Evangelina Argueta comes from the Central General de Trabajadores in Honduras and co-ordinates a project to organise the workers in the maquilas — factories which assemble goods for export. The maquilas are found in Mexico and Central America. They offer cheap labour, few labour or environmental regulations and low taxes. Products include clothes, electronic products and car parts. In Honduras 127,000 workers are employed in this sector.
What does your work consist of?
We organise the workers in the maquilas, which is far from easy. The maquilas are practically the only branch of industry in which you can find a job today. The owners of the factories come from a wide variety of countries (USA, China, Taiwan).
The workers may receive fabric from which they must make shirts. If for example GAP needs 50,000 shirts for the US in one week’s time, neither GAP nor the factory managers will care about how and under what conditions these shirts will be made.
Are the conditions of work difficult?
Absolutely. This branch of industry is very unstable. The factories open and then close down very rapidly. Violations of workers’ rights are the order of the day: wage decreases, excessive work, unpaid overtime hours. And real freedom of association does not exist in the maquilas. The transnational companies take no account whatsoever of human life. Workers exist only to make the factory run, they do not exist in themselves.
How do you see the future?
It is true that this branch of industry creates jobs. But at a price.
The hardest thing is to see the effect of this life on young people. They are denied an education and instead they must provide for their families, working under difficult conditions. 80% of these workers come from rural areas. They left their villages in search of a better life, with huge expectations. Unfortunately, they are quickly undeceived. They quickly lose their strength and their ambitions… They do not live, they merely subsist.