Sunday, December 6, 2015


Speech given at the 79th Annual Celebration of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
Berkeley, California 11/8/15
By David Bacon
The Stansbury Forum
The Volunteer

All my life I've known about Spain.  I grew up singing Freiheit and Viva la Quince Brigada and Los Cuatro Generales, and knew the names of some of the places in Spain where the big battles were fought.  I owe a lot to my parents, and to the culture they helped create.  They didn't go to Spain, but they were brave people nonetheless.  When Paul Robeson went to sing in Peekskill, my dad was one of the union members from New York City who lined the roads to protect people from the rocks thrown by the fascists of upstate New York.  In 1953, the year the Rosenbergs were executed, they brought my brother and me here to Oakland, where I grew up.  That's why I'm an Oakland boy, and not a Brooklyn boy.

When I think about the impact of Spain on my life, I think about the people who went and fought there, and what they taught me.  Some of them I knew personally, and some taught me by example.  They all taught me about how to conduct a life dedicated, not just to opposing injustice, but to fighting for a different world, for a vision of a just society, a socialist society.

Today I work with California Rural Legal Assistance, as a photographer and a journalist.  Growing up in Oakland, I didn't know much about life in rural California, or who farm workers are and the work they do.  But I come from a union family, so when I got back from Cuba in the early 70s, full of revolutionary enthusiasm, the place where I thought I could fight for real change here was the farm workers union.  I went to work, learning from people like Eliseo Medina the nuts and bolts of how to organize strikes, win union elections, go on the boycott - the basic toolkit of working class struggle.

There I met Ralph Abascal, who had helped to organize California Rural Legal Assistance.  With a nod and a wink, after the lawyers had gone home at the end of the day, our crew of workers and organizers would come in and use the typewriters and xerox machines all night to put together our legal cases against firings and grower dirty tricks.  That's what I loved about CRLA and the way he ran it - it was a part of the workers movement, and its resources were shared.  He wanted the union and the workers to fight and survive.  It was no surprise to me later to learn that Ralph's family came from Spain, and that his uncles fought in the Civil War.

I'm not your average photographer.  That's one reason why CRLA and I get along so well, together with our partner in documenting the lives of farm workers, the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales.  The purpose of our work is to create photographs that are instruments or tools for social change.  We document workers living in tents under trees and sleeping in their cars when the harvest comes, in Arvin, Coachella, San Diego and Santa Rosa.  But we do more than show abuses.  Our photographs show workers acting to change those conditions.

One of my favorite quotes is by Alexander Rodchenko, the famous Soviet photographer of the 1920s and 30s.  He said, "Art has no place in modern life," and that we should "take photographs from every angle but the navel."  What he means, of course, is not just that photographs should have a social purpose, but that the photographer should be part of the movements for social change, for revolution.

One of the most important photographers who not only shared this idea, but lived her life by it, was Tina Modotti.  She had a deep connection with the defense of the Spanish Republic.  She was an Italian immigrant, from Udine, but she grew up here, in San Francisco.  Today they have festivals in her birth town and a foundation in her name in Italy.  Here in the Bay Area, though, we hardly know or speak about her.  She grew up in North Beach, wanted to become an actress, and went to Los Angeles where she met Edward Weston.  Together they went to Mexico just at the height of the artistic ferment of the 1920s, when the revolution was going strong. 

She and Weston developed modernism in photography, but she went a step further.  She filled their modernistic style with political and social content.  And she did more.  She joined the Mexican Communist Party, and helped organise the Union of Painters and Sculptors.  She took some of the first photographs of huge political demonstrations, and tried to find a visual language that was simple and could inspire people to act.

As her political commitment deepened, the Mexican government deported her in 1930 to Germany, and from there she went to the Soviet Union, where she went to work for the Comintern.  During that time she stopped taking photographs.  That's one of the things I admire most about her.  She said, "I cannot solve the problem of life by losing myself in the problem of art."  There are times when the need to act politically is so important that art has to give way.  That's the opposite of what we're taught in the corporate culture of today, where "art is everything" - that you can't let mere social justice get in the way.

When the war came in Spain, she went with her lover, Vittorio Vidali, or as he was known in Spain, Comandante Carlos.  Modotti was the organizer for Workers Red Aid, helping to free what prisoners they could, and sustain and keep alive those they couldn't.  She worked with Dr. Norman Bethune.  Vidali organized the Fifth Regiment, and today when I hear the words to El Quinto Regimiento, that in the "patio de un convento, el partido comunista (in Oscar Chavez' version) or el pueblo madrileƱo (in Rolando Alarcon's version) formo el quinto regimiento," I think about Vidali and Modotti.

At the end of the war, Modotti was in charge of helping the streams of refugees that filled the roads along the coast, from Barcelona to the French border, as they fled Franco's advancing troops.  I think about her when I see the roads filled with migrants fleeing the bombing in Syria and Iraq today, trying to find refuge in Europe.  If Modotti were alive, she would be there.  But she would be the first to say that these desperate people can't use our pity any more than the Spanish refugees could. 

Just as we know that the advance of fascism was the root cause of people fleeing Spain, we have to look at the root causes of the flight of migrants today.  We have to ask what, or better still, who makes poverty and violence so unbearable that drowning in the Mediterranean seems an acceptable or necessary risk.  And of course, it's not just there.  What is causing the poverty and displacement in Honduras or Mexico, that makes migration a necessity for survival?  And just as the internment in France that greeted the Spanish refugees was a basic violation of their human rights, and a demeaning humiliation, the Karnes and Hutto detention centers in Texas are a crime against working people that we have to fight today.

After the war Modotti and Vidali separated.  Vidali eventually returned to the Free Territory of Trieste, and when it became part of Italy he was elected the Communist deputy from Trieste for many years.  Modotti returned to Mexico when Lazaro Cardenas was president, but she was so exhausted she got sick and died.  She was never allowed to return to San Francisco, and to her family.

So this lesson of Modotti and Spain is that photography and social change are important and go together, but the most important thing is the objective, which is to fight fascism and change the world.

Spain attracted photographers.  We all know the Robert Capa photo of the soldier shot just at the moment when he rises to charge the enemy.  Capa made his reputation in Spain.  The famous Magnum Photo Agency in New York was organized by photographers who supported, and some who participated, in this huge social upheaval.  I did a google search of the VALB archive database, and I found 26 photographers who went to Spain, and that's not counting the other artists.  They didn't go to take pictures or paint.  They went to fight.  So Modotti was definitely not the only person who thought this way.  But she asked the big question about our role as artists - how to make art serve the cause of social justice, and how to make that the main question - not becoming a celebrity or making lots of money.

When the vets came back from fighting in Spain and from World War Two, California and the Bay Area were very different politically from what they are today.  Don Mulford was firing teachers for not signing loyalty oaths.  The Knowland family ran Oakland.  Sam Yorty ran Los Angeles with Chief Parker running the LAPD, including its notorious Red Squad.  The growers in the valley had all the power.  They had yet to be challenged by the farmworkers historic strike in 1965, the fiftieth anniversary of which we're celebrating this year.

In my life as a union organizer, before I started work as a photographer and journalist, I met other people who'd fought in Spain.  They were part of the unions and movements where I met them. Henry Giler was blacklisted in those bad old days, and became an air conditioning mechanic, before he went back to law school.  Then he became a civil rights lawyer, and defended our strikers when I worked for the United Electrical Workers.  We were organizing immigrants at the beginning of the huge upsurge that has changed California's politics so fundamentally. 

I met Coleman Persily, because we were both friends of Bert Corona, the founder of our modern immigrant rights movement.  Coleman fought in Spain, and then in the 50s he and Bert helped run the campaign for Edward Roybal, the first Chicano elected to Congress from California since 1879.  That was a harbinger of the end of the Yorty years, of the hatred of Latinos seen in the Zoot Suit riots and the Sleepy Lagoon prosecution, and of LA's reputation as the home of the Open Shop.  As we know today, much bigger political changes were to come, and people like Henry and Coleman helped set the stage.  Coleman went on to help organize the Canal Street Alliance, which today is Marin County's main immigrant rights organization.

Through organizing immigrant farm and factory workers, I became an immigrant rights activist and organizer, like them.  In those days, it didn't make you popular, in the labor movement especially, to insist that undocumented workers had rights, and that our unions had to include and fight for them.

Both Henry and Coleman had a vision of justice and equality, which took them to fight in Spain, and which they brought back into the movements here at home.  They also brought back a love of the Spanish language and culture, which then became a love for the Mexican people.  It's remarkable how many people came back from Spain and wound up in Mexico itself.  Some were like Linni De Vries.  She went to Mexico because she was hounded by the FBI, but then loved it so much she become a citizen in 1962.  The U.S. government took away her U.S. citizenship a year later.

And then there's Archie Brown.  When I was trying to figure out what it meant to be committed to socialism, and to be a union organizer at the same time, Archie was the person who helped me.

When my youngest daughter was little, her favorite movie was "Newsies" - the musical about the newsboy strike against Pulitzer in New York in 1899.  Only later did I learn that Archie too had been a newsie, and helped organize a newsie strike here in Oakland in 1928.  Archie became a Red very young, as did many people who went to Spain.  He was so visible that the State Department wouldn't give him a passport, and he had to cross the Atlantic as a stowaway.

When I was just becoming politically aware, at 12, Archie got called by the House Unamerican Activities Committee.  As he started to speak, refusing to name names, demonstrators, many from the UC campus here, burst into the hearing room and disrupted it.  Archie was thrown out.  It was the opening of the civil disobedience offensive that eventually led to the students being washed down the marble staircase of San Francisco City Hall.  That was the beginning of the end for HUAC.

Archie spent his working and political life in Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.  In Archie's book, the most important political work you could do in a union was to educate rank and file workers, and help them become activists for change, in the union, at work, and in the community around them.  When he ran for union office as a Communist, his point was first, to get workers to think about more radical ideas, and second, to challenge the Federal government's prohibition on electing Communists to union office.

He was successful on both counts, I think.  The government indicted him, but the Supreme Court overturned the prohibition.  This is important for us to think about.  His attitude was that laws that violate the political and labor rights of working people have to be challenged directly, legally in court, and politically out in the world.  Today the Supreme Court is about to strike down the laws protecting union membership in contracts for public workers. Archie, running for office deliberately to defy the law, is saying to us, we have to fight.

His other objective was as important.  One of the most important reasons why the Bay Area, and the cities of the Pacific Coast, have a radical political tradition is because of the ILWU.  But it's not just the union as an institution.  It's the fact that the union brought together and educated a body of workers who then worked in political campaigns, civil rights demonstrations, school and workplace integration, and a myriad of other social struggles.  And creating and maintaining that active membership was the job of the leftwingers in the union. 

That's what Archie believed.  Power and leftwing politics in the labor movement come from the bottom up, not the top down, and only if there is an organized left fighting for them.  In my own work as an organizer, I tried to use every strike, every plant that closed throwing workers onto the sidewalk, as an opportunity for us to learn about the nature of the society we live in.

Today in our labor movement we have a crisis, in part because we represent a falling percentage of the workforce.  We face a political structure, Republican and even Democratic, that is more hostile towards us than any we've seen since the 1920s.  But the crisis is also a result of our unions' failure to propose much more radical measures to advance our interests, and to educate our members so they understand why that's necessary.

I don't think Archie learned his way of being a working class activist and organizer in Spain.  But I think he shared it with many other people who went to Spain from the surging working class movement of the mid-1930s.  This was their style of work, what made them so effective.  After all, they left for Spain within just a year or two of the San Francisco General Strike, the greatest labor upsurge we've ever had here.  They made the same choice that Tina Modotti did.  Defeating fascism in Spain was the overarching need of the working class movement all over the world, more important even than the union itself.  The Abraham Lincoln Brigade is the product of that idea - what made international solidarity such a force that we celebrate it today, eighty years later.

And what they all have in common - Tina, Henry, Coleman, Archie, Vittorio Vidali - and I think everyone here - is that we fight for a more just world, not merely against the injustice of this one.  This is why the living memory of the Lincoln Brigade is so important.

Sergio Sosa, a Guatemalan migrant who now directs Omaha's Heartland Workers' Center, says: "People from Europe and the U.S. crossed our borders to come to Guatemala, and took over our land and economy. Migration is a form of fighting back. Now it's our turn to cross borders."

The experiences of workers migrating from country to country for jobs, or fleeing warfare and repression, testify to the impact of free-market economics and the wars they bring about.  But at the same time, these migrants are changing profoundly the culture and social movements of the wealthy countries of the global north.  They are one reason why we have a greater opportunity to talk about a vision of a society free from exploitation, a socialist society, than we've had for twenty years. Now we celebrate May Day, thanks to the ourpouring of immigrants, especially from countries where it's always been celebrated as the workers' holiday. 

The economic inequality and social cost of capitalism haven't changed - if anything, they've become even more exaggerated.  The class conflict at the root hasn't been eliminated by globalization.  In fact, it's been extended and deepened in country after country.

Many people in our movement, at least in the US, see the cost of this system to our people and hate it.  We recognize the common interest of many sections of our society in opposing it.  Hating capitalism, even by name, has become popular.  In my youth, just using the word capitalism was enough to get redbaited and ostrasized. 

But what is the alternative?  Can society be managed on the basis of equality?  Can economic development provide a full life for all people, not just more efficient commodity production?  What is the vision of the future that can bind together a movement of millions of people, which can produce an alternative culture that can last from one generation to the next?

A radical vision runs counter to the prevailing wisdom of our times, which holds the profit motive sacred, and believes that market forces solve all social problems.  If we challenge that wisdom, we won't get invited for coffee with the President.  At the beginning of the cold war, the AFL-CIO built its headquarters right down the street from the White House.  Maybe it's time now to move. 

For working people to organize by the millions, which is what we have to do, we have to make hard decisions.  People must put their jobs on the line for the sake of their future.  But the unions of past decades, the activists and organizers who went to Spain, won the loyalty of working people when joining was even more dangerous and illegal than it is today.  The left then proposed an alternative social vision - that society could be organized to ensure social and economic justice for all people. 

We were united by the idea that we could gain enough political power to end poverty, unemployment, racism, and discrimination.  The radical vision of those who fought in Spain made the movement here stronger.  When our movement lost that vision in the red scares of the 1950s, we lost our ability to inspire.  It's no accident that the years of McCarthyism marked the point when the percentage of organized workers began to decline.

Today we have to have a much clearer sense that large-scale social change is possible.  Our biggest problem is finding ways to affect consciousness -- the way people think -- like those used by the people who went to Spain, and who organized the great social movements of their time. 

Radical ideas have a transformative power - especially the idea that while you might not live to see a new world, your children might, if you fight for it.   In the 1930s and 40s, these ideas were propagated within unions by leftwing political organizations.  A general radical culture reinforced them.  Today we need a core of activists unafraid of radical ideas of social justice, and who can link them to immediate economic bread-and-butter issues.  And since good ideas are worthless unless they reach people, we have to be able to communicate that vision to working people as broadly as we can.

We are not at the end of history.  We have to reclaim our history, not discard or forget it.  Working people have proposed alternatives to capitalism for over a hundred years - socialism, communism, nationalist economic development, and more.  Those who went to Spain were fighting for this vision, as much as they were fighting against Franco.

We are told today we must allow millions of people to become casualties of the free market, whether as the unemployed, the hungry and powerless, or the victims of war and oppression.  It is up to those who say there is an alternative, not only to proclaim it and advocate for it, but to organize the majority of our people to fight for it. 

This is the most important legacy of Spain.  If there is to be any alternative, it will only exist because those who don't benefit from the current system fight to bring a new one into being.

David Bacon at 16 - the skinny kid in the middle with glasses in the back - singing inside Sproul Hall on the University of California campus in Berkeley, during the Free Speech Movement sit-in.  After midnight that night, 800 students were arrested and dragged out, for defending the right to recruit people on the campus for civil rights demonstrations, especially against racist hiring practices at Bill Knowland's Oakland Tribune. 

Friday, November 20, 2015


By David Bacon
The Nation, web edition, 11/20/15

Fermina, the mother of a disappeared maquiladora worker, marched in one of the many protests over the murder of women in Juarez.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, CHIHUAHUA -- After more than a decade of silence, maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juarez have found their voice.  The city, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, is now the center of a growing rebellion of laborers in the border factories.  At the gates to four plants, including a huge 5000-worker Foxconn complex, they have set up encampments, or "plantons," demanding recognition of independent unions, and protesting firings and reprisals.

"We just got so tired of the insults, the bad treatment and low wages, that we woke up," explains Carlos Serrano, a leader of the revolt at Foxconn's Scientific Atlanta facility.  "We don't really know what's going to happen now, and we're facing companies that are very powerful and have a lot of money.  But what's clear is that we are going to continue.  We're not going to stop."

About 255,000 people work directly in Juarez' 330 maquiladoras, about 13% of the total nationally, making Juarez one of the largest concentrations of manufacturing on the U.S./Mexico border.  Almost all the plants are foreign-owned.  Eight of Juarez' 17 largest factories belong to U.S. corporations, three to Taiwanese owners, two to Europeans, and two to Mexicans.  Together, they employ over 69,000 - over a quarter of the city's total. 

Five (two U.S. and all the Taiwanese companies) are contract manufacturers of electronics equipment.  They assemble, and even design, laptops, cellphones and other electronic devices that are later sold under the famous brand names of huge corporations.  One contract manufacurer, Foxconn, is the world's largest.  The Taiwanese giant became notorious several years ago when workers in a huge plant in China committed suicide over stressful and abusive conditions. 

Three Juarez plants produce auto parts and electronics, including the city's largest factories - Delphi, with over 16,000 workers and Lear with 24,000.  Eleven of the top 17 maquiladoras are electronics manufacturers, whether for autos or consumers.

In most other maquiladora cities like Tijuana or Matamoros, workers are rigidly controled, and independent organizing suppressed, by a political partnership between the companies, government authorities and unions tied to Mexico's old ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party.  Often when workers file papers to gain legal status for an independent union, they discover that the company has a longstanding agreement with one of the "charro" unions.  The local labor board then places obstacles to prevent any independent organizing.  This arrangement is used as a selling point, to convince foreign corporations to invest in building factories. 

Juarez has been an exception, however.  Its selling point has simply been some of the lowest wages on the border.  Manufacturing consultant Chet Frame told the El Paso Inc. website that while company-friendly unions have agreements in other border cities, "they have not been able to get a toehold in Juarez."  As a result, a survey by the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness found that the average pay of Juarez maquiladora workers was 18% less than the average for manufacturing workers in Mexico's border cities.

The Juarez protests come just as Congress gets ready to debate a new trade treaty, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which opponents charge will reproduce the same devastation Mexican workers experienced as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Critics charge NAFTA cemented into place a regime of low wages, labor violations and violence on the border after it took effect in 1994.  Today, economic pressure has become so extreme that Juarez' workers feel they have no choice but to risk their jobs in hope of change.

Ali Lopez, a single mother at the planton outside the ADC CommScope factory, describes grinding poverty. "The only way a single mother can survive here is with help from family or friends," she says.  Lopez has two daughters, one 13 and one 6 years old.  "I can't spend any time with them because I'm always working.  When I leave in the morning, I leave food for the older one to warm up for lunch.  Childcare would cost 200 pesos a week or more, so I can't afford it."

A cold winter has already descended on Ciudad Juarez, close to freezing at night.  Parents worry that children at home alone with a heater for warmth risk fire in highly flammable homes of cardboard or castoff pallets from factories.  "We just have enough money to eat soup and beans," she explains.  "We don't eat meat."  Lopez' wage is 600 pesos a week (about $36).  "No one can live on this.  A fair wage would be 250 pesos a day.  In the U.S. people make in one hour what it takes us all day to earn."

Rosario Acosta and other mothers march behind the banner of the group they organized:  "Nuestras Hija de Regreso a Casa" - "May Our Daughters Come Home"

This new workers' movement began last August.  At Foxconn, people started talking in the bathrooms, at lunch and on the lines.  Anger over conditions quickly started to rise.  Operators on the line there make 650 pesos/week (about $39).  A family with kids, according to Serrano, needs 700-800 just for food.  A gallon of milk in Juarez costs the same as it does in El Paso, on the other side of the Rio Grande.

"Some foremen would tell young women that they had a good body, and demand to go out with them," Serrano adds.  "If they didn't, they'd call the women lazy or burros or good for nothing.  If the women went to Human Relations, the harassment still didn't stop."  In order to survive, some women were putting in two shifts, back to back, or even working three days straight through.  When they protested harassment, overtime was cut off, he says.

At CommScope, supervisors charged 50 pesos a week to put someone's name on the list for overtime, charges Cuauhtemoc Estrada, lawyer for the workers in the plantons.  "They felt so humiliated that some would break into tears." According to Raul Garcia, a CommScope worker, those who protested were sent to a special work area known as "the prison," or simply, "hell."  Older or slower workers were sent to another, called "the junkyard," where they were humiliated and ridiculed.

On September 16, Mexico's National Day, a group of 190 CommScope workers went to the local labor authorities, the Conciliation and Arbitration Board, and filed a request for a "registro," or legal status, for a union.   According to Garcia, the new union's general secretary, the company then started cutting overtime.  Some married couples had been working different shifts, so that each could be home to take care of children.  Managers reassigned them to the same shift, forcing one to quit.  Finally, 171 workers were fired on October 19.  The terminated workers then organized a permanent planton at the factory gates.

Soledad Aguilar, mother of a murdered daughter

At Foxconn workers also asked for a registro for their own union in September.  The labor board set up meetings with company managers to discuss their grievances.   "The managers agreed to do small things, like reinstate the 'employee of the month,'" Serrano recalls.  "But on the big issues like wages and mistreatment, they just promised to do something next year."

Workers organized a demonstration at the gates to pressure Foxconn.  When managers threatened them, the demonstration went on for a week.  The company filed a civil suit for damages against its own workers, and in mid-October the firings began there also.  Serrano was the first, and by the end of the month 110 people had been terminated.  On November 2 they set up a planton, and have been living at the gate ever since.  "They're treating us like criminals," he says, "but we're workers who have been there for many years.  They have to reinstate us, and the government has to give us our registro."

Neither Foxconn nor CommScope responded to interview requests, but Rick Aspan, vice-president of corporate communications for Commscope told Frontera Norte Sur, a news site published at the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, "We terminated fewer than ten people from the facility recently," for violating company rules.

Plantons have now spread to two other maquiladoras - a Lexmark factory making ink cartridges, and an Eaton Corporation auto parts plant.  Lexmark workers just filed their own request for a union registro. 

This insurgent wave threatens the established economic order in one of the main centers of maquiladora production on the border.  Even as Mexico continues to feel the impact of the U.S. recession, Juarez still has more than 330 plants employing more than 178,000 workers.  By U.S. standards, many are huge.  Foxconn's two factories employ over 11,000 people.  CommScope employs 3000, and Lexmark 2800.

Protesting the murders.

Companies are attracted to the border because of low wages and lax enforcement of labor and environmental laws.  In 2013, the minimum wage in Juarez was less than 65 pesos a day (today about $3.88). 

At the beginning of the NAFTA era, this low wage system was challenged by several attempts to organize independent unions.  In 1993 a partnership between the Mexican labor federation, the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the U.S. union, the United Electrical Workers, mounted a campaign at the General Electric factory, Compania Armadora.  Workers were fired, but pressure from UE members in U.S. plants forced GE to rehire several of them.  Nevertheless, the FAT lost the election that would have given it the right to negotiate a contract.

Other worker protests took place in the same period.  At Clarostat, a division of Allen Bradley Corp. (now Rockwell Automation) workers tried unsuccessfully to organize to raise wages.  When one of them, Alma Molina, was fired and then tried to get a job at a GE plant, a manager told her that her name was on a blacklist.

Worker activism of the period was fueled by a wave of birth defects.  Between 1988 and 1992, 163 Juarez children were born with anencephaly - without brains - an extremely rare disorder.  Health critics charged that the defects were due to exposure to toxic chemicals in the factories or because of their discharges. 

Protesting the murders.

In the mid-1990s Mexican and U.S. unions cooperated in opening a Center for Labor Studies to help educate workers about their rights.  It focused on the three factories owned by Lear Industries, which supplies car seats to General Motors.  Lear still employs over 7,700 people in Juarez.

"When I was being hired, after the interview, they asked me when I would have my next period," one worker explained.  "They said I couldn't actually start work until I had my period.  On the first day of my period, I came back.  The nurse was there, and she said, 'Let's see it, show me the sanitary napkin.'  They accepted me that same day."

CETLAC director Guillermina Solis charged at the time that companies didn't want to hire pregnant women, and even fired women when they become pregnant, in order to avoid government-mandated maternity benefits.  Her allegations were supported by the Women's Rights Project of Human Rights Watch.

Juarez' worker activism of the 1990s, however, declined as the city's women became victims of a notorious series of mass murders that terrorized them for a decade.  By February 2005 over 370 women had been murdered since 1993.  In 2010 alone 247 women were murdered, and between January and August of the following year, another 130.

The mothers of Juarez organized despite the terror to fight for the lives of their daughters.  They charged that larger social forces are responsible for creating a climate of extreme violence against women.  Juarez has become a huge metropolis built on the labor of tens of thousands of young women, overwhelmingly migrants, who have traveled north from cities, small villages, and rural areas in central and southern Mexico. 

Soledad Aguilar

 "While the city and its industry depend on them totally, they are important only as productive workers, not as human beings," Rosario Acosta, mother of one of the disappeared women, explained in a 2003 interview.  "We've opened the big door, our border to the U.S., in order to allow big multinationals to settle in our city.  We give them a permit to do absolutely anything.  They don't have to guarantee the most elementary aspects of life, from wages women can live on, to basic service in our communities, or even just security."

Residents of the border are treated as throwaway people, whether they're factory laborers in the plants, or barrio residents living along dirt roads, in cardboard houses with no sewers, running water or electricity.  According to Julia Monarrez Fragoso, a professor at Tijuana's College of the Northern Border (COLEF) "the practices of the maquiladora industry towards the workers reveal a consume and dispose cycle."

This new wave of worker protests, therefore, is breaking the fear and terror that has gripped working-class neighborhoods for over a decade.  Elizabeth Flores, director of the Pastoral Center for Workers for the past 15 years, says "each week a woman comes through our center looking for her daughter. At the same time, parents have lost hope that any better future awaits their children other than a job in the maquiladora.  And young people themselves don't want to go to work there.  Spend their lives - for what?" 

Nevertheless, she says, "People are tired of the abuse, which has been terrible.  They had to lose their fear to protest, but desperation and anger are potent antidotes to fear."

This year the business community of Juarez is celebrating 50 years of the Border Industrial Program, which opened the door to the maquiladora boom.  In that time, two and a half generations of workers have passed through the plants.  "They were always the fundamental part of production," concludes Cuauhtemoc Estrada.  "But the global economic model imposed on us by free trade meant the objective was always producing the most at the lowest cost.  Now we see the result.  And as difficult as it may be, workers are determined to change it."