This profile was prepared when Carmen Valadez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Ever since she first witnessed the working conditions endured by women in Mexico's maquiladora factories, Carmen Valadez has wanted to fight for workers' rights from the inside. "Maquiladora" is the name given to factories in Mexico's special export zones, often located near the United States border and owned by foreign companies. Such factories are known for their violations of workers' rights. They require long working hours for low wages, often amid dangerous working conditions for the women and even the children employed there. Traditional approaches to labor union organization typically do not succeed in these special factories, among whose defining features are large reservoirs of unskilled labor and legal and tax contexts that militate against longer-term relationships with the place where the factory is located.Since 1989, Carmen has persistently translated class- and gender-based labor analysis into practical methods for women to change their working conditions, leveraging Mexico's obligations under its own laws and international treaties. Where Mexican trade unionists have failed, she educates and organizes the maquiladora workforce to stand up for their rights and demand better pay and working conditions and to ally themselves with women workers throughout Mexico and internationally. The international dimension of her work differs from traditional trade union internationalism in its strategic linking of women workers' struggles in special export zones throughout the world.