Mexico has seen a significant increase in femicides since NAFTA was passed in 1994. These femicides are perpetrated with the support, participation, and knowledge of state institutions such as the army and the police as well as the drug cartels.
These crimes are perpetrated against young workers in the maquilas who migrate from rural areas to the border to work as cheap labor in the transnational corporations such as Lexmark, Lear and Foxconn. These workers are victims of wage slavery in terrible conditions — they work 12-16 hours for 5 dollars a day. They don’t have a union. In fact, they don’t have any workplace rights at all. They are victims of sexual violence and intimidation in the workplace at the hands of the bosses and managers.
These terrible conditions have paralyzed the newly-developed working class on the Mexican border. But they are now beginning to organize and respond. Since 2015, these maquila workers have revolted and used strikes as a tool to support each other in solidarity. They also organized occupations outside of the factories. They created independent unions, fought for higher wages, and fought against sexual violence and femicide. Women are at the forefront of the struggle, but their male co-workers are also supporting them.
Out of this struggle, these women chose a worker, Antonia Hinojos, as an independent candidate for mayor of Ciudad Juarez under the slogan “Trabajadora, Trabajador, no votes patrones, vota a una obrera” (“Worker, don’t vote for the bosses, vote for a worker”)
This struggle demonstrates that “cuando una mujer avanza no hay hombre que retroceda”. This slogan, used by the teachers in Oaxaca while they were on strike, translates to “When a woman moves forward, no man moves backward”. It states that if women confront the state and the bosses and become leaders of the struggle, it’s good for all workers, including men. The struggle also highlights that femicide and exploitation of women’s labor are two sides of the same coin, and that we can fight both by organizing as the working class.
These conditions are a product of the United States’s imperialist relationship with Mexico which has been perpetuated by both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and is the reason all progressive people in the US need to be unapologetically anti-imperialist.
We must resist the notion that American workers and Mexican workers have divergent interests. The products made at the maquilas by exploited women are shipped on busses driven by exploited men and then sold at Walmart by exploited women in the US. Our struggles must be united as one struggle, and it must be an anti-imperialist one.