Workers Vanguard No. 1156

31 May 2019


Capitalist Exploitation and the Oppression of Women

Mexico: Women in the Maquiladora Sweatshops

(Women and Revolution pages)

Beginning in late January, a wave of wildcat strikes swept maquiladora factories in the Mexican city of Matamoros, across the Río Bravo from Brownsville, Texas. Initially waged in direct challenge to the existing union leadership, the strikes grew to encompass some 50,000 workers, many of them women. Workers in most plants won their demands for a 20 percent wage increase and an annual bonus of 32,000 pesos (about $1,600).

The Matamoros strikes were the most important action of the organized labor movement in Mexico in decades. The profits of the auto parts, electronics and other manufacturers were choked off, with the capitalists losing an estimated $50 million a day. In response, the vindictive bosses unleashed police repression and punished workers by firing thousands. Many of the maquiladoras are owned by or supply U.S. companies. As we wrote in “Mexico: Strikes Sweep Maquiladora Factories” (WV No. 1149, 22 February): “This poses the need for joint struggle on both sides of the border against the capitalist exploiters.”

More than one million workers make up the total maquiladora workforce in over 3,000 plants across Mexico. Some 80 percent are women, who work in deplorable conditions, reflecting their status in the society. Women’s oppression is rooted in the institution of the family, which is a key prop for the maintenance of capitalist private property and class-divided society. It is vitally necessary for the unions to fight for the equality of women. A class-struggle union leadership would champion demands like free, 24-hour childcare, maternity leave at full pay, equal pay for equal work and free abortion on demand as part of quality health care for all. The struggle for the emancipation of women is central to sweeping away capitalist wage slavery through socialist revolution.

We print below a translation of an article from Espartaco No. 51 (April 2019), the newspaper of the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League.

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In the maquiladora factories, women workers suffer double oppression: capitalist exploitation and oppression as women. Their wages are 30 percent less than the already meager wages of the men. In order to get a job, they are required to take a pregnancy test; to keep that job, they are subjected to humiliating examinations during their menstrual cycle and risk dismissal if they become pregnant. That way, the stingy bosses cut costs by not having to provide maternity leave or childcare! In some cases, doctors lie about the due date of expectant mothers so that the women can be made to work as long as possible, causing them to end up giving birth in the factories.

Sexual and workplace harassment and abuse by the bosses and their lackeys is the norm. One female worker in Matamoros who took part in this year’s strikes there told our sales team about the harassment she endured. A supervisor would use sexual innuendo with her, even though she had no personal relationship with him. After she told him to stop, this bourgeois lapdog started to penalize her, using any excuse, such as for taking “extra” time in the bathroom (even during her period), and he forced her to sign on to a blacklist. To maximize exploitation, the bosses grant bathroom breaks for only five minutes and forbid drinking water so as not to interrupt work. Women workers, like all workers, are forced to meet production quotas or else they are fired. After strenuous workdays, many return to their homes to take care of their children and do domestic work. This anti-woman and exploitative hell in the maquiladoras is a direct consequence of the imperialist pillage of Mexico, principally by the United States, as well as of exploitation by the venal national bourgeoisie.

The woman question is of crucial importance in the maquiladoras. We Marxists know that the fundamental division in society is between classes, that is, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and that the emancipation of women is the task of the working class as a whole. The family, buttressed by religion and the state, is the main source of the oppression of women, who are enslaved by domestic work and the caring for and raising of children—in working-class families, the next generation of proletarians. It is also a means through which youth are taught to obey authority. Machismo is an ideology that serves to justify the material subjugation of women (see “Communism and the Family,” Parts One and Two, WV Nos. 1068 and 1069, 15 and 29 May 2015). A large number of women working in the maquiladoras are migrants from other cities or from peasant/indigenous communities who left their homes in the hope of not being shackled to the nuclear family.

With capitalism, the incorporation of women into the working class removed them from isolation in the home and provided a prerequisite for their emancipation: participation in social production. This can be seen in the maquiladoras, where the proletariat is mostly female. It is not an accident that in many Matamoros factories, women made up the vanguard in leading and defending the strikes.

However, under capitalism, women’s integration into the working class meant wage slavery on top of domestic slavery. We Spartacists fight to end the oppression of women, the inheritance of social backwardness upheld by the bourgeoisie. We fight for full rights for women, for equal pay for equal work and for their complete integration into the workforce. We call for free and safe abortion on demand throughout the entire country and for free, quality medical care for all. We condemn the criminalization of abortion by the Congress in the state of Nuevo León, which was supported by the Congressional representatives of the bourgeois Morena party.

We also denounce the threats by Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) [leader of Morena] to conduct a referendum on the right to abortion, which could only mean a ban in this profoundly sexist and Catholic Mexican society. In fact, AMLO, a devout Christian, is an opponent of basic democratic rights for women and gays, and has never pretended otherwise. Now, as commander-in-chief of Mexican capitalism, AMLO has cut subsidies for the privately run early childhood day-care centers that used to be funded by the now-defunct Ministry of Social Development (Sedesol). These childcare centers, which were in deplorable condition and had an endless number of problems, were the only option for many working women to have their children taken care of while they worked. No doubt AMLO’s measure will throw women back into domestic isolation. We fight for free, quality, 24-hour childcare centers as part of our struggle for socialist revolution. Break with AMLO and the bourgeois Morena party!

As Marxists, we understand that the eradication of women’s oppression requires an enormous leap in the development of existing material conditions, which can only be achieved through a socialist revolution, with its international extension that will pave the way for an internationally planned and collectivized economy based not on capitalist profits but on fulfilling the needs of all. Such an economy would allow the economic functions of the family to be replaced by the socialization of childcare and domestic chores, for example, through the establishment of collectivized childcare centers, dining halls and laundromats, permitting women to fully participate in social and political life. This perspective requires the forging of a Leninist vanguard party that acts as a tribune for all of the oppressed, mobilizing to combat all social backwardness.