The Inter-American Regional Labor Organization (ORIT) has just moved offices from Caracas, Venezuela, to the fourth floor of a building at 367 Formosa Street in downtown São Paulo. We welcome its staff and leadership (Vitor Baez Mosqueira, Linda Chavez Thompson, Rafael Freire, Amanda Villatoro, and Angel Zerpa Mirabal), wishing them success in their struggle to advance labor.

The Inter-American Regional Labor Organization (ORIT) has just moved offices from Caracas, Venezuela, to the fourth floor of a building at 367 Formosa Street in downtown São Paulo. We welcome its staff and leadership (Vitor Baez Mosqueira, Linda Chavez Thompson, Rafael Freire, Amanda Villatoro, and Angel Zerpa Mirabal), wishing them success in their struggle to advance labor.

Huge student and workers mobilizations are occurring in France against a proposal announced by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to reform labor law. At the heart of the dispute is a youth employment policy whereby companies taking on workers under age 26 would receive a governmental subsidy while being allowed to dismiss them without prior notice, potentially stimulating companies to resort to the new, more cost-effective, hiring modality at the expense of stable jobs.

Universities have gone on strike and workers are likely to adhere. Inevitable comparisons with the 1968 barricades are starting to emerge. Attempts are being made to promote negotiations to change the law’s most negative aspects, apparently to no avail. At any rate, CPE, the First Employment Contract, is bound to damage Villepin’s and Chirac’s electoral plans.

One of the saddest news of the month was the death of more than 50 workers, with scores of injured in critical state, in a fire that broke out in a textile factory in the outskirts of Chittagong, Bangladesh. The vast majority of the victims were women and a greater tragedy was averted because the fire took place between shifts.

There are more than 4,000 textile companies in Bangladesh, most in precarious labor and safety conditions, paying low salaries for long hours. Bangladesh is one of those countries where companies, generally multinational or linked to their chains of production, are tax exempt and not obliged to comply with labor laws in their Export Processing Zones-EPZs.

Free zones mushroomed as trade liberalization gained momentum from the early 1990s onwards. In Latin America they are known as “maquilas” because in general such enterprises are just assembly plants, basically in the textiles, electronics, clothing, and shoe industries, and are present in most countries of Central America and the Caribbean, Mexico, Northern and Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. Workers hourly wages in these plants are less than US$ .50c, approximately R$1.00.

The Bangladesh tragedy evokes memories more than 100 years old of a similar fact which occurred at a textile company in New York, and which motivated the celebration of March 8 as the International Women’s Day. A sign that there is still a lot to fight for to ensure equality of opportunity between men and women.