Fish in the Streams and Rice in the Fields [Organizing Women Workers]

By Samdup, Carole | Herizons, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Fish in the Streams and Rice in the Fields [Organizing Women Workers]


Samdup, Carole, Herizons


MANILA) -- "When I was a young girl, my family lived in a village north of Bangkok. We lived in a cottage on land which provided our sustenance and our livelihood. There were fish in the streams and rice in the paddy fields. We sold or bartered fruit which grew nearby. When I was 13, my parents decided to send me to work in one of the foreign textile factories which had begun operating closer to Bangkok. I worked in that factory for 25 years, during which I was regularly forced to work double or even triple shifts. I was one of 300 women who have been documented as having developed lung disease from the toxins in the factory. I was fired without compensation or medical benefits. Sixty cases like mine are now before the courts in Thailand. I returned to my village, but nothing of it remained. Some of the land has been developed into an industrial area. The rest has been submerged in the creation of a dam which serves the industrial needs. All the villagers have been forced to move to the cities where most cannot find work and are living in slums. Many people have shared my experience and that is why I decided to organize." I met Somboon Shrikamdokcaie at a meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Manila at the end of November. The NGOs were taking part in alternate forums, organized parallel to the APEC Leaders' Meeting. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a loose organization of 18 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United States) that border on the Pacific. These countries account for 46 per cent of the world's merchandise trade and over half of the world's gross national product. While APEC leaders met to discuss progress on their trade liberalization policies in the region, the NGOs gathered to assess the social impact of such policies. The APEC vision of a free market economy and unrestricted growth is its defining feature. However, the unrestricted movement of capital and investment has specific and often negative effects on the lives of men, women and children. The effect on women is particularly profound. The conversion of land for industrial and export crop development has forced many women, like Somboon, into low-paid factory work. I met several young women workers at the largest export processing zone in the Philippines--the Cavite EPZ. These women, in their late teens and early 20s, told me what trade liberalization, APEC-style, has meant in their lives. …

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