Mexican Women in American Factories: Free Trade and Exploitation on the Border

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Blending rigorous economic and statistical analysis with concern for the people affected, Mexican Women in American Factories offers the first assessment of whether NAFTA has fulfilled these expectations by examining its socioeconomic impact on workers in a Mexican border town. Carolyn Tuttle led a group that interviewed women maquila workers in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The responses from this representative sample refute many of the hopeful predictions made by scholars before NAFTA and reveal instead that little has improved for maquila workers.

The women's stories make it plain that free trade has created more low-paying jobs in sweatshops where workers are exploited. Families of maquila workers live in one- or two-room houses with no running water, no drainage, and no heat. The multinational companies who operate the maquilas consistently break Mexican labor laws by requiring women to work more than nine hours a day, six days a week, without medical benefits, while the minimum wage they pay workers is insufficient to feed their families.


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    See our disclaimer. Originally published in hardcover in Prior to the millennium, economists and policy makers argued that free trade between the United States and Mexico would benefit both Americans and Mexicans. Blending rigorous economic and statistical analysis with concern for the people affected, Mexican Women in American Factories offers the first assessment of whether NAFTA has fulfilled these expectations by examining its socioeconomic impact on workers in a Mexican border town. Carolyn Tuttle led a group that interviewed women maquila workers in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

    American farmers now receive 7. This "comparative advantage" enabled U. But when the displaced campesinos arrived in nearby cities, few jobs were waiting. NAFTA concentrated growth along Mexico's northern border, where factories -- called maquiladoras -- processed and assembled goods for the then-booming U.


    • Mexican Women in American Factories!
    • Environmental Justice Case Study: Maquiladoras.
    • Mexican women in American factories free trade and exploitation on the border.
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    Between and , maquiladora employment doubled while employment in the rest of the country stagnated. Neoliberalism was supposed to reduce the income gap between Mexico's relatively rich border states and the poorer ones in the country's middle and south. Supporters claimed that privatizing banks and opening them to foreign ownership would make more capital available for domestic firms in domestic markets.

    But -- in the depressingly familiar pattern of privatization the world over -- the PRI reformers sold off the banks to friends, then bailed out the new owners when the peso collapsed a year after NAFTA was passed. Yet, as 85 percent of the country's banking system was being turned over to foreigners, lending to Mexican business actually dropped from 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product in to 0.

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    The global bankers were more interested in taking deposits and making high-interest-rate consumer loans than in developing Mexico's internal economy. Meanwhile, booming investment in the exporting sweatshops of the north has created a social and ecological nightmare. Rural migrants have overwhelmed the already inadequate housing, health and public-safety infrastructures, spreading shantytowns, pollution and crime. Maquiladora managers often hire large numbers of women, whom they believe are more docile and more dexterous than men at assembly work.

    Families break up as men cross the border in search of jobs, leaving women vulnerable to the social chaos. As the U.

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    In the last two years, an estimated , maquiladora jobs have left Mexico for China, where workers can be had for one-eighth the Mexican wage. In a deregulated world, there is always someone who will work for less.

    Mexican Women in American Factories

    In order to relieve the pressures of unemployment, Fox has been badgering George W. Bush to liberalize migration, create guest-worker programs, and provide Mexican migrants with civil rights and social benefits. The Mexican president regularly refers to migrants in the United States as "heroes," and their remittances have become one of the country's most important sources of foreign earnings. The White House has been unresponsive.

    After Fox -- facing a July election with 80 percent of Mexicans opposed to the invasion of Iraq -- declined to join Bush's war coalition, Washington is even less interested. In time White House pique will fade.

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    But, in any event, Mexico cannot develop by sending its most ambitious and industrious workers to the United States. Mexico needs these people. It paid for the cost of their upbringing and education, in effect subsidizing U. The Mexican government, aided by some U. This may be useful. But migrants send money home for immediate consumption to maintain the living standards of parents, grandparents and children in a depressed domestic economy.

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