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Workers in Latin America face incredible challenges as they endure exploitation in both the factories and the fields.
The movement to organize workers in the US is almost 200 years old. In the 1830s, teenage girls and women toiled for 13 hours each day in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts. When the bosses decided to cut their already meager wages, they walked out. They marched. They rallied. They gained support from their community. And in the years ahead they would take their cause to the state legislature—with thousands of petition signatures in hand—to cap work shifts at 10 hours a day!
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the labor movement has grown and won victories that US workers still enjoy (and take for granted) today: minimum wage, Social Security, sick time, vacation pay, child labor regulations, the 40-hour work week, and overtime pay.
In Latin America workers are fighting to make the gains that workers in the US did a hundred years ago: safe work conditions, decent pay, and no forced overtime. They want better wages so they can afford better housing, healthcare, nutrition and other basic needs for their families. If workers can earn a living wage, their kids don’t have to drop out of school to work and help support the family. So improving workers’ wages and conditions helps both the current generation and the next.
As long as workers in Latin America suffer, workers in the US are also negatively impacted. As US corporations take jobs outside US borders in search of cheap labor, they pressure workers in the US to settle for less pay and less job security. The race to the bottom sinks all boats.
Organized workers realize that workers’ struggles for justice in Latin America are wrapped up with their own. Workers in the US can show their solidarity by advocating for basic labor rights that are encoded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and promoted by the International Labor Organization.
Workers in the US can partner their unions with unions in Latin America to show their cross-border solidarity to achieve:
- the right to organize, to strike, to bargain collectively and to earn decent pay
- trade agreements that promote workers’ rights in both the US and abroad
- labor protection enforcement mechanisms that actually work
- corporate accountability that makes companies transparent in disclosing where their products are made and how the workers are paid and treated|
- protection for workers whose lives are being threatened because they dare speak up for their rights
IRTF is a member of Cleveland Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor, faith and community groups promoting the well-being of our families and neighborhoods by improving conditions and pay at the workplace. IRTF invites local unions to partner with unions in Latin America to strengthen the movement for worker justice throughout the Americas.
For information on Exploited Labor Solidarity meetings and campaigns, or to learn how to partner with a union in Central America or Colombia, contact irtf[at]irtfcleveland.org.