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Date: Thu, 19 Oct 1995 22:57:10 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
Subject: The GAP: Brutality Behind Hip Facade
labr.global: 207.0
Written 1:00 AM Oct 17, 1995 by labornet in cdp:labr.global
From: LaborNet-IGC <labornet@igc.apc.org>
From: AFSHINR@delphi.com
Date: 95-10-14 08:07:28 EDT

The GAP: brutality behind hip facade

By Terry Kelly, 14 October 1995.

On August 16, over a hundred workers from UNITE (Union of Needle Trades and Industrial & Textile Employees, formed by the June 1995 merger of the ILGWU and ACTWU), showed their solidarity with Maquila workers, by demonstrating at the large GAP outlet in downtown Toronto. They were protesting the inhumane conditions forced on the 450,000 Maquiladora apparel workers in Central America and the Caribbean by their transnational corporate bosses.

The National Labour Committee, a human rights and labour coalition, has worked across North America to expose the conditions faced by the mostly young women workers in the Maquiladora. With NLC's executive director Charles Kernaghan at the rally were two Central American garment workers.

From El Salvador was 18 year-old Judith Yanira Viera, who worked together with her two sisters at Mandarin International, until she was fired for union activities on June 13. They had barely been able to survive on their combined pay, which averages 56 cents an hour. Mandarin produces clothing for J.C. Penney, GAP, and Eddie Bauer.

The work week is brutal. Monday through Thursday the workers toil from 7 am to 9 pm. Then on Fridays they put in an 18-hour shift, from 7 am to 3 am. No buses run at night, so they sleep on the factory floor, then start their Saturday shift at 7 am, and finish at 9 pm that night.

Talking is forbidden during working hours. Washrooms are locked; workers must ask permission to use them, and are limited to twice a day. Workers complain of excessive heat, respiratory problems caused by the dust and lint, and the lack of clean drinking water in the plant. Paid in cash, with no record or receipt of hours paid or overtime, workers have no means of redress for short wages.

Mandarin is a Taiwanese-owned plant in the San Marcos Free Trade Zone. And the Zone is owned by former Salvadorean army colonel Mario Guerrero, who brags that the money to build it was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Mandarin has fought the union drive, first by locking out the workers and then illegally firing over 350 unionists. The company also hired two dozen ex-military, plainclothes armed guards, who follow suspected union members and intimidate anyone who associates with them. The majority of workers at Mandarin are young women aged 16 to 25.

Colonel Guerrero himself told the workers, "I have no problem, but perhaps you do; either the union will behave, leave, or people may die."

The Salvadorean Ministry of Labour could be fining Mandarin $5,700 (US) a day for violating the country's Labour Code. But it has not - nor has it made any attempt to reinstate the fired workers or to demilitarize the plant.

Claudia Leticia Molina, a 17 year-old from Honduras, is a union worker at Orion Apparel plant, which produces shirts for (among others) Gitano, a Fruit of the Loom subsidiary. She earns an average of 38 U.S. cents an hour, working Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 10:30 pm. Then the workers return on Saturday for a 22.5 hour shift, from 7:30 am to 6 am on Sunday morning.

She lives in a one room shack beside a polluted stream. There's no running water, no refrigeration, no phone - just two beds for five people, and an outhouse. Her family has never been able to afford to exchange Christmas presents, and she has never gone to a movie. Before the union tour, Claudia's images of North America were of a place with pretty roads, where workers earned 30 to 40 lampiras a day (42 to 56 U.S. cents). She has a fifth grade education, about the average for her workmates. The hours they work make it impossible to continue their education. In her workplace, physical, verbal and sexual abuse are everyday occurrences. The union has struggled long and hard, seeing over 300 members fired.

Orion Apparel is a Korean-owned maquiladora factory in the Galaxy International Park Choloma, in Honduras. At another Galaxy Park plant on Saturday, June 10, a young worker trying to pick up his pay had left his ID card at home. An armed guard refused him entry to the plant. When he tried to push past, the guard killed him with three shots in the face. The owners refused to pay his funeral expenses, or even to return his back pay to his widow.

The following Monday, all 2000 workers from the six plants in Galaxy went on strike, shutting down the zone. The mostly young female workers stood their ground all day until management agreed to pay for their murdered brother's funeral, back pay, and severance benefits. The company also agreed to remove the security goons who had been brutally harassing and intimidating the workers, and to recognize their union by June 28. This is the first union in any of Honduras' private export processing zones, established under the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Both women agreed they can't win against these transnationals without the support of other workers. They want Canadian workers to pressure the GAP, which has over the years worked hard to foster a progressive "urban cool" image by funding AIDS and education projects.

The GAP doesn't tell customers that Judith is slapped in the face with a GAP shirt when she isn't working fast enough, or is made to sweep up outside all day in the blistering tropical sun for spending too much time in the washroom. It won't advertise that when she decided that the 16 cents she makes from each $20 GAP shirt was not enough and tried to organize for the union, she was fired.

Workers' wages make up less than 1% of the retail cost of GAP shirts. Is it any wonder that the company made $310 million (U.S.) in 1994, and paid its CEO, Donald Fisher, $2 million plus stock options?

UNITE is calling for workers to send letters of protest against the slave-like conditions common at the Maquiladora plants, and for the reinstatement of all fired workers. Send your letters to: The GAP, 1 Harrison Street, San Francisco, California, USA, 94105.