Oct 16, 2017
When a four-story building in the Colonia Obrera (Workers' Colony) district in Mexico City collapsed in the September 19 earthquake, volunteers rushed to rescue people trapped under the rubble. Survivors had reported that somewhere between 50 and 100 workers were in the building, which housed several businesses, including a garment sweatshop.
Without help from government authorities, the volunteers recovered two survivors and 21 bodies. Then, after three days, authorities intervened – no, not to help the rescue effort, but to stop it! Riot police blocked the volunteers' access to the building, roughed them up, and confiscated their tools, as well as food and medicine that were donated.
Then the authorities quickly sent bulldozers to raze the remains of the building – even though, at other locations, people were still being pulled out of the ruins alive!
Apparently, the authorities were more concerned about covering up the truth on behalf of a few business owners than saving the lives of dozens of workers trapped in the ruins. The authorities also refused to release the names of the companies that occupied the building, and information about the building's inspection and safety record.
The building was probably not up to earthquake standards, since nearby buildings mostly withstood the quake. But the owners of the businesses, in particular the sweatshop that employed low-wage, undocumented seamstresses from Asia and Central America, had also ignored some basic safety rules. For example, the owners had not allowed their workers to participate in an earthquake drill, which was held two hours before the quake struck.
Outraged, residents of the neighborhood protested in front of the building. The protesters' signs and graffiti included, "The life of a seamstress is worth more than all of your machines!" "Not one more buried because of corruption," and "Murderers!"
Protesters remembered how, for workers, nothing had changed since the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, which killed 10,000 people, among them an unknown number of low-wage seamstresses working in clandestine sweatshops housed in substandard buildings that quickly collapsed. When Mexico's Interior Minister came to the scene to give a speech, angry protesters began cursing and throwing things at him, forcing him to run away.
The protesters are right. Construction and sweatshop bosses have caused the deaths of dozens of workers in the name of profit, with the complicity of authorities, who allowed them to break labor and safety codes and are now covering for them.
Not just in Mexico but all over the globe, including here in the U.S., grossly underpaid women workers, working under inhumane conditions, produce expensive clothing, from which multi-national corporations make billions of dollars.