MEXICO CITY, March 26th (IPS) – A compilation of testimonials collected by Blanca Velázquez Díaz and published by the Ebert Foundation (available at: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/ mexico / 17328.pdf). provides an account of the harsh reality some maquila workers in the Mexican state of Morelos have been going through over the past twelve months. Your words undoubtedly reflect similar experiences of millions of workers in different parts of the country.
Saul Escobar Toledo, the author states that the interviews were conducted by phone in mid-2020. The age of the employees is between 20 and 40 years. their level of education is elementary and middle school; They come from the countryside or from small urban communities where there are few opportunities to get a job. That’s why they move to the larger cities of the state of Morelos, where the maquiladoras are supposed to produce for major brands in international consortia.
Their working conditions were already very unfavorable: In the textile industry, and especially in the clothing and shoe industry, the working days are more than eight hours a day, in which they sit permanently ergonomically on undesigned chairs and support extremely high temperatures when closed in places with little ventilation.
The spread of COVID-19 made matters worse. Mainly, the chiefs of the maquilas in Morelos disregarded the official recommendations and chose to fire their employees or cut half of their weekly wages.
For example, one worker identified as Lili said, “The company pays me 280 pesos ($ 14) a week …” while another, Anita, says, “I now work cleaning houses. The truth is, 400 Pesos ($ 20) the factory is giving me now is not enough. ”Other respondents said they received half their salary.
Vicky: If I only get half the salary, the situation is bad. What do I do with only 400 pesos a week? It’s tough for me and the company has us on hold, no one knows when I’ll be back to work … ”
A few more, a little happier, confirmed: “As of April 3, they sent us to retire on a base salary that is really very low, 833 pesos ($ 41) a week …”
There have also been cases when workers decided to stop their work so as not to get infected and were fired:
Brenda: “… the company selected me to continue working on emergency days, but I’ve seen several colleagues have the symptoms of COVID-19, so I’ve decided not to expose myself to the coronavirus. My manager was terribly angry with me for making this decision, but I was sure that what I had decided was the right thing to do, stay home and protect myself. Now I’m fired, I haven’t been called anymore. “”
Almost all of them admitted to having been through a very tense emotional situation:
Justina: “Well, on the mental level, I want to take things easy, but it’s a bit impossible when I’m watching TV or watching social networks as they are flooded with what’s going on in the pandemic and bad news. They were very outrageous at the time of reporting, I think that’s why, that’s why I sometimes can’t sleep … ”
Finally, the workers were asked about state aid. All replied that they had not received any federal, state or local support:
María: “No, at least nothing for me, I just remember that the assistant to the mayor of the municipality (Emiliano Zapata) once distributed pantries, but they had a cost …”
Vicky: Oops! nothing, no glass of water …! “”
Anita: The truth is, nothing, at least not even a pantry has arrived here in my neighborhood. “”
The author of the compilation concludes that, according to the collected testimonials
“The more important consequences (observed) have been unwarranted layoffs … during these months of health emergency. The main concern of workers is to earn an income … as the current employment situation is becoming increasingly difficult. Their mental and emotional health is constant tensions … especially due to the lack of economic resources to support their families; they also fear the possible spread of COVID-19 if they have to leave their homes and take to the streets to look for (additional) income … Add In this situation The double and triple workload means that home education for their underage sons and daughters generates much more hours of work for them. Care, especially of children, continues to be mostly with women just because they are women with multiple children and have little or no responsibility Help from their partners, a situation that has led to stress, worry, anxiety and insecurity, to name a few consequences. ”
Another important piece of information relates to trade union behavior. According to the collected testimonies, Blanca Velázquez assures that in normal times the unions do not defend their affiliates; Nor have they done it in times of the pandemic since making outrageous business decisions and leaving workers to their fate.
Finally, the text draws our attention to the almost complete absence of the Mexican state in this situation, especially the federal government. The author of this collection rightly concludes that:
“The social programs that the federal government has funded for certain sectors, especially those at risk, should be expanded for the laid-off workers or if the bosses fail to pay their wages in full. We believe that programs for laid-off people should be encouraged immediately or, if not, unemployment insurance (statutory) to alleviate this serious situation and to train those who need to do so to be employed in other professions or occupations to be able to. ”
Aid was withdrawn from millions of wage earners, had high social costs and became an obstacle to economic recovery. It is difficult to understand why the government made this oversight. Perhaps they expected companies to pay full wages or that layoffs could be resolved quickly. However, it was likely that due to the behavior of many companies over the past few decades, as they have continually violated labor law and fueled the lack of representative unions, particularly in the maquila industry.
The lack of a worker protection policy during the pandemic seems more likely to be due to an economic project based on budget cuts and strict public spending that does not allow for immediate action. The testimonies gathered in the book show the unfortunate effects of these choices. Waiting for the US economy to be the main driver of the recovery could be successful in the months ahead. However, it will not correct the damage that has been done to working class families. Employment is also not promoted unless it is accompanied by other measures such as unemployment insurance and promoting domestic production and consumption.
The words of grief and pain shown in this publication are a very expressive testimony of what the government of the Republic could have done (as in other countries and even in Mexico City) but refused to do so.
Saul Escobar Toledo, economist, professor in the Department of Contemporary Studies at INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico) and President of the Institute of Labor Studies “Rafael Galvan”, a non-profit organization. His most recent work, “Subcontracting: A Study of Changes in Labor Relations” will be published shortly by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Mexico City.
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