Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Solidarity in the Americas: The Anti-Sweatshop Movement and the Struggle for Social Justice

By Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval | Go to book overview

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Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Solidarity in the Americas

The Struggle for Social Justice

The Dark, Satanic Mills of the Twenty-First Century

Every single day tens of thousands of people pour into clothing factories all over Central America. These workers-teenagers, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, students, musicians, artists, and activists-often live in cramped, makeshift homes, with corrugated tin roofs, dirt floors, and little running water or electricity. They usually wake up before sunrise, get dressed quickly, and climb aboard old, overcrowded smoke-spewing yellow school buses. They know they must arrive on time; so many skip eating breakfast. Punctuality is crucial. Being one minute late can cost a worker one day's pay.

Most factories resemble large warehouses. They are typically well fortified. Steel gates, security cameras, and barbed wire are commonplace. Armed guards search all workers and inspect their plastic identification cards before they enter the factory. Once inside, the noise can be deafening and the heat intolerable. Dust and lint fill the air. Safety equipment (e.g., masks, earplugs, etc.) is rarely provided. Bathroom breaks are usually timed and regulated; overtime, mandatory; and the work pace, relentless. Some workers sew, for instance, one hundred zippers on trendy, brand name jeans every single hour. Work shifts often range between ten and twelve hours, but they can last as long as fourteen or sixteen hours. Wages hover, depending on the country, around fifty cents an hour. Health care, sick pay, vacation time, and other related benefits are virtually nonexistent.

The wages and working conditions in these factories-known as maquiladoras in Central America-resemble William Blake's nineteenth-century “dark, satanic mills.” 1 The garment and textile factories or “mills” of that era were usually called “sweatshops.” Contractors or “middlemen, ” who

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