Border Factory Workers Blockade International Bridge
After a hiatus of several months, public protests by border factory (maquiladora) workers in Ciudad Juarez are back. On Saturday morning, July 9, as many as 1,000 workers from Johnson Controls, Eagle Ottawa, Lear, Foxconn and other companies staged a spirited march through the city’s downtown, culminating in an hour-long blockade of the Santa Fe Bridge connecting to neighboring El Paso, Texas.
One placard carried by a protester simply read “Justice for the Working Class.” Banners proclaiming the new labor advocacy organization Obrer@s Maquiler@s de Ciudad Juarez, or Ciudad Juarez Maquiladora Workers, were unfurled at the bridge’s entrance.
The protest occurred during a peak crossing time when vehicular traffic from Juarez to El Paso frequently backs up, even under normal circumstances. Tempers flared when a man in a car with New Mexico license plates attempted to drive through the protesting crowd, but no injuries ensued.
“This is a struggle for a salary increase, to improve the wages in the maquiladoras,” labor attorney Susana Prieto was quoted in the Juarez daily Norte. “There are now employees of different companies in the movement and what is intended is for more and more workers to join with this struggle.”
The July 9 demonstration followed days of protests by upwards of 800 Johnson Controls workers over wage, production speed-up, seniority and other issues. On Friday, July 8, workers at two local Johnson Controls plants reportedly conducted work stoppages in support of their demands. The workers have filed a formal complaint with Mexico’s Labor Conciliation and Arbitration Board( JLCA), accusing the company of a host of labor law violations.
Johnson Controls worker Dolores Alvarez earlier told La Jornada that even though she had many years of experience with the company and a good work record, she gets paid the same amount as new hires.
In 2015 a new labor movement surged in Juarez after many years of quietude, principally involving workers from Foxconn, Eaton, Lexmark and ADC/Commscope plants. From the latter half of 2015 through the late winter of this year protests and encampments outside factories became a part of the political landscape.
A woman factory worker, Antonia “Tonita” Hinojosa, even embarked on an unsuccessful but historic primary bid for mayor, plunging into a contest usually reserved for affluent men, thrusting working-class demands to the center of her campaign and reaching thousands of people face-to-face.
Although each company had its own particular conflicts, the workers- many of whom alleged they were fired for their activism- were united around common demands of higher wages, dignified treatment on the shop floor, reinstatement to their jobs, an end to sexual harassment, and representation by an independent union not under the thumbs of the government.
As the months passed and petitions for independent union recognition were rejected or delayed by the JLCA, many protesting workers accepted confidential monetary settlements with employers and pulled back from their public protests.
In late April, a protest broke out at a Harman company factory, according to an Internet posting by local activist Julian Contreras.
Yet as the fresh round of demonstrations indicates, underlying grievances of low wages and poor treatment are far from resolved in the foreign-controlled maquiladora industry.
Meanwhile, also on July 9, hundreds of teachers affiliated with the Resissste organization and the National Coordinator of Education Workers seized a dozen highway toll booths south of Juarez and across the state of Chihuahua as part of an intensifying national movement against the 2013 education reform law and in repudiation of repression against teachers and their supporters, including the firings of several thousand teachers for refusing to take a mandatory evaluation exam and the June 19 fatal police shootings of at least nine people in the state of Oaxaca during a government attempt to dismantle a teacher-led protest.
The Chihuahua toll booth occupiers allowed motorists to drive through the gates without paying the regular fee, while promoting their cause and soliciting cash donations for embattled, fellow teachers in southern Mexico. According to the Paso del Norte Regional Popular Assembly’s Facebook, another protest march led by teachers is scheduled for Juarez early on the evening of Monday, July 11.
Additional Sources: Nortedigital.mx, July 9 and 10, 2016. Articles by editorial staff and Paola Gamboa. Elpuntero.com.mx, July 9, 2016. Articles by Francisco Milla and Xochitl Garcia. Arrobajuarez.com, July 5, 9 and 10, 2016. Proceso, July 9, 2016. Article by Patricia Mayorga.
Lapolaka.com, July 9, 2016. El Diario de Chihuahua/Juarez, July 6, 9 and 10, 2016. Articles by Salvador Castro and editorial staff. El Mexicano, July 5 and 6, 2016. Articles by Carlos Ramirez. La Jornada, July 4, 6 and 10, 2016. Articles by Ruben Villalpando and Patricia Munoz Rios.
For background information on Ciudad Juarez’s maquiladora worker movement as well as the teacher protests check out the following FNS stories:
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico
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