For the labor rights and all human rights of the maquiladora workers
Maquiladoras: From Bad to Worse
Latino USA , radio journal of news and culture
By Ruxandra Guidi
Broadcasted March, 2005
[Introduction by Maria Hinojosa]: Remember maquiladoras, the low-cost textile factories situated mainly along the U.S.-Mexico border? They were there to take advantage of the U.S. market to the north and cheap labor to the south. Aided by the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, the growing maquila industry held a lot of promise for young people in Mexico; promises of steady jobs, higher standards of living, and cheaper American products. But in the last couple of years, the maquila landscape has changed, dramatically, from bad to worse. Latino USA 's Roxandra Guidi visited maquila workers along the Texas-Mexico border and has our story:
Angélica Morales points to a large dilapidated building on the outskirts of Ciudad Acuña, across the border from Del Rio , Texas . Once, she worked at a factory like this one. She says that more than 1,200 workers lost their jobs here recently. One evening they were making sandals on the assembly line, the next morning, she says, they were laid off.
Angélica: The factory left for Honduras and they took all their machines and materials with them. They brought the managers too because they'll need them to teach the workers there how to be more efficient.
Morales follows the doings and undoings of maquilas in Ciudad Acuña every week as she makes her rounds. She's a promotora with the Comite Fronterizo de Obrer@s, or the Border Committee of Women Workers, a non-governmental labor rights organization. As part of her job Morales goes door-to-door in neighborhoods surrounding the maquilas talking to people about their working conditions, encouraging them to confront their managers, even as many are finding themselves out of work.
Angélica: Our country is going through a huge transition because Asia and Central America are offering [.] these affordable package deals of raw materials and manufacturing, which are lower in cost.
According to recent financial data, Mexican hourly wages now average almost $3.00. By contrast, in China , the average is $.72. In the last four years, nearly 300,000 maquiladora jobs have fled Mexico , most of them headed for China , and primarily in the textiles and clothing manufacturing industries.
Román Cornejo is a professor of Asian studies at the Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City . His research focuses on trade and political relations between Mexico and China .
Roman: When Chinese products started to invade the Mexican market, when the competition increased for exports to the U.S. and jobs began to migrate to China , that's when our relationship began to change.
Cornejo says he's worried about the growing racist sentiment towards the Chinese. He says that China is being used as a scapegoat for the current labor crisis in Mexico . But amidst the layoffs and the poor prospects for people along the border, there are new developments popping up in the maquila industry.
Teresa Polo Ramos has worked in maquilas in Piedras Negras, located south of Ciudad Acuña, for almost 20 years. During that time she's assembled thousands of Polo shirts, Levi's jeans, and even car seats. Last year she and a number of other women at the Dickie's factory lost their jobs.
Polo Ramos is one of the few fortunate enough to have found work in Piedras Negras. She's now a part of a small worker-owned cooperative that was founded on the principles of the Mexican labor law: dignidad y justicia, or dignity and justice, which is also the name of the co-op.
Teresa: We want to start making school uniforms for the surrounding area. But we still need more sewing machines. Some of the machines we need for the big orders cost a lot of money.
Ramos says they still have a long way to go before Dignidad y Justicia is able to make a profit and before the model can be replicated in other cities along the border. In the meantime, Ramos says she'll stay put and hope to continue to find work in Mexico
Teresa: I have many friends who say "I'm heading north." But I tell them not to. They suffer more crossing the river and the dessert, struggling just as much to be able to find work. I always say there is work here in Mexico , so long as you search hard and make ends meet.
For Latino USA , I am Ruxandra Guidi.
www.cfomaquiladoras.org is produced in cooperation with the
Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)