“I want to learn how to defend myself from whoever tries to oppress me, whether it’s my husband, my union, or my boss.”—a bananera
Women banana workers—bananeras—are waging a powerful revolution by making gender equity central in Latin American labor organizing. Their successes disrupt the popular image of the Latin American woman worker as a passive bystander and broadly re-imagine the possibilities of international labor solidarity.
Over the past 20 years, bananeras have organized themselves and gained increasing control over their unions, their workplaces, and their lives. Highly accessible and narrative in style, Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America recounts the history and growth of this vital movement.
Starting in 1985 with one union in La Lima, Honduras, and expanding domestically through the late 1990s, experienced activists successfully reached out to younger women with a message of empowerment. In a compelling example of transnational feminism at work, the bananeras crossed borders to ally with banana workers in five other banana exporting countries in Latin America, arguing all the while that empowering women at every level of their organizations makes for stronger unions, better able to confront the ever-encroaching multinational corporations.
When the bananeras of Latin America, with their male allies, explicitly integrate gender equity into their organizing work as essential to effective labor internationalism—when they refuse to separate the global struggle against trans-national corporations from the formidable efforts at home to achieve equity and respect—they inspire all of us to envision a new framework for internationalism that places women’s human rights at the center of global class politics.
A professor of American studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, Dana Frank focuses on US and international labor issues. Published in The Washington Post, The Nation, and other periodicals, she is the author of Buy American and, with Robin D.G. Kelley and Howard Zinn, of Three Strikes.