From David Bacon on Mexmigration, 24 January 2014
Moderator’s Note: The maquiladoras – mostly foreign-owned assembly-line factories that operate on the U.S.-Mexico border and the interior of Mexico – have long been part of the social scientific and political discourse because these operations highlight so many of the challenging issues facing the Mexican working class and especially women workers: Workplace heath and safety issues due to the use of hazardous substances and production procedures; sexual harassment and assaults; low wages and lack of meaningful social and medical benefits; intense productivity pressures leading to high turnover rates; lack of opportunities for advancement and promotion. These are just some of the problems that maquiladora workers have faced and battled for nearly six decades now.
While the maquiladora industry seemed to lose some of its “allure” as an investment opportunity for transnational corporations with the rise of China, and there was a slight downturn in the relocation of factories during the decade from 1998 and 2008, it appears that the industry is on the rebound and may be actually poised for a major growth spurt. This time US-based corporations will not lead the expansion; instead, China is opening maquiladoras as are other Pacific Rim nations, which will lead this next “fourth” wave of border industrialization. This should be interesting and given the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it seems plausible that the fourth wave of maquila expansion may signal a new long-term trend in which the ideology of comparative advantage is exhausted in terms of geopolitical dynamics.
I will be covering this issue in future blogs, but I wanted to start my return to a focus on maquila research by reposting this insightful article by my friend and colleague David Bacon. His article provides a “workers’ scorecard” on NAFTA after twenty years and finds that the treaty “has displaced jobs and people, weakened unions and ravaged US cities and rural Mexico.” The original post appeared yesterday on Truthout.
The Workers’ Scorecard on Nafta
Sold by its promoters as a migration-preventing device that ultimately would produce more and better-paid jobs in all three countries, the North American Free Trade Agreement has displaced jobs and people, weakened unions and ravaged US cities and rural Mexico. But worker solidarity may prove to be its most important product.
The negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement began within months. When completed, it was sold to the public by its promoters on both sides of the border as a migration-preventing device. During the debate executives of companies belonging to USA NAFTA, the agreement’s corporate lobbyist, walked the halls of Congress, wearing red, white and blue neckties. They made extravagant claims that U.S. exports to Mexico would account for 100,000 jobs in its first year alone.In 1986, a provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act created a commission to investigate the causes of Mexican migration to the U.S. When it made its report to Congress in 1992 it found, unsurprisingly, that the biggest was poverty. It recommended the negotiation of a free trade agreement, modeled on the one that had been implemented a few years before between the U.S. and Canada. The commission argued that opening the border to the flow of goods and capital (but not people) would, in the long run, produce jobs and rising income in Mexico, even if, in the short run, it led to some job loss and displacement.
Some skeptics warned that the agreement would put downward pressure on wages and encourage attacks on unions, because its purpose was to create an environment encouraging investment and free markets. Their warnings were met with another promise — that a parallel labor side agreement would establish a mechanism for protecting workers’ rights.
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