El Salvador: workers win back pay in plant closing

On July 12 the 1,066 laid-off employees of El Salvador's Manufacturas del Río (MDR) apparel factory began receiving benefits, back wages and severance pay that they were owed after the plant closed suddenly on Jan. 7. MDR—a joint venture of Mexican company Kaltex and Miami-based Argus Group that stitched garments for such major brands as Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Lacoste, Levi Strauss and Adidas—shut down without notice after the Textile Industry Workers Union (STIT), an affiliate of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS), spent two months attempting to negotiate a contract. No apparel plant in El Salvador has a labor contract.

Salvadoran unionists said that although they took the necessary steps with the Salvadoran Attorney General's Office and the courts to win compensation, international solidarity was crucial to the victory. The STIT filed complaints with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) in the US and put pressure on the Argus Group with support from two US-based groups, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ. In Mexico student activists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), and the Center for Labor Research & Consulting (CILAS) aided a campaign to pressure Kaltex. The German-based Christian Initiative Romero (CIR) backed the Salvadoran union's efforts in Germany to inform Adidas shareholders about the MDR closing; Adidas had sourced garments from the plant for 10 years. (International Union League for Brand Responsibility, July 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 20.