Rosa Delia Galicia López, former domestic and maquila worker and general coordinator of the Association of Employed and Unemployed Women United against Violence (AMUCV).
Her childhood ended at age eight. After her parents separated, she, her siblings, and her mother were forced to move to a small town. Survival suddenly became her first concern, and education ceased to be a priority. Rosa Delia, now seventy-five years old, remembers that stage of her life as if it were yesterday: “I started working at the age of eight. I’d sweep, water the flowers, feed the chickens and the pigs. They paid me three quetzales, which was practically nothing, and they gave me food. This at least made my mom feel better because she no longer had to feed me. Those were pretty tough times.”
When she was fourteen, she moved to the capital and toiled as a domestic worker for eleven years in different homes. It was during this time that she learned to read and write. However, everything changed when she became a mother at twenty-five. Employers were unwilling to hire someone with a child, so she decided to leave her son with her mother to be able to migrate and find better working conditions. She spent three years as a domestic worker in Costa Rica, and when she returned in 1983, a friend who worked at a factory helped her find a job there.
For many years she was satisfied with her work. It was strenuous, but they treated her well. She made more money than she did as a domestic worker and learned a lot, but when the head of production died, things took a turn for the worse. They hired a new boss who came with different rules, and the mistreatment began.
This was the spark that prompted workers to unionize in 1986. Because of a training they had received, they were able to anticipate the problems that arose in response to their organizing; moreover, they were able to steel themselves to continue the fight and never wavered along the way.
That is how Rosa Delia, together with two colleagues from the factory, squared up to the company. This was especially hard at a time when sexism and machismo were more blatant than they are today, which kept women from participating due to gender discrimination. But the women knew one thing for sure: only by organizing could they assert their labor rights and make their demands known.
Despite being a small group of only three women, they acquitted themselves with strength and determination as they communicated the issues that were affecting them and the other factory workers: wages were stagnant, working conditions needed to be improved, and the harassment of women workers had to come to an end.
Sitting down and arguing with the company owner and inspectors was a defining, if trying, moment in Rosa Delia’s life. “The owner took us out to the company courtyard. He stopped production and said what they always say: ‘These are the ones who want to get their hands on my company and put you out of a job’. We suffered many attacks, my comrades and me.” The company had the military police go after the workers. Their harassment “infuriated us. We occupied the premises for eight days and went on strike so that [the military police] would go away.”
The union achieved many victories. Among them, Rosa Delia is most proud of a collective agreement that benefited. “Through the union, we got a nursery, [fair] wages for our work, and our reinstatement.” In the end, the company closed down—not because of the union but because of the owner’s personal problems.
“When we left the factory, I had the opportunity to work at the Human Rights Legal Action Center (CALDH) to train maquila workers. This allowed me to grow and learn more things. I was there from 1998 to 2005.”
Her other big struggle wasn’t collective. She had to fight to have a house and a piece of land. In 1995, she moved to the Mario Alioto barrio. “When we arrived, our situation was extremely precarious: we had no water, no electricity, no latrine, nothing. It took time to get papers for this land.”
However, the fight never ends; it’s always there, but it is more grueling today than it was before. Rosa Delia focused her efforts on raising awareness among women, convincing them that in life you have to fight and be firm and decisive; fear will only paralyze you.
In 2005, after leaving CALDH, the idea of AMUCV first emerged: the Association of Employed and Unemployed Women United against Violence. It was all very spontaneous. Early on, community members would gather, using the few resources available to them, to strengthen their collective bond. Later, with the support of a non-profit, they decided to organize, and in 2009, they obtained their legal entity status.
One of their goals is to continue strengthening the women’s labor rights movement, which has made them increasingly aware of the regional context, and not just the local or national contexts. “Today we see that governments nominally agree with all international treaties and conventions, [but] women remain invisible. In Guatemala, laws against the working class and against women have been passed. That is why we, women, have to be united; we have to continue empowering ourselves and learning more about our rights.”
“In Guatemala, we have tried to pass Agreement 189, which deals with domestic work, but the deputies haven’t approved it. We have [Agreement] 190, which is about violence and harassment in the workplace, but it’s just lying there; it hasn’t gone beyond the Ministry of Labor. I told our compañeras we should analyze the situation because [Agreement] 175 was passed at 11:00 PM by 105 deputies, but women were completely excluded from the process. This harms all workers, young or old, and their future because its focus is part-time work. It isn’t t fair because they lose compensation, Christmas bonuses, and other benefits to which we are entitled. They keep taking from us, and that’s why we keep fighting”.