Seventy-five Cimatextiles’ workers and supporters rallied outside the Ministry of Work in Guatemala City on Thursday, June 21 to protest the repeal of an accord promising employees’ back wages.
Cimatextiles employs these and hundreds of other workers (nearly all of them women), to produce clothing for Liz Claiborne and Macy’s. The workers, around 100 of whom formed the union Citrasima in 2003, represent the first maquiladora union in Guatemalan history.
For more than three months, the maquiladora has been temporarily closed and workers suspended from their jobs. The workers have been told that there is simply no work for them. Considering the nature and history of the product and its producer, this is almost certainly a lie and a clear attempt to bust up unionizing efforts.
In addition to the recent suspensions, Cimatextiles has a long record of withholding worker pay. For years, workers have been consistently paid only 70 to 80 percent of contracted wages. A nearby factory, Choishin seems to be following suit as they have recently and drastically cut back production.
The closing of the factories, according to workers, would cause the workers (most of whom are single mothers) the inability to support their families. Furthermore, they would most certainly be blacklisted from future employment because of union involvement.
On June 6, workers were elated when Cimatextiles signed an accord with the ministry and the union agreeing to give 100 percent back pay going as far back as ten years. But days passed, and by the third week in June, there was still no sign of promised back wages.
On Thursday the ministry held a meeting between the union, Cimatextiles, and attorneys to negotiate the accord. Workers and their supporters waited outside in the 90 degree heat for more than four hours, only to be told an agreement had just been signed that nearly nullifies the June 6 accord. Rather than accept defeat, workers, their friends, families and supporters remained on site for another two hours, rallying to make their demands heard.
Now the workers’ only chance of getting what they’ve rightfully earned is for their union to take the case to a higher court. This will most certainly mean a years-long battle for the workers.
Workers and organizers on the ground are asking for continued support from the international community by whatever means they deem appropriate. Individual demonstrations and actions are encouraged and United Students Against Sweatshops has put out an international call for action asking supporters to act by July 27.
To write a letter or find further information:
Katy Andrus is currently living and working in Guatemala City. She can be reached at email@example.com.