UT students travel to Mexico, work to raise awareness about working conditions

David Maly

Four UT students took a trip across the border last weekend to see the impoverished lifestyle of factory workers and the struggles they face just four hours to the south as they push for better working conditions.

Philosophy senior Sophia Poitier, Plan II senior Sabina Hinz-Foley, Plan II sophomore Bianca Hinz-Foley and former UT student Yajaira Fraga traveled Friday to the border city of Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico. There, they met with representatives from an automobile manufacturing plant owned by PKC Group that employs close to 8,000 people. Employees of the factory have received international media attention during the last few months as they have attempted to form a union and gain better working conditions and increased pay. The four students are members of the UT chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, an international organization that advocates for workers’ rights.

Poitier said some of the factory workers invited the students to their homes, where they saw the dirty, cramped government or make-shift structures many of the workers pay a significant portion of their pay to live in. 

“I actually got to see what these people’s lives are like and that makes it much more real and much more urgent,” Poitier said. “It made me realize how important solidarity is for these workers, because not only are they working 10 hours a day, holding second jobs and taking care of children, but they are also organizing in their spare time.”

Poitier said, people in the UT community and the rest of the country are generally not aware enough of the living conditions that exist in Mexico.

Fraga agreed, saying most of the media attention on Mexico in the U.S. tends to focus on issues associated with the border.

“Obviously you hear and read things about Mexico, and they are never pretty,” Fraga said. “But you never get to read about the struggles that people go through day in and day out.”

Bianca Hinz-Foley said another goal of the trip was to encourage the workers and lend additional support to their struggle.

“One of our objectives as USAS students is to stand in solidarity with worker rights organizations that struggle to combat illegal and inhumane working conditions in their factories and workplaces in Austin and abroad,” Biana Hinz-Foley said in an email.

Poitier said the UT chapter of USAS will be focusing most of its efforts in the near future on an effort to get the University Co-op to purchase roughly $250,000 worth of apparel from a factory in Central America that has come to serve as an example of fair working conditions in an impoverished area.

“We want the Co-op to show that they care about the rights of factory workers,” Poitier said.

Printed on Friday, October 19, 2012 as: UT students visit Mexico, advocate for worker rights