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  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes