Cerca de La Frontera/Austin So Close to the Border
Delegation to Cd. Juárez, October 1 - 3, 2004.
Cd Juárez & the Maquiladora Industry
The political and economic elites of Ciudad Juárez like to
claim their city was the birthplace of the maquiladora thanks to
the efforts of native son Jaime Bermúdez. Starting in the
1960s and collaborating with corporate boards and chambers of commerce
on both side of the border, Bermúdez helped create the bi-national
development plan that defined the patterns still typical of the
maquiladora industry. He and other city fathers attracted investment
from all over the US, offering manufacturing sites built to order
and promising a docile labor force that would work for low wages.
In the beginning, 90% of the workforce, on both sides of the border,
were young Mexican women. Some worked in factories on the Mexican
side; others crossed the bridge every day to El Paso. The area became
the industrial center of the Southwest and El Paso was bigger than
Phoenix for a while.
two-thirds of El Pasoans work for less than $10 an hour. Juárez's
maquiladora workforce grew from 35,000 in 1982 to 300,000 at its
peak in 2001. Since then Juárez has lost 100,000 jobs from
maquiladoras and support industries. Today only 60% of the work
force is women. Of them 80% have migrated from other parts of Mexico
and Latin America. Despite the collapse of the industry, Juárez
still attracts immigrants; out of a total of 1.3 million inhabitants,
the government estimates a "floating population" of 250,000.
Basic services have not kept up with growth.
companies have pioneered new forms of labor control. Delphi developed
the use of the soiled sanitary napkin by which employers humiliated
new hires, made them prove they were not pregnant and thus not expecting
legally mandated maternity benefits. In a recent experiment in labor
politics, companies offer only temporary employment, managed by
contracting agencies, through which they dictate work conditions
and relationships. RCA Thompson has been in the forefront of this
Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO)/Border Committee of Women Workers: Organizing
in Juárez for Labor, Human, and Women's Rights.
Over 20 years, the CFO has developed a philosophy and strategies
of grassroots labor organizing in which experienced current or former
maquiladora workers initiate others and educate them about their
rights under the powerful Federal Labor Law. Centered in Piedras
Negras, the CFO consolidated an organization in eastern parts of
the Mexico-Texas border. Then in 2002 they decided to attempt a
foothold in Juárez. The first organizer made little progress,
became discouraged, and quit. Aware of the daunting conditions,
the CFO broke with its own traditions and asked a dedicated labor
lawyer, Gustavo de la Rosa, to form a committee of CFO volunteers
in Juárez. They also asked Austin Tan Cerca to support the
De la Rosa has
been meeting regularly now-every week or 15 days-with a CFO committee
which consists of six volunteers: his office assistant, two former
maquiladora workers, two artists (a painter and a photographer),
and a deported immigrant. They are recruiting a woman lawyer and
a law student. They maintain contacts in Delphi, Hoover, Lear, RCA,
Bomer, and Sistemas De Baterias and study and document the changes
in labor politics that they communicate to the CFO central committee.
They also collaborate with progressive unions to protect the Federal
Labor Law from reforms that will weaken it and support NGOs that
seek to end the Juárez femicides. De la Rosa is prosecuting
suits against factories on behalf of two workers who were laid off,
one for organizing. Both workers are committed to staying the course
in pursuit of a legal resolution.
ATCF Logistics: Tentatively Austin Tan Cerca plans to offer two
orientations for this delegation on the evening of Thursday, September
30, one in Albuquerque, the other in El Paso. Our van will then
leave Albuquerque at 8am on October 1, meet up with the El Paso
contingent at 1pm and have lunch together before crossing into Juárez
The CFO Agenda:
Traditionally, the CFO takes the lead in creating the agenda and
has involved us in issues as they unfold; thus we often witness
and participate in events which none of us has predicted. Additionally
ATCF and the CFO create opportunities for sociability and free discussion
as well as for more formal presentations by people directly affected
by the historic forces of our times. For this Juárez delegation,
the CFO has made these suggestions:
- Visit Ejido
San Isidro. The local government is appropriating a huge tract
of land (three thousand hectares or 7,413 acres) which belongs
to compesinos as communal property (an ejido) and make a gift
of it to Electrolux. The government will install infrastructure
at no charge, as an inducement to the company; they will not reimburse
the present owners. Speak with ejido leaders.
- Examine and
discuss the training materials that the CFO has made to tell workers
about their rights.
Receive testimony from workers who are filing suits against employers
who fired them for demanding their rights. View a film that the
CFO committee is making about a worker who was fired for being
- Visit a pilot
project-a crafts cooperative that gives employment to women in
their 40s dismissed from factories because of their age.
- Visit Casa
Amiga, the only rape crisis center in Juárez and the organization
that has been the most committed in the struggle to stop the femicides.
Visit the site of the most recent discovery of victims of the
meal at the casa-rancho of Lic. de la Rosa with the entire CFO
of 'Empty Hands'
The CFO 's organizing principles begin with the caveat "always
start with the people; meet them where they are comfortable."
It continues, "Go to the people with empty hands-without programs,
with nothing to offer. Keep a low profile and take care not to impose
on the people's will and wishes. To start with humility can result
in a powerful movement."
In our idiom
empty hands is equivalent to open minds, which is how ATCF strives
to enter the workers' communities. In view of the many preconceptions
that circulate about Juarez, it is particularly important on this
delegation to ask questions, refrain from advising, watch carefully
and listen sensitively. We invite you to be part of the excitement
of our first delegation to Ciudad Juárez
For more financial info or logistical issues please write to Judith