Comité Fronterizo
de Obrer@s


Spanish Version

More about the CFO and NAFTA



David Bacon speaks with Julia Quiñonez

"David: If that's the case, do you think that there is any form of labor protection that can be incorporated into agreements like NAFTA that would guarantee workers rights, or do you think that workers have to guarantee their labor rights in some other way?

Julia: I think both possibilities are true. It can be if there is a renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement. The possibility of actual effective obligatory means of enforcing workers' rights and holding transnational corporations accountable to complying with the law would be a helpful possibility for workers. That's what is necessary for trade agreements. At the same time, even if you have such trade agreements, the organizing of workers at the grassroots level, informing workers' organizations is vital. Otherwise, we can't enforce these rights that are recognized by the trade agreements." Read the complete interview.

Francis in Miami: “Free trade was supposed to benefit everybody.”

Francisca Acuña Hernández (Francis) represented the Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (Border Workers’ Committee)* and the working women of Delphi Corp. at the Miami forum that accompanied the Nov.2003 ministerial meeting regarding the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). America@work, the magazine of the AFL-CIO, as well as the issue page on Trade in the Americas of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), both reported Francis’s comments at the Global Workers Forum.Below, read what Francis had to say when she came home from Miami.

“In Miami they asked us why we were demonstrating against the FTAA. I said that free trade was supposed to benefit everybody. It’s been quite a while now, and the reality is that we are poorer than we were before. We working people used to earn good wages, but now they’re falling. Working conditions are not like they were before. You used to become permanent after working for a month. Now, they’re giving us month-to-month contracts, so that we can never earn seniority or health benefits.* Our other benefits are also disappearing.

With FTAA we’ll be even worse off. The factories are already leaving. We’ll be left without any employers – Mexican or American. In the cities our jobs are disappearing, and there’s no work in the countryside, either. Nobody cares about working people – it’s only about what’s advantageous for the owners. None of the benefits of free trade have materialized for us – in jobs, in wages, or anywhere else."

"At the border, we’ve had 38 years of experience with the maquiladoras
and “free trade” – and we’re not satisfied".
Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s

“NAFTA Is Taking Us Backward”

Ten years after the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) went into effect, fifty CFO members came together to discuss how this agreement has affected working people over the past ten years. They shared their thoughts at a session of the CFO’s annual meeting, which took place in November 2003 in Reynosa in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

The session began with an exercise that asked each participant to reflect individually for five minutes and then write on a sheet of paper where they were ten years ago and how much they earned at that time. Participants were also asked to assess whether they were better off then or now.

Some of the comments shared during this activity are noted below:

  • Before the pay was fairer, at Carrizo’s three plants as well as at TennMex and Dimmit. All those plants closed, and now we can’t get by on what we earn.
  • What happened to the 10 percent raise we used to get? We’re worse off now.
  • I’m earning 800 pesos a week (US$74) with 21 hours of overtime. Whatever happened to union contracts?
  • We’re barely recovering from the devaluation of 1994, which affected us a lot. Our salaries went down.
  • Ten years ago I could save a little. Now I have to spend every dime I make. Even so, I can’t buy fruit or vegetables.
  • We’re not living from month to month, or from week to week. We’re living from day to day.
  • Before, we earned more and we ate better.
  • Prices went up.
  • Before stores would give you the price for a kilo of ham or a kilo of beef. Now they give their prices in a half-kilo or a quarter-kilo.
  • It seems like a kilo now weighs less than 1000 grams. Staple goods come in smaller packages. They cost the same or even more, but there’s less in the package. There are fewer cookies now in a bag of cookies.
  • Devaluation benefited the maquiladoras. If a company paid me $100 US before, after 1994 they only needed $40.
  • NAFTA didn’t help working people.

In Ten Years, Our Quality of Life Has Deteriorated

CFO coordinator Julia Quiñonez comments on NAFTA and its North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) or labor side agreement.

We’ve seen that NAFTA is a failed model, a model that just doesn’t work. After ten years, you can look at workers’ pay stubs and see that they were earning more before than they are now. In cities like Piedras Negras and Matamoros, people were earning up to 1200 pesos a week. Now the highest salaries are 700 or 800 pesos a week (US$65-74), and the average wage is 450 or 500 pesos (US$42-46).

Over the past ten years, overall conditions and the quality of life in Mexico have deteriorated. Maquiladora workers who make electronic products or auto parts don’t earn enough to buy what they make. Communities that house global companies like Alcoa, Delphi, or GE should be enjoying good economic conditions. Instead, they don’t even have basic services like running water, sewage, electricity, or paved roads. Squatters keep opening up new land because there isn’t enough housing.

NAFTA is a story of extremes: benefits and progress for the few, and poverty and decline for the many.

CFO in the News:
Zócalo (Piedras Negras), Vanguardia (Saltillo), Miami Herald, New York Times

In early 2004, the newspapers Zócalo and Vanguardia, both published in the state of Coahuila, ran stories entitled “No Gains for Working People” and “Free Trade Harms Workers,” with similar versions of an interview with Julia about NAFTA’s tenth anniversary. We also helped two U.S. newspapers talk with women working in the maquiladoras. In November 2003, the Miami Herald ran NAFTA Revisited. In December, The New York Times published Free Trade Accord at 10: Growing Pains Are Clear.

The CFO Responds to NAFTA

In October 1998, we held a workshop for maquiladora workers on NAFTA. In the first part of this two-day workshop, we heard presentations by activists with the Free Trade Action Network in Mexico City and the Mexico-US Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Next, the 25 participants formed small groups to think through their views on NAFTA.

Their main conclusions were:

    • We do not support NAFTA because we do not receive any of its benefits. On the contrary, its effects are prejudicial to us. We also oppose this agreement because it was negotiated behind our backs.
    • NAFTA should be renegotiated to promote fair trade relations among Mexico, the United States, and Canada. A new treaty should assure just treatment for workers and full enforcement of the labor laws of each country.
    • Mexico’s labor code should be fully enforced, and the government’s labor authorities as well as unions should defend the authentic interests of workers.
    • We need to share information about NAFTA directly with other workers.
    • We also need to publicize the work of the CFO more broadly.
    • We will work with RMALC and other organizations in the three NAFTA countries in order to contribute to the creation of alternatives to “free trade.”
    • We need to influence the governments of Mexico and the United States by making the voices of workers heard regarding our situation and our proposals for change.
    • We need to develop strategies that permit workers to confront NAFTA and the conditions in their factories without being fired.

The CFO believes it is necessary to fight to stop free trade agreements and economic globalization when they affect workers negatively. As a grassroots workers organization on the Mexico-U.S. border, we intend:

  • To educate and organize more maquiladora workers.
  • To renegotiate NAFTA so that workers have a voice in its development.
  • To reject the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and in its place adopt the Alternatives for the Americas developed by fair trade networks of our hemisphere.
  • To develop international strategies for grassroots organization to combat corporate-controlled globalization.
  • To defend the historic gains of workers that are codified in Mexico’s Federal Labor Law.
  • To work for the implementation of the conventions of the International Labor Organization.
  • To oppose the “Millennium Round” of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and instead evaluate the impact of WTO policies; in addition, to support the formation of a WTO working group to explore the relationship between trade agreements and labor rights.

Another result of this workshop was the publication in October of 1999 of a CFO report Six Years of NAFTA: A View from Inside the Maquiladoras, made in collaboration with AFSC.

Women of the CFO Speak on Free Trade

We’ve been invited to speak at many public forums, including several focusing on how free trade has affected maquiladora workers, as well as their families and communities.

In addition to Francis’s participation in the Miami forum, Tere Polo was part of a speaking tour on FTAA in Oregon in February 2003; Ana Maria Hernández traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago in October 2002; and Julia debated several men involved in the negotiations for the FTAA at a form in the Law School at the University of Denver in March 2001. See also:

Pictured on the right is CFO member Maria Elena from Reynosa during her trip to Quebec. The graffiti behind her reads, “No to economic dictatorship on women’s shoulders!”
  • María Elena in the PeoplesForum in Quebec, April 2001. (Spanish)
  • Amparo, who spoke at the AFL-CIO march against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, diciembre 1999.







    is produced in cooperation with the
Mexico-U.S Border Program
of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
Monterrey #1103, Col. Las Fuentes
Piedras Negras, Coahuila
C.P. 26010, México