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Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera: Forging Relationships Across Borders

Maquiladora workers
Photo: AFSC

“A very appealing feature of the CFO philosophy is that they never impose an agenda on the workers, but instead respond to needs that workers articulate. They say ‘Always go to the workers with empty hands’—equivalent to our idiom of an open mind.” - Judith Rosenberg, Co-founder of Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera

AFSC-Austin has supported grassroots initiatives among workers, migrants and activists for over a decade.

Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (ATCF: ‘Austin So Close to the Border’) began in 1999 as an independent activist response to the inspiring visit to Austin of three women maquiladora workers hosted by AFSC. The three women were representing the Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO: Border Committee of Women Workers). Since then Austin Tan Cerca has become an AFSC project and has organized quarterly delegations to five border cities to meet with CFO organizers and workers.

Through these trips and other cross-border initiatives, Austin Tan Cerca has forged relationships among maquiladora workers in Mexico and people in the United States, generating a growing bi-national support network.

The CFO: Inspiring Learning, Collective Action, and Mutual Trust

Austin Tan Cerca has seen maquiladora workers gain significant victories with the support of the CFO. Workers have: 

  • Pressured companies to implement laws requiring safety equipment and protective clothing.
  • Challenged illegal layoffs and dismissals, winning legally-mandated severance pay.
  • Curbed pollution in communities and factories.
  • Testified to shareholders about hazardous working conditions and labor abuses.
  • Built self-esteem and confidence among hundreds of workers who today are standing up for their rights.

For many delegates, the richness of the border visits comes from meeting workers and their families at home. There, delegates engage with workers in frank, spontaneous conversations that presume a degree of trust normally built up over time. This openness reflects workers’ confidence in the CFO, which in turn has developed a relationship of mutual trust with AFSC and Austin Tan Cerca.  

In partnership with Austin Tan Cerca, the CFO organizes the border trips in Mexico and accompanies delegates, explaining current issues and strategies in labor organizing.

Austin Tan Cerca: Developing a Support Network

Austin Tan Cerca shares the CFO philosophy of going to workers with an open mind. This guides its approach to facilitating delegations and to cross-border solidarity. In all of its actions, Austin Tan Cerca responds to initiatives of maquiladora workers and their organization, the CFO.

In addition to organizing delegations, Austin Tan Cerca

  • Responds to specific CFO requests. For example, it twice raised the purchase money for 100 editions of the 1,200-page Mexican Federal Labor law, which the CFO employs in educating and organizing workers.
  • Organizes solidarity actions in the U.S. to support specific worker demands for social justice.
  • Markets T-shirts and tote bags produced by the CFO-sponsored Maquiladora Dignidad y Justicia (Dignity and Justice), a worker-owned fair trade sewing shop.
  • Builds awareness of the impact of corporate globalization on women, workers, democracy and the environment.

Austin Tan Cerca conducts these activities through an active listserv and monthly meetings in Austin.