Maquila Tour to Honduras & Nicaragua 2014
In March of this year, Executive Director Barbara Wood led a delegation to Nicaragua and Honduras to meet with MEC and CODEMUH, two women’s organizations that work with maquila or sweatshop workers. Representatives from CUPE and BCGEU joined Barbara on the trip, including Andrea Duncan. We asked Andrea to share her impressions of the experience.
Andrea Duncan is the Chairperson for the provincial Community Social Services Sector with the BCGEU. The workers in Andrea’s sector provide support to adults and children with developmental disabilities, women feeling violence, child care and any other community services people need. Although Andrea’s role in the union keeps her away from her job, she is an Early Childhood Educator and lives in Squamish in British Columbia. Here she is with women from the Colloquium.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us Andrea. What made you want to join a CoDev Delegation?
I have been a social justice activist all of my life. I recently became involved with the International Solidarity Committee of the BCGEU and saw this as an opportunity to see first-hand some of the struggles people face in other countries. It was also a wonderful opportunity to expand my work on social justice issues to an international level.
What did you expect to learn on this trip?
I went into this with an open mind and expected it to be a life changing experience. Which it absolutely was. I expected to learn about the struggles workers face. One of the Maquila workers said it best: “Labour struggles have no borders.”
What did you learn that you never thought you would?
I expected to hear heart wrenching stories about Occupational Health and Safety issues and basic human rights. What I did not expect and perhaps the most impactful thing I have taken home is the sheer inspiration from the work that MEC, CODEMUH and REDCAM do. This is what stands out the most for me. We can really learn a tremendous amount from these women. Their ability to mobilize and organize is very impressive. Their dedication to fight for labour rights, sexual health and domestic violence rights and Occupational Health and Safety rights is truly inspiring. Although they still face many more challenges, they have had many successes. It renewed the passion in me to fight for the rights of women in Canada and internationally. These organizations have made important allies and gained the respect of governing bodies. A little money goes a long way when put in the right hands. I am very proud to say the BCGEU supports such amazing groups that have such strong impacts on the lives of working people and women.
Were your expectations fulfilled? Exceeded?
The delegation exceeded my expectations. I am excited to continue the work here at home.
What did you most want to share about your experience with your Canadian colleagues when you came home?
The learning is so incredibly overwhelming that it is difficult to pin-point any one thing. I think it’s very important that people see the importance of international solidarity and how it truly saves and enhances lives. It is not charity. It’s support. I can’t say enough how much we can learn from these organizations. These groups know exactly what is best for the people of their countries. It is also important that people are aware that a boycott is not the answer. We heard that loudly from maquila workers. The jobs are needed badly but they should be jobs with dignity. We need to pressure companies and government on an international level to uphold the Occupational Health and Safety regulations that are often ignored. Join CoDev!
What was the best/most enlightening/most interesting part of the trip?
All of it. The Colloquium in Nicaragua stands out for me. There were 1,000 women there on their one day off. Some had traveled for 14 hours by bus to get there … to see the presentation of the Women’s agenda. Women representatives from all over Central America had come together to develop the agenda to present to the government. The feeling in the room was empowering. That many women in a room hearing about their rights and a plan to defend and promote them is something we rarely see in Canada. The hard work that went into that document was clearly evident and to be a part of that presentation with all that passion, pride and dedication was inspiring.
Describe the experience in three words.
Life changing, inspiring, struggle.