Delegation to Mexico
Mexico City and Puebla
Topics: NAFTA -- Immigration -- Corn
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The U.S. Embassy
Tuesday morning we visited with three career diplomats at the U.S. Embassy. After what we had heard about the effects of NAFTA we wanted to hear what the diplomats had to say. It was clear that they regarded NAFTA as a success for Mexico. Mexico's gross national product was up. Exports had increased. The diplomats acknowledged that some groups were worse off, and that some adjustments in the treaty might be needed.
When asked whether these gross measures of national weatlth translated into a larger income for ordinary Mexicans, or just increased profits for big business, they didn't have a clear answer. What impressed us most about our visit was realizing that if we had gone to the embassy with no prior knowledge we would probably have been convinced that NAFTA was a good thing for Mexico. Yet, they told no outright lies. They mentioned corn farmers as one of the groups that might be worse off due to NAFTA. They simply failed to state that the group of corn farmers is a very large segment of the population, while the groups that have benefited are considerably smaller, and, in general, much better off to begin with.
After lunch we met with representatives of the National Union of Autonomous Regional Farmer Organizations, UNORCA. Again we heard about the plight of farmers who are unable to compete with cheaper corn and other products from the U.S. where farming is mechanized, large scale and heavily subsidized. An additional issue mentioned was the potential privatization of land held in common in farm communities. Though privately owned, previously plots could not be sold, and the community had the right to reassign plots that weren't farmed by their owner. Recently owners have been given the right to sell their share of the land. Land has begun to be concentrated again in the hands of a few. The representatives saw a need for a new round of land reform.
Pueblo and the CAT
After the meeting we traveled for several hours on a bus for Pueblo. A major volkswagon plant is located in Pueblo (explaining the many volkswagon taxis on the streets of Mexico City), and it is also the site of many maquilas, or assembly plants, where goods, predominantly clothing, are manufactured to sell in the U.S. Once we arrive we go directly to the Worker Support Center, or CAT. We hear from them about efforts to unionize workers in the maquilas.
In Mexico there are sponsored union, which work more to protect stability than for the workers. Then there are private unions. Workers at plants with private unions generally are paid far better with better working conditions. But it is a long process to establish one, and they have to recognized officially by a government board. The CAT workers told of us three campaigns to unionize maquilas. In one they were successful. Another failed. During the third campaign the workers ratified the union, but the government board refused to recognize it. After a long campaign the union was finally recognized. But the factory shut down, and the workers lost their jobs. About a third of the maquilas that were opened at the start of NAFTA have since closed as businesses have relocated to India, China, Vietnam or other Latin American countries where they can pay workers even less than in Mexico.
Still, the CAT worker felt the campaign was a success because it taught the workers how to fight for their rights. Among the conditions she spoke of was the sexual harassment of women who work in the maquilas. We were given pamplets descibing one of their projects - "The M in mujeres (women) is not for Macho."