Delegation Background & Registration

Austin Tan Cerca de La Frontera/Austin So Close to the Border
Delegation to Cd. Juárez, October 1 - 3, 2004.

Background: 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.

Today, however, 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.

Juárez 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 illegal practice.

The Comité 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 Juárez effort.

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.

Plans for the delegation
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 around 3pm.

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 homosexual.

  • 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 femicide.

  • Saturday meal at the casa-rancho of Lic. de la Rosa with the entire CFO committee.

The Philosophy 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 at chelarose@grandecom.net.