March 19, 2007
Today was a busy day. We started off meeting with the Brazilian delegation at the union hall, about a 45 minute drive away. We had meetings with the health and safety director and the women in the health and safety department. This is the area where most women are active.
This section is mainly for Jeff! Lol Their union structure is quite different. Not all workers are members of the union, but legislation makes it mandatory for a tax to be taken for dues that goes to the union and I think to the employer as well (tough working with interpreters sometimes). And all workers are represented in bargaining even if they don’t choose to join the union. Those that choose to join pay additional dues by choice and are subject to layoff and other forms of intimidation such as the threat of their wife/husband being fired or even police harassment. And not all workers are represented by the same union; you can have several different unions representing workers in the same workplace depending on their work category.
We toured the hall which includes their medical center with various doctors including gynecologists, a training classroom and a shop where they have lathes and other machinery for training members and their dependent children. After the meetings there we all went for lunch together where we had beans and rice (go figure! Lol) as well as squash, yellow potatoes (but they weren’t yams; at least I don’t thing they were) and beef strips.
After lunch we did a tour of one of the workplaces where they make electrical meters; like on the outside of your house. It was an interesting tour. They have a dentist on the premises to take care of all their dental needs at a reduced rate. And a meal program where their meals are provided at a subsidized cost of 50 cents to the worker. Of course these are ways for the company to keep wages low.
By the time we got out of there it was after 5:00 so we headed back to our hotel to freshen up and go for a walk (read shopping!) It was dark by this time and while waiting for a green light we noticed a bunch of the biggest cockroaches I’ve ever seen coming out of the sewer grate. I tried to take a picture for you much to everyone’s amusement and embarrassment but it didn’t turn out. There were also huge lineups for the city buses, yet everyone seemed to be waiting patiently and orderly. Then we came back to the hotel and ordered in a pizza (yum!) and had a couple of beers and discussed our day.
I included a couple of pics of the conditions here. It sure is a reality check to how blessed I am. The canal in the middle of the road is part of their sewer system; interesting stuff.
Now it’s back in my room for the night and off to bed shortly. Our morning session has been canceled but apparently there’s a protest at the legislature they want our presence at instead. That’s just a heads up in case someone needs to come up with bail! Lol
March 20, 2007
Another good day.
We started out going to the legislature to joint the protest. It turns out it wasn’t a protest after all but there was a session with the Commission of Labour and Social Issues (did I mention that working with translators isn’t foolproof?) A proposal had been put forward and they were hearing briefs about women’s issues. First they welcomed our Canadian delegation. Then there were the speakers. First up was a young rural woman who spoke very passionately. Several state ministers then spoke on the issues and they made space for us to speak. Annie was brilliant as she spoke on the issues that we have in common, on where we’ve made ground and where we’ve lost ground. She commended them for doing something we’ve never been able to do; elect a labour party to power (their president is from the labour party and I found out the other day he’s a tool & die maker like me; how cool is that?!)
After the session Minister Elisa Costa had asked to meet with all of us in her office. We had a roundtable discussion on women’s issues, what strategies have been used in both countries and the pros and cons of such. A very interesting and informative meeting.
Then we all headed out for lunch. You’ll never guess what we had! Ok, you guessed it. Rice and beans lol! I should mention that there is other food in addition to the rice and beans but it’s definitely the staple of their diet. They also tend to have their larger meal at lunchtime.
After lunch we went to a co-op which turned out to be a school run strictly by volunteers and donations. They teach such subjects as various crafts, languages, and vocational training like hairdressing, sales, telemarketing, mechanics, chambermaids and so on. The teachers volunteer their time and even donate money to keep up the rent on the building. The students pay no tuition but do have to supply their own materials. They put through about 6,000 students a month! They survive on donations; they receive no government subsidies whatsoever and say they prefer it that way.
At the end of the day we went for a little retail therapy. This is the one thing that always happens when you travel with women; hit the shops! The other women get a big kick out of watching me insist on my independence and not take an interpreter with me to get things I need. It’s amazing how creative you can get! Lol But there’s usually someone nearby to bail me out in a pinch if I can’t quite make myself understood.
We ate dinner in the mall. They have a food court but they have proper tables and chairs and you are served by a waiter with proper china plates and silverware as opposed to plastic and Styrofoam. And of course you can order beer, and Rosie (from the Brazilian delegation) bought us a round of caipirinha, the national drink. It’s made from cachaca (like grapa; about 1,000 proof), lime and sugar. It tastes like a really strong Marguirita. Yum! Lol
Then a cab ride home and here we are. Another early morning tomorrow; we start our day with another plant tour.