News

Sugar Cane Cutters in Morelos, Mexico, Ask for Binational Solidarity and Support

April 21, 2018

On March 17, 2018, in Zacatepec, Morelos, Mexico, sugar cane cutters, affiliated with the Independent National Democratic Union of Farmworkers (SINDJA), organized a work stoppage at the entrance to the Emiliano Zapata Sugarcane Refinery. They are demanding better working conditions and pay for workers who cut cane that supplies two different refineries: Emiliano Zapata and Central Casasano in Cuatla, Morelos.

The cane cutters’ demands include increasing the paltry piece rate of $35-40 pesos per ton that they presently earn. Even though sugar cane cutters work long exhausting days, their earnings are nowhere near able to support the most basic needs of their families. Tons and tons of sugar cane is harvested by hand by workers using machetes, but workers receive very little of the rewards of their harvest.

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A sugar cane worker demonstrates at the entrance to the Emiliano Zapata Sugar Cane Refinery on March 17, 2018.

The cane cutters want their basic rights recognized and respected, as outlined by Mexican labor law. This includes holiday bonuses, pay based on company profits, paid holidays, and entitlement benefits through the Mexican Social Security Institute (which includes health care coverage, pensions, and social security payments). They are also demanding that the refineries, which are owned and operated by the company Beta San Miguel, support farmworker families by providing educational scholarships to farmworker children, and cover the expenses of workplace tools and equipment, among other things.

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This image of cane worker housing, pieced together with scrap wood and plastic from the dump, shows the effects of bare salaries and substandard living conditions for worker families.

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Workers demonstrating outside the entrance to the Emiliano Zapata refinery in Zacatepec, Morelos.

Even though the law gives workers the right to defend and petition for their rights, in reality it is very difficult for farmworkers to pursue their legal rights because doing so requires a lot of resources (such as funding and knowledge of how the legal systems work). The reality is that workers face so many inequalities and barriers in the system. Powerful groups of lawyers and government officials together with the police are protecting the interests of refinery.

In fact, a few days after the demonstration, an armed band kidnapped and beat up a union member from the worker community of Gustavo Salgado Delgado, Municipio Plan de Ayala, Morelos. This happened leading up to a scheduled meeting between refinery officials and representatives of the worker communities and farmworker union to review and revise the demands of the cane cutters expressed in their list of demands. Thus far, the participating workers’ demands have been met with violence, repression, and intimidation, both at work and at their homes, by agents acting on behalf of the sugar cane company. SINDJA has asked that the government of Morelos investigate these violations and do something to ensure the safety and integrity of the workers, and to prioritize a peaceful and active dialog between workers and refinery officials.

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Recently cut sugar cane, en route to the refinery.

At this point, the workers can only rely on each other. They are reaching out across an international border to ask for our support, as labor activists and as consumers of sugar. Over the next month, SINDJA and the sugar cane cutters will be traveling throughout Mexico City and the state of Morelos to monitor the evolving situation of the cane workers’ negotiation efforts. They need to cover their expenses to make this important work possible. To donate, please send funds to this You Caring page, and a team of U.S. allies will ensure that it reaches the worker organizers in Morelos. Please give what you can.

Because we all share in the struggle against powerful business interests, we need to react and lend our unified support to these farmworkers. Together, we can build a world where the workers truly benefit from the fruits of their labor.

Workers of the world UNITE!

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