CUPE sisters Minerva Porelle and Andréane Chénier participated in CoDevelopment Canada’s 2016 Maquila Solidarity Tour to Nicaragua and Honduras. A delegation of 10 trade union sisters traveled to Central America to express solidarity with the maquila workers and organizers in the textile industry where many multinational corporations are operating and exploiting workers. The focus of the tour was occupational health and safety and gender rights.

Andréane Chénier, CUPE national Health and Safety officer, was a delegate and shares her experience of the Solidarity tour.

There was something a bit surreal about standing among a group Nicaraguan and Honduran women, listening to each of their stories about what their life was like. I kept thinking how similar their situation was to what many CUPE members face. Certainly the scale was different, but the essential nature of those struggles was the same.

The women shared stories of strength and victory but also bitter setbacks and obstacles to overcome. They told us about impossible employers, about not being respected as workers and as women. They told us about their experience of workplace violence. They spoke about how their workloads were overwhelming, how the work itself was backbreaking, the workplace unhealthy and about how their work stations were injuring them.

The Nicaraguan women told us how they had to fight their employers to be able to have decent work. Employers fired people who became too ill or were injured because of their work. Those same employers then tried to blame their occupational illnesses and injuries on how they lived their lives at home or how they took care of their children – as if the fact that they did backbreaking, repetitive work to meet ridiculous quotas in hot, humid, fibre-filled air at poor ergonomic work stations for 10 to 12 hours a day wasn’t a cause of their injured spines, joints and lungs. 

I marched next to Honduran women who chanted for their rights to a workplace free of violence and better health and safety, including a demand that the Ministry of Labour perform workplace ergonomic assessments. Marching in the heat, the women stood firm, united in their belief that they could make a difference in their workplaces and in their society. Passers-by agreed with them and could see their determination. 

But most of all, I marveled at the strength of these women. They touched us all as they were recounting their stories. In unity there is strength and by standing together they could make a difference.

We were there to show our solidarity with their struggle, to show them that they were not alone. But they reminded me of what we fight for, and what’s at stake. I will never forget them.