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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Women Fight for Rights on the Job

from the Aug. 30, 2023 Bulletin

Rosario Ortiz Magallón helped found and remains active in the national Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas, an organization of women workers that fights for labor and human rights of women. She has served as a federal deputy in México's Congress and a national officer of the Telephone Operators Union of the Mexican Republic (STRM).

What led you to become a union activist and an advocate for women workers?

I was born in México City and was still in high school when I became political. In the ‘80s, I joined the youth section of the Trotskyist political party, the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT). It was an illegal organization, and students were severely repressed.

At one of our Congresses, we decided comrades should join the worker’s movement by getting jobs mainly in industrial sectors. We wanted to oppose the CTM and the corporatist unions, and to fight for real worker power. There is no other way to bring democracy to a rotten union except from below!

I went into the telecommunications sector and joined the Telefonista union, where my job was maintaining equipment. Because the building had to be climate controlled, I worked in a closed space with no windows.

At that time, few women had production jobs. Where I worked, out of 1200 technicians only three of us were women. Women were hired only in the health, education, or service sectors. These jobs are precarious, without social security or legal contracts, and are paid roughly 30% less than the jobs reserved for men.

A key moment in México’s labor and feminist history was the seamstress struggle after the 1985 earthquake. How did that affect women’s union consciousness and participation nationally?

The earthquake destroyed more than 800 garment workshops, most of them clandestine facilities where thousands of women worked without any social protections. Hundreds were crushed to death. More than 40,000 seamstresses were left unemployed and had no right to severance pay.

Photograph: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

The surviving seamstresses organized massive protests and publicized for the first time their exploitative work situations — as well as the labor violations of the owners. It was a shock to the public. Left wing feminist activists, who were organizing about violence against women in general, rallied in solidarity, creating a connection between the feminist and labor movements.

The seamstresses had a profound impact on women throughout the country, including in workplaces with CTM unions. The seamstresses denounced the sexual violence and harassment in these companies.  It was a moment where women became conscious that their oppression was not individual but based on their gender.

The PRT had a process of political formation that included organizing study groups about labor rights, violence against women, and union democracy. My trade union participation allowed the PRT to learn more about the problems of women workers, including obstacles in the family space, since many of them had to ask permission to attend the meetings.

While the '80s and '90s were decades of great mobilizations for improving working conditions, workplace democracy, and trade union independence, we failed to achieve protections for women workers. CTM-controlled workplaces used threats, beatings, and firings against members who defied union leaders.

Peter Menzel/Science Photo Library 

What motivated you and other women to form the Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas (Network of Union Women)?

In 1996, a few of us Mexican women labor activists were invited to Canada by the Canadian auto workers union. They introduced us to a labor project that organized, analyzed, and trained women to become union leaders. We realized that women workers needed a political organization to promote women’s leadership, and the Canadian project became our model.

Originally there were three of us — Inez Gonzalez,  Ginny Cooper (who  was an academic), and me. The Canadian auto union funded us to start our collective of working women, both union and non-union. The organization of the workers was essential to draw attention to inequality, discrimination, and poor conditions in their lives and  at work. It was necessary to break the silence.

The Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas saw that policy reform was necessary to improve the lives of women workers. Did you influence the negotiations of the USMCA/T-MEC, or the labor reforms of 2019?

Historieta:  A graphic presentation of the new labor rights in the 2019 Labor Reform by Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas

No officials ever consulted Mexican unions while negotiating NAFTA and then the USMCA/T-MEC. But we did have a voice in the Mexican labor law reform of 2019. For instance, we launched a campaign about violence against women that received wide publicity. 


At long last with the labor reform, we won a ban on discrimination against women and against gender-based harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. We also made sure that women would be included in union elections and in all union affairs. The government funded the dissemination of information about the new rights. 

Do you feel there is a new openness to women working in the industrial sector and taking leadership in the labor movement?

Yes! Look at the auto sector for example. At Audi, 33% of workers are women. Women are on the production line at VW, GM Silao, and other plants. Because women work right next to men, men are accepting that we have equal skills. They are learning to respect our abilities and willingness to fight for better conditions for workers of all genders.

Women have been elected to negotiating teams and union leadership. For example, Alejandra Morales heads SINTTIA. Despite internal conflicts, she is clearly capable of navigating difficult issues — she’s holding it together.

In the past, the PRI government and the company/charro unions couldn’t care less about women. That has changed. Even CTM unions, thanks to new legal requirements and the shift in public opinion, are recognizing the special oppression of women.

Alexandra Morales, SINTTIA General Secretary: Casa Obrera del Bajío

They are still terrible in practicing union democracy, but they’ve made progress around gender issues — and in the workplaces, they are now informing the workers about women’s rights. So, after fighting for years, we have made great strides. We have the legal space to defend women, improve the public’s understanding of gender-based issues for women workers, and created a new layer of women leaders.


But gender issues run deep in our society. We must keep fighting until we replace the culture that normalizes male dominance in all aspects of our lives.