"Prove You're Not Pregnant. Show Us Menstrual Blood!"
Workers at maquiladora factories in Mexico told recent visitors from
Texas that they are sometimes asked to undo their work entirely or spend long
hours in isolated spaces.
"These tactics are a new level in the psychological game, to get
people used to the idea that they are kind of owned and really don't have any
worth apart from the company," says Howard Hawhee, who helped to coordinate
a listening tour in late May.
"These kinds of stories are very bizarre," says Judith Rosenberg,
who has been organizing tours across the border since 1999. "These are
management techniques that someone compared to Hitler."
For example, Hawhee and Rosenberg say women in maquiladoras report that they
are sometimes asked to prove they are not pregnant by showing proof of menstruation.
"They are very distasteful management techniques," says Rosenberg.
"And you have to call them that because they are used very methodically.
This business with the sanitary napkins is outrageous, and people feel the attack
on their dignity, the women do. And the men do too."
In an interview conducted in Austin after they returned (published at stateofnature.org)
Hawhee and Rosenberg said they also heard new stories about workers who were
directed to undo work or pass their shifts in isolation.
"One is they would have a whole section of people in a factory that for
instance manufactures seat covers or seat belts," reported Hawhee. "And
they would do a whole day's worth of work, you know, sew everything. And the
next day when they came back their job was to un-sew it all. Just to make the
point that 'okay, we don't need you. We just got you around because we like
having you around, and that's all'."
"Another worker, and I think I heard more than one example of this while
I was down there, he said he'd been insisting on some rights that he had under
the Mexican Federal Labor Law," Hawhee continued.
"And the management had been telling him no, so he kind of dug in his
heels and wasn't backing down, so he'd show up to work for his shift and he'd
be there for a full day and get paid, but his job was that they would take him
to a small room, maybe a six by ten foot room and lock him in. And that's what
he did. And they'd only let him out on breaks and at the end of his shift."
In response to this escalation in the psychological intensity of management
control, Hawhee said workers were asking for help with corporate research.
"So right now there is a period where they are looking to figure out how
to do some economic analysis," says Hawhee, reporting that this is also
a new feature of the conversation he is encountering.
Says Hawhee, Mexican workers want to know from workers in the USA, "What
kinds of tricks get played? And economically speaking, realistically, where
are they? What should we be doing on this end?"
"They've got some very specific pieces of information they want so that
they can do an analysis and figure out what buttons to push and what buttons
not to push," says Hawhee.
"Realistic" is a word Hawhee used to describe the workers' attitudes.
They want a better life, so they don't want to act in ways that will run the
companies out of town.
"We're looking for some human dignity," says Hawhee reflecting the
voices he has heard. "We're looking to be treated like human beings. And
we expect to have a modicum of well being in our lives, and especially for our
children. And we really don't mind doing this kind of work, working really hard,
and that sort of thing, but we want to be treated right and we want to think
that this is going somewhere."
Rosenberg organizes four trips per year to the maquiladoras, resuming in October.
She has avoided public relations tours of factories, preferring to listen to
"We never go in," says Rosenberg. "It's harder and harder to
get in. But either way, you get a public relations tour and we've never wanted
to do that. We have this position that if you want to know what's going on inside
the factories, ask the workers. And don't ask them while they're in the factories,
because they won't be able to tell you then. There's somebody breathing down
Instead, Rosenberg organizes small tours that pass through worker neighborhoods
where visitors from the USA can listen to stories of life and work. She co-founded
Austin Tan Cerca (Austin So Close) as a way to support workers' rights and fight
sweatshop conditions in the maquiladoras. In addition to the tours, the group
sends money to support an organizer and office in the border town of Piedras
Rosenberg was drawn into the activism after meeting Mexican labor organizer
Julia Quinones of the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras (Border Committee of Workers).
"It's been a very important thing for me," says Rosenberg. "I
think it's historically extremely important to all of us, and we don't know
Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review
and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy
of Nonviolence. He can be reached at email@example.com
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