Victory for Salvadoran Garment Workers!
The workers at the garment factory Textiles Opico (TEXOPS), north of San Salvador, recently won a historic victory in their struggle for justice when their union, SITRASACOSI, came to an agreement with TEXOPS management to reinstate workers who were illegally fired in January 2017.
Their struggle has its roots in the long-sought-after private sector minimum wage increase that the leftist FMLN government approved in December 2016 after years of labor movement organizing. Immediately following the minimum wage hike, which brought maquila workers’ monthly wages up by 40%, many employers began to fight back by threatening to close or to lay off workers. In January, Textiles Opico fired more than 70 workers, many of them union members, and unilaterally eliminated the production bonuses they had previously offered.
The organized garment workers of SITRASACOSI refused to accept this and vowed to fight for justice. They protested in front of the factory, denounced the company to government and international agencies, and even tracked down the owner of TEXOPS to directly confront him. CISPES members sent more than 250 letters to the international Fair Labor Association (FLA) demanding that the company sit down with the union and rehire the workers.
The constant action by the garment workers eventually brought the company to the table. SITRASACOSI ultimately came to an agreement with the company in which 10 union members were reinstated in their jobs, and 6 who no longer wished to return received a one month severance payment. In addition, the entire maintenance department, who had been fired at once as part of a subcontracting scheme, was paid three months’ salary, or $900.
What may seem like a partial victory is, in fact, monumental in El Salvador, where weak labor laws and the power of multinational corporations make it almost impossible for fired workers to win reinstatement. In fact, the law does not require employers to re-hire workers even if a judge agrees it the firing was illegal, for example, in retaliation for union activity; there is only a small fine. So workers’ spirits were high and faith in the organization was strong as the fired union leaders returned to their jobs ready to continue the fight for fair working conditions in the maquila industry.
Estela Ramírez, the Secretary General of SITRASACOSI, has a message for all those who stepped up to fight for justice in this case. “Thank you for putting into practice international worker solidarity, which is necessary now more than ever. Any brother or sister worker who strikes a blow at a multinational, at a corporation, wins a victory for the world-wide working class. This victory belongs to each and every one of you. Long live international solidarity!”