A year ago they began a “diagnostic” of workers’ rights in maquiladoras. Their methodology is based on the International Labor Organization, viewing workers rights in the context of human rights. They work out of an office in a storage area behind the home of Cecilia’s parents, where they collect data on a desktop computer with a few shelves for books and papers.
When the current worker actions began, they shifted gears into providing support.
“The antecedents are four to five years of violence, a lot of unemployment and the economic problems of the United States,” Espinosa said of the roots of the current labor upsurge.
The drug war violence initiated by the previous Mexican president Felipe Calderon, and financed by the United States, has ebbed. The U.S. financial crisis and subsequent international recession had hit the Mexican economy hard. With the U.S. economic recovery, production is rebounding in Juarez and there is a labor shortage.
The federal, state and municipal governments are working to propel economic investment in Juarez. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto went to France to woo French companies to come to Mexico.
Juarez’s Municipal President Enrique Serrano is a rising star in the Party of the Institutional Revolution, the PRI, and in line to be candidate for governor next year.
Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte is pushing for increasing investment in products made or assembled by the hands of people in Chihuahua. The way this is being played out is a classic means of pitting workers against workers.
“One of the problems that began the movement was that in some places, the maquiladoras are picking up workers outside of Juarez, in towns such as Janos or Buenaventura, and take them each day by bus to the maquilas,” Espinosa said. “They begin to work with the best salary as if they had eight to 10 years of seniority at the maquila.”
Management pressured existing workers to work more hours without an increased salary and accept abuse.
“There is pressure on workers that if they don’t like it, they can go, but they can’t go elsewhere because they put their names on a blacklist,” Espinosa said.
Working conditions are deteriorating. A few years ago, workers had production bonuses, transportation, a cafeteria and other supports. Now, these extras are being cut.
Espinosa connected the push to lure in transnational corporations without required conditions to the Trans Pacific Partnership, the free trade agreement secretly negotiated between the United States and a dozen Pacific Rim nations that is currently awaiting a vote in the U.S. and Mexican Congresses.
“This is part of the push for the Trans Pacific Partnership. Mexico wants to generate work for big companies and the cost is that ever day workers are poorer,” Espinosa said.
“It is not clear on how it will have an effect on Mexican workers but looking back on NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and other treaties that have not had a benefit for Mexican workers, TPP will be the same or worse with poor conditions and more unemployment,” Avalos added.
“Peña Nieto has made structural reforms that go to make this situation for workers, to permit big companies and those who have money to benefit and not the workers, and to benefit big companies outside of Mexico,” Avalos said.
The federal minimum wage in Mexico increases on January 1 from 70.10 pesos per day to 73 pesos per day, $4.22 in U.S. dollars.
Even the overtime laws have been changed in Chihuahua. The federal law is based on a 48 hour week over six days. Any hour worked over eight hours in a day is paid at double time, and when those extra hours exceed nine hours in a week, the additional hours are at triple time.
In 1989, then Governor Francisco Barrio signed a state law that allowed maquilas to operate on 5 day week of 9 hour days with a half-hour unpaid meal break. Only the hours after 9-and-a-half hours count as overtime.
Sergio Ornelas, the editor of BorderNOW, a monthly publication of the maquiladora industry, wrote in the August issue that Foxconn is among the main Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) firms in Mexico. These are firms that manufacture finished goods, components and do repair work for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMS). EMS companies had revenues of $33 billion in 2014, according to data from New Venture Research Corp.
There was an exodus to China of many electronics firms in the early 2000’s, but now wages in China have been creeping up and are slightly higher than Mexico’s, according to Ornelas.
Ornelas sees the possibility of a “Silicone Wave” developing in Mexico, both of assembling electronic products from parts made in China but also becoming a manufacturing hub.
According to Ornelas, the current most important issue in business logistics is the TPP between 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
“The North American Trade Agreement is of course at the center of the ongoing debate in the U.S. Congress. Twenty-one years since it came into effect, U.S. politicians are still arguing about the results and effects of NAFTA on jobs, foreign investment and trade,” Ornelas wrote.
Nancy Gonzalez, a contributing writer to BorderNOW, wrote in the August issue that along the border region, there are 20,000 vacancies in maquiladoras.
The top 10 northern Mexico border cities have at least 1,717 active manufacturing facilities and those companies employ almost a million workers, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI). Most of these maquiladoras are hiring from 20 up to 500 workers per facility.
In cities such as Tijuana, Reynosa, Matamoros, and Ciudad Juarez, 90 percent of the maquiladoras have vacancies.
In the early 2000s, maquila owners told workers that if they didn’t accept wage cuts, the factory would close and move to China, where the average wage was 25 cents per hour.
Since then social unrest has been pushing wages up in China. With added transportation costs, transnational corporations found it cheaper to move production back to Mexico.
Foxconn, one of the world’s largest factory systems, was assembling the world’s iPhones at its Chinese factory complexes. It became notorious for young workers jumping out of their dorm windows, feeling trapped in their oppressive working conditions. A threat of a mass suicide from a rooftop forced the company to begin increasing wages.
Significantly, Foxconn now has two plants in Ciudad Juarez employing 11,000 workers.
The purpose of the Trans Pacific Partnership is to replace China with access to Vietnam and Malaysia as the premier low-wage areas of the world for transnational corporations.
If the U.S. and Mexican Congresses pass the Trans Pacific Partnership, maquila owners in Ciudad Juarez will be telling their workers to accept lower wages and worse working conditions, or they will close the plants and move them to Vietnam or Malaysia.
The maquila workers upsurge in Juarez may be the beginning of a spreading fight to keep that scenario from happening.
The Lexmark workers are appealing for donations to pay utilities and household expenses so that they can keep participating in the plantón. They are collecting donations to replace each person’s aguinaldo, or Christmas bonus. So far, they have 23 to 30 workers left to cover. A union in Mexico City contributed 20,000 pesos. You can contact us by phone or email for a Mexican bank account number to do a wire transfer or you can make a donation through our Paypal account and we will send the money. Make a note that the donation is for the maquila workers.