Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Women’s work: Codemuh

Maria Luisa Regalado profiles the Honduran feminist workers’ organisation Codemuh and its role in the civil society resistance to the 2009 coup

March 18, 2011
6 min read

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.

Health rights

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.

Defending democracy

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

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

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

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya


2