovery?


Frontera Norte Sur
Oct-Dec 2009

Almost like shakes before the quake, changes in the production dynamic of border assembly plants can signal shifts in the economic landscape. Intimately tied to the US and global markets, the state of the maquiladora industry is frequently an indicator of things to come. For example, the downturn in maquila employment at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 preceded the economic crisis that shattered the world some months later.

In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, employment in the mainly foreign-owned factories dropped from 249,837 workers in January 2008 to 171,144 in September 2009. The 78,693 lost factory jobs accounted for a huge chunk of the 89,800 jobs that vanished in the border city during the same period, according to numbers from the Mexican Social Security Institute cited by the Maquiladora Association of Ciudad Juarez (AMAC).

Apart from the world recession, Ciudad Juarez has experienced an undetermined amount of job losses because of the rampant insecurity plaguing the city. Benjamin Ojeda Flores, commerce director for the Chihuahua State Secretariat of Commercial and Tourism Development, said an estimated 3,000-3,500 businesses have shuttered their doors in Ciudad Juarez as a consequence of the twin-headed crisis.

A local newspaper recently reported the stories of two men who said they lost their livelihoods due to the kidnappings of employers. One man, Jaime Portillo, said his family of seven was now trying to survive on his wife’s weekly earnings of about $47 from a Foxconn plant.

If official unemployment numbers from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI) are taken into account, Ciudad Juarez, a city with an estimated population of 1.3-1.5 million, has experienced a disproportionate share of joblessness in comparison with the rest of the country during the recession. In its most recent report, INEGI calculated that slightly more than one million jobs vanished in all of Mexico, a country of more than 110 million, from September 2008 to September 2009.

Mexico’s official unemployment rate now stands at approximately 6.4 percent of the economically active population-the highest on record since the economic crash of 1995.

But some industry observers and Ciudad Juarez officials now say the worst of the economic crisis in their bellwether city is over, as more and more signs of recovery appear. According to AMAC, the industry recovered at least 4,736 jobs during the third quarter of 2009. Spread around at least 32 maquiladoras, many of the jobs were in the key electronics, auto and medical sectors. AMAC President Soledad Maynez Bribiesca added that most factory production stoppages have ended.

As many as two thousand additional jobs are expected to open up in Ciudad Juarez by year's end. What’s more, consumer appliance manufacturer Electrolux announced October 23 that it will shift more production to Ciudad Juarez in 2010 and 2011.

Yet Ciudad Juarez’s job gains are sometimes losses for others. The Electrolux jobs, for instance, consist of positions that will be moved from company plants currently located in the Iowa towns of Webster City and Jefferson.

Electrolux’s decision completed a production shift that began in 2006, when the Swedish-owned company announced 700 Iowa lay-offs in anticipation of the construction of its Ciudad Juarez facility. The move provoked anger among Iowa employees and residents.

“We keep telling the legislators to stop sending our jobs to other countries, but nobody’s listening,” said 11-year Electrolux employee Connie Elliott.

In 2006, Electrolux spokeswoman Blythe Reiss justified the Ciudad Juarez move as a necessary step to keep pace with competitors Whirlpool, GE and Maytag, all of which were selling products “made in Mexico or other low-cost countries.” Reiss contended her firm was committed to keeping the rest of its operation in Webster City but couldn’t “make promises about it.”

Less than four years later, Electrolux executive Frank Warner called the pending Iowa shut-downs a “difficult but necessary decision.” Jane Adams, Webster City city council member, predicted the upcoming round of mass lay-offs will have a “big impact on Webster City and the surrounding communities.”

On a related note, Alvaro Navarro Garate, director of financing promotion for the Ciudad Juarez municipal government, said an announcement will be made soon about a so-far unnamed Mexican-owned company that plans to move part of its production operations from the interior of the country to the border.

“We have to keep promoting this type of thing so that Ciudad Juarez is seen by Mexicans as well as the north and global community as a place of opportunity to seek the US market.”

Sources:, October 25, 2009. Norte, October 23 and 26, 2009. Articles by Antonio Rebolledo and Jesus Batista. El Diario de El Paso, October 24 and 25, 2009. Articles by Berenice Gaytan and Sandra Rodriguez Nieto., October 24, 2009. Article by Jason Pulliam. La Jornada/Notimex/Reuters. October 21, 2009. The Messenger, February 17, 2006.

TRW Workers Nov 12 2009

TRW Workers intercept the Border Cities’ Summit, deliver their demands directly to the Governor, and announce their solidarity with the Electrical Workers Union (SME)


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