EL SALVADOR — March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to mark the oppression, exploitation and struggles of women worldwide. But since the Triangle Shirt factory fire that killed 146 women garment workers in NYC on March 5, 1911 — which gave birth to IWD — capitalism and imperialism are still hellish for billions of women from Baghdad to Kabul to Central America. In El Salvador, women workers are not only victims of murder by criminal gangs and men won over by the bosses’ anti-women culture, but they’re also super-exploited at the maquilas (garment shops), the main source of jobs for women here.
According to an investigation ten years ago by Rosa Virginia Hernández of the Committee of Salvadoran Working Women, the Labor Ministry counted 57,000 women working in the maquilas, 65% of whom had no social insurance benefits, even though the companies deducted the payments from their wages. Things haven’t changed much since.
The maquilas were first created in the 1970’s in the free trade zone of San Bartolo, but only grew in the ’90s after the end of the civil war here. Basically they offer no real chance for a decent life for their workers.
Despite many attempts by human rights and women’s groups and some trade unions to improve conditions in the maquilas, not much has been accomplished. Now maquilas are actually hiring more male workers, raising unemployment among women even more. Today only 60-70% of all maquila workers are women compared to 80-90% a decade ago. Women working many years in a plant don’t get skilled training; the bosses prefer men, alleging “they take less days off.”
Some plants have closed, with workers denied severance pay. In 2006, there was a reduction of 11-12% among textile maquilas, reducing jobs for women.
The ARENA government (virulently pro-U.S., the only Latin American government with troops in Iraq and one of the few remaining members of the “Coalition of the Willing”) is resisting any pressure to alleviate this problem, saying it’s the employers’ responsibility. Meanwhile, a discussion in the National Assembly to change the Labor and Social Security laws (dating from 1971) is going nowhere.
The end of the civil war has brought no social peace to workers here; violent criminal gangs are rampant (many formed in the U.S.). Conditions for workers in general are horrendous. Meanwhile the FMLN (the former guerrilla group now turned into the second largest electoral party) talks and talks, just offering a “reformed-capitalism” “solution” — actually no solution at all.
We in PLP must redouble our efforts here to build a mass base among women and all workers, offering them the only way out of this capitalist inferno: communism. DESAFIO-CHALLENGE must become our ideological weapon in this battle.