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Support Mexican Garment Workers
Posted on Tuesday, July 29 @ 15:14:28 BST by mick


Workers at Tarrant Me'xico - Ajalpan factory are involved in a dispute over unpaid wages, sackings and victimisation of union activists and conditions at work.

This briefing and appeal for action has been sent by the CAT (workers' organising centre) which is helping with the campaign and is appealling for international support.

We will be visiting the CAT and meeting the workers at the end of September. If you are interested in joining the study trip or sponsoring it (go on, give us your cash!) please email mick@nosweat.org.uk

TARRANT ME'XICO - AJALPAN CAMPAIGN July 25, 2003

I. THE COMPANY

II. WORK STOPPAGE

III. AGREEMENT BETWEEN WORKERS AND THE COMPANY

IV. MEMBERS OF THE COALITION FIRED

V. UNION ASSEMBLY

VI. HARASSMENT OF LEADERS

VII. URGENT ACTIONS

I. THE COMPANY

The Tarrant Me'xico - Ajalpan factory is a subsidiary of the Tarrant Apparel Group corporation based in Los Angeles, California. The factory opened for business in 1999 and is located approximately 15 kilometers from Tehuaca'n, Puebla, the state's main maquiladora region. This factory has 1,400 workers who assemble and sew denim clothing for well-known international brands such as LEVI'S (the current brand in production), TOMMY HILFIGER, the EXPRESS and LIMITED, GAP, VENEZIA JEANS, AMERICAN EAGLE, MOSSIMO, SONOMA JEANS, WAL-MART, KMART, CALVIN KLEIN, POLO/RALPH LAUREN, DKNY and others who have produced here. It is very possible that soon ABERCROMBIE &FITCH will enter as well.

The majority of the workers are between the ages of 16 and 25 years old, including an important group between the ages of 28 and 35. Many workers have a low level of education and do not know how to read or write, as well as many who speak indigenous languages such as Na'huatl, Mixteco, Mazateco, etc. The majority of the workforce is women, many of whom are single mothers, from rural areas, who have between five and 10 years experience in different maquiladoras, the soft drink or poultry industries.

These workers labor from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. with a 30-minute break for lunch. One worker named Rosa Jua'rez commented that "on many occasions they made us stay up without consulting us, only gave us an egg sandwich with coffee the entire night and, what's even worse, they gave us only a few centavos for the night. " In this company there is constant verbal and psychological abuse and sexual harassment by the plant's security guards and supervisors. The production goals are unreachable for the workers which mean significant reductions are taken from their wages. The average wage is between 400 and 700 pesos per week, or between $40 and $70 USD.

II. WORK STOPPAGE

"On Tuesday, June 10, 2003, at 11:30 a.m., for approximately two hours, close to 800 workers from production lines 1, 2, 3 and 4, back areas A and B, and small parts of Room 1 stopped working to demand our profit sharing from 2001 and 2002, that which belongs to us by law, " commented Gerardo Ginez, a prominent leader in this movement. The workers called for the presence of an administrator named Gabriela Bringas Delgado so that she could explain why they had not received their share of the profits. "Gabriela Bringas, Oscar Gasca, and the Licensiada Beatriz Ramos Monzon presented themselves to quickly explain that they would give us a response at 5:00 p.m. and that we should return to work in the meantime," said Alejandro Rodri'guez, the current Secretary General of the recently formed SUITTAR independent union.

"At exactly 5:00 p.m. we left our work areas for the offices, Gabriela Bringas came out and told us that the company had not generated profits and she showed us some papers, not very visible, which according to her were title pages from the fiscal results and one worker named Raymundo yelled 'How can there not be any profits if you've acquired more machinery and made investments to buy other plants in Tehuaca'n and the region!'" related Alejandro Rodri'guez. The work stoppage continued on the following day June 11 when workers from Room 1 continued the work stoppage asking for support from Room 2. According to Salvador Garci'a, "The co-workers from Room 1 went to look for help from Room 2, whistling and yelling the names of our towns and, the truth is, I left to support them out of sheer camaraderie for the solidarity that they've always shown me. I saw injustices against other people and therefore spent the whole day. I was tired but proud to support, and I will continue until the end." Another worker commented that she didn't leave because the Room 2 manager, Oscar Cisneros, threatened to deduct two days' pay for the week.

This same day that Gabriela Bringas and Oscar Gazca told the workers that they would only talk with 4 to 8 people, those that started the movement, showed leadership and were elected by their co-workers to negotiate with the company and the Local Labor Board. Those who were elected are: Norma Altamirano, Gerardo Ginez, Maria Garci'a, Raymundo Me'ndez, Marti'n Zacatzi, Jose' Luis Garci'a &Armando Herna'ndez.

These workers and the rest of their co-workers made up a petition that integrated the workers' 14 demands. Among their main demands were profit sharing, better treatment, improved cafeteria and transportation, respect for their work hours, prompt overtime payment, recognition of the workers' coalition, etc. "On Thursday, June 12, all of the workers again didn't go into work because of all the injustices against us, the workers," commented Evodio Herna'ndez. This day the negotiating coalition met with the Local Labor Board and representatives from the company to negotiate their demands, where they agreed that the Licensiado Alberto Guerrero, the company's legal representative, would talk with Gabriela Bringas so the coalition could negotiate and be recognized by the company; however, as they returned to the company to speak with administrator Bringas she hardly took them into account, insulted them and sent them running from the office, threatening that they would regret this.

Also this day the workers' coalition met with the Worker Support Center (CAT, or Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador) in order to arrange support and solidarity for their requests. The following day all of the workers returned with a feeling of impotence for not receiving a favorable answer to their requests. The company reduced the workers' pay by double for those who participated during the days of the work stoppage.

III. AGREEMENT BETWEEN WORKERS AND THE COMPANY

On Tuesday, July 8, 2003, company representatives and the workers' negotiating coalition, including two more co-workers Alejandro Rodri'guez and Juan Flores, signed an agreement before the Local Labor Board composed of 16 clauses to supposedly solve the workers' demands. The coalition commented that the agreement made before the Conciliation Board favored the company in each and every one of the points agreed upon. The workers' main observation was that clause 16 stated that "the workers who are members of the coalition are obliged to not meddle in the company's affairs, in this way respecting its powers and from this point on ending their representation as the workers ' negotiating committee." It appears to us that both the Local Labor Board and the company acted arbitrarily and did not respect the workers' association.

IV. MEMBERS OF THE COALITION FIRED

"Today, July 16, the company unjustifiably fired all of us from the coalition for no reason, offering us severance pay between 10 and 15 thousand pesos ($1000 and $1500 USD). We were called one by one and told to leave the premises right away; however, we all returned to our work areas," said the seven fired members of the coalition. One of the workers in the coalition, Jose' Luis, accepted and signed for his severance pay under all the pressure. Afterwards the plant's security guards went to the work areas and removed the rest of the leaders, pulling and pushing those who refused to sign for their severance pay. Seeing this, many of the workers united in a new work stoppage from 11 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. when they returned to work once again. On Thursday, July 17, the leaders returned to work but the company wouldn't allow them in, commenting a security guard to Alejandro Rodri'guez that they couldn't enter because they were already fired and those were "orders from up on high." Later the workers commented that they had waited in vain outside in the middle of a rain shower hoping Gabriela Bringas would give them a response.

V. UNION ASSEMBLY

On Saturday, July 19, the workers held their independent union's constituent assembly in the town of Altepexi. A large group of workers met to name the representatives of the executive committee for the Only Independent Union of Tarrant Mexico Company Workers (SUITTAR, or Sindicato U'nico Independiente de Trabajadores de la Empresa Tarrant Me'xico) . The union will deliver its legal registration to the Local Labor Board next week because, for the time being, the office is closed for vacation until July 29.

VI. HARASSMENT OF LEADERS

Since the first work stoppage the workers have been harassed and threatened in different ways: double the workers' wages were withheld for the days of the work stoppage, the main leaders were layed off and forced to sign resignations, the company gave no more than it would accede to, abuse of authority by the security guards, and threatening that the production would disappear from the factory including closure if their actions continued. Gerardo Ginez, the current Secretary of Work from the SUITTAR, is faced with a legal case initiated by the company, accusing him of physically threatening a security guard when he was forcibly removed from the factory the day that the seven leaders were fired.

VII. URGENT ACTIONS

Because of these circumstances and so the workers can achieve the legal recognition of their independent union, we ask for your support in helping us achieve the following:

1. Making public the labor and human rights violations facing the workers of Tarrant Mexico-Ajalpan through your contacts and communication networks.

2. Beginning to form a support network of contacts so that support will be available to meet the Tarrant workers' needs. By this we are referring to future actions for which we will need support when ready, such as pressuring the brands producing in Ajalpan, directly contacting the Local Labor Boards in Puebla and Tehuaca'n as well as the federal and state governments to advocate for the recognition of the workers' independent union, contacting the Mexican embassy in the United States, Canada and Europe to do the same, etc.

3. And immediate actions which will reinforce and boost the workers' resolve are letters of solidarity and support for the members of SUITTAR.

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