Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The June 2009 coup in Honduras, which was orchestrated by military and business elites and saw the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya, has proved a major setback for workers’ and progressive movements. One response to this threat to democracy has been the Popular National Resistance Front (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular), a broad-based coalition in which the Honduran women’s group Codemuh has played an important role. Codemuh (the Honduran Women’s Collective) is a feminist and rights-based grass-roots organisation fighting for better living and working conditions for women in garment factories, or maquilas as they are known in Latin America.
Codemuh was formed by Honduran women activists in 1989. At the time Honduran women maquila workers, who would typically work between 12 and 24 hours per day, six to seven days a week, were not aware that labour laws existed, let alone that they had the right to organise and protest. They began meeting and organising to confront not only labour rights violations but gender discrimination.
Participating in Codemuh’s work required a huge amount of courage and personal sacrifice. In Honduran society, women workers have faced two parallel struggles: the struggle in their own homes and that outside the home, in public spaces and the workplace. Patriarchy is entrenched in Honduras and most women faced resistance from husbands, brothers and even fathers who prohibited them from attending Codemuh meetings. On top of this women were at risk from their employers, who, suspicious of women meeting in groups, would often fire those they thought might be organising.
Since Codemuh’s inception, women workers have won a number of important victories. Through mobilising and organising, we resisted our marginalisation and now enjoy greater involvement in public life. Not only do we participate in local community groups but we attend public demonstrations, contribute to debates and forums and take part in meetings to resolve labour conflicts with employers, the Department of Labour and the Honduran Social Security Institute. We actively engage in political advocacy and contribute to both the national and international media.
Codemuh has supported workers who have developed serious occupational diseases as a result of their work in the maquilas, campaigning tirelessly to prevent them losing their jobs. It is commonplace for management to fire those struggling to meet their daily production targets because of occupational health problems. In the past, occupational disease had been ignored by the Honduran authorities, but Codemuh has successfully proved the link between the medical conditions suffered by workers and the work carried out in maquilas. They have achieved this through research, legal and medical support to workers and international denunciations at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
As a result, 30 cases of women affected with work-related disease have been recognised as occupational. Recognition of occupational disease is critical because it allows workers access to compensation and specialist medical treatment for life. As a result of Codemuh’s work it is no longer possible for garment manufacturers or the Honduran government to claim that work in garment factories does not cause long-term damage to workers’ health.
Alongside fighting for better implementation of current legislation, in March 2008 Codemuh presented a proposed reform of the outdated labour code to the Honduran national congress. Its approval will create a legal framework securing the occupational health and safety of factory workers.
This was the first time that a grass-roots feminist organisation in Honduras has written and presented a workers’ rights proposal for legislative reform. The proposal was passed by congress to the country’s supreme court and the secretary of labour and social security for consideration. Unfortunately, as a result of the coup in June 2009, the process of debate and approval of the proposed reform stalled.
The Popular National Resistance Front grew out of opposition to the military coup and seeks to re-write the Honduras constitution to include the voice and rights of the Honduran poor. The movement also seeks to shed light on the numerous human rights abuses, rapes, murders and disappearances administered by the military on Honduran citizens who have sought to defend the rights of the poor and of workers. The convening of fraudulent elections in November 2009, which resulted in a victory of the right-wing candidate Porfirio Lobo, granted impunity to the perpetrators of the coup and subsequent human rights violations. It also sent a message to both the Honduran people and other nations that a coup against democracy is still possible.
Codemuh, within the National Resistance Front, has been a key organisation informing more than 40,000 maquila workers on their fundamental labour and human rights. We have also raised awareness of the consequences of the approval of the national anti-crisis plan, which will roll back many of the hard-fought victories won by Honduran workers since 1954, the year of a landmark general strike.
This plan, now approved by the congress, allows all private businesses to retain 40 per cent of their staff on a temporary or part-time basis. Part-time workers in Honduras are not entitled to social security benefits such as health insurance or access to a doctor in the workplace. Nor is there any statutory requirement for the employers to provide sick or maternity leave or any notice for termination of contracts. Temporary workers are not entitled to any holiday pay or end of year bonus. Furthermore, the law stipulates that up to 30 per cent of their wages can be paid in kind, meaning that many workers’ salaries are partly comprised of the products they make.
Despite the climate of impunity, Codemuh is not to be dissuaded. The National Front has incorporated our legislative occupational health and safety reform in its agenda, ensuring the support of several trade unions and grass-roots organisations in the struggle to improve health and safety legislation. Codemuh, along with other Honduran human rights organisations, has presented two reports to the United Nations. At a People’s Tribunal in Madrid it also brought a case against Hanes HBI, the European Investment Bank and the Honduran state for violation of health and safety rights of workers. In December 2009, we met with several UK MPs, trade union delegates and the general public to raise awareness of the situation facing maquila workers and the human rights violations following the coup.
Key to the success of Codemuh’s work over the years is its ownership by women workers. Formed by, and made up of, women workers, the organisation strives to inform and mobilise women in maquilas to fight against the human rights violations they suffer. It is this process of equipping workers with the knowledge and skills to defend their own rights that lies at the heart of our success.
We know that there is still much to do. Governments like the one in Honduras continue to allow multinational corporations to exploit the health of the working population with impunity. But we will continue to demand justice and organise workers to call for the respect of human, labour and gender rights.
Maria Luisa Regalado is the general co-ordinator of Codemuh, which is a War on Want partner organisation
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun