By Mick Duncan, Secretary, No Sweat
After Mexican workers' action against poverty-pay and anti-union management in Matamoros Garment, and a massive international campaign in support of their struggle, a victory has been won for militant, independent trade unionism.
Workers' action began in January against illegal low-pay rates of US$3.90 per day, forced overtime, abuse from managers, disgusting food in the cafeteria and the denial of union rights.
The sportswear giant, Puma, a major user of this sub-contracting factory in Puebla, Mexico, ran from the factory as soon as the struggle began to get international attention. They were happy to use cheap labour - as long as they got no bad publicity.
Now Puma has backed down and has been forced to return to the factory and re-new its orders. This should stabilise the situation inside the factory, guarantee jobs - at least in the short term - and allow the new independent union, the Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Empresa Matamoros Garment (SITEMAG), to consolidate.
This victory should also send a powerful message across the whole region - which is littered with sweatshop factories - that workers' direct action can win important improvements in pay and conditions. It is no accident that this struggle followed a similar battle in the area at KukDong-Mexmode.
It is a feature of both Mexmode and Matamoros that Mexican workers were backed by prompt and vast international solidarity which was partly focused on the big brands - like Nike and Puma - who use these factories, ruthlessly exploiting mainly young women workers. The brands - who are often highly sensitive to bad publicity - have been put under great pressure by activists across Europe, Australia and north America.
In Britain No Sweat has helped to co-ordinate action. With LabourStart we have been responsible for many hundreds of activists mailing Puma management. On International Women's Day, Saturday 8 March, we will be holding a series of protest across the country to highlight the continuing need to back workers fighting sweatshop bosses.
The workers' support centre in Puebla, the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT), believes it is important that the pressure on Puma continues. "Now is not the time to stop our actions against Puma until they make good on their promises. We've given them the benefit of the doubt before, and Puma has broken their promises."
No Sweat intends to focus heavily on Puma in the coming months. In London on 8 March the new Puma store in trendy Carnaby Street will be one focus of our afternoon of anti-sweatshop action. Other notorious employers - Gap, Nike and Disney - all of whom have stores in the Oxford Circus area, will also feature. We are demanding union rights, living wages and safe working conditions for all workers, in every factory, in every country.
One important spin-off victory in past No Sweat protests in central London, has been the unionisation of shop workers inside the stores we are protesting against.
For more details of No Sweat activities in your area, and the latest on Puma, see our web site: www.nosweat.org.uk