Mexico’s ‘Maquiladora’ Labor System Keeps Workers in Poverty
This article is about a month old, but the information in it is about 40 years old, and the situation it describes has only gotten worse in all that time.
Read the whole article here. It’s a little long, but it’s well-written and fluff-free.
By day, Sergio Martinez labors in a modern air-conditioned factory a few miles from the Texas border, a human cog in the global supply chain that helps build pickups and tractor-trailer cabs. He wears a smart uniform at work.
At night, he comes home to a dirt-floor shack with a bare light bulb and no indoor plumbing. Mosquitoes buzz incessantly. He and his family live like poor dirt farmers.
His salary of $7.50 a day is enough to provide for the family dinner table, the cost of bootleg water and electricity, and an occasional article of discarded clothing for his wife or two girls, but rarely anything else.
Martinez, 35, is emblematic of the industrial sector of Mexico, a magnet for foreign investment hitched to a strong U.S. locomotive. Factories in Mexico pump out plasma TVs, BlackBerry smartphones, kitchen blenders, airplane components and automobiles. Yet millions of workers, like Martinez, can only dream of climbing from the lower class to buy the appliances, smartphones and cars they help manufacture.
Without deep political and social reforms, experts say, the thousands of maquiladora plants that cluster at the U.S. border and around cities in the interior will remain a fixture for decades to come, and Mexico won’t build a middle class that’s big enough to fuel faster economic growth.
Mexico does all it can to ensure that workers don’t unionize, or if they do that they join so-called ‘protection unions’ designed to assure the interests of plant owners and keep wages low.
‘We’ve grown 17,000 jobs in three years,’ Mayor Alberto Aguirre Villarreal said. ‘We have the lowest crime rate along the border. This helps us. Companies that come don’t ask us, ‘What is the risk?’ ‘
Acuna also has a history of antipathy toward unions, which officials consider a major selling point in attracting manufacturers.
‘We’ve never had union issues. That’s been a great positive for us. We’re not used to having unions in our city,’ said Jose Jorge Ramon, the director of economic development for the city.
The desperation of workers is apparent. Many of those who can’t find weekend jobs peddle trinkets from their homes or turn to more radical measures, such as crossing the Rio Grande to sell their blood plasma in Del Rio for $25 to $35 per visit.
A nation without a middle class is a nation with many deep, unsolvable problems. This nation is our neighbor, and I think its problems are our problems, to some extent. I don’t know whether NAFTA is a cause of this, but if it can be reworked to be a cure, the time to do that is now. The billions we are spending on the Merida Initiative are wasted if the people continue to live like serfs.