|The House(s) That Brian Built
If there was any people NAFTA was supposed to help, surely it was the Mexicans. It was supposed to be their admission ticket to industrialization and the great Middle Class, their path out of poverty. As McClatchey Newspapers reports, Mexican workers have found those fancy factory jobs just another dead end.
Some four decades after welcoming foreign assembly plants and factories, known as maquiladoras, Mexico has seen only a trickle of its industrial and factory workers join the ranks of those who even slightly resemble a middle class. Instead, the poverty trap clutches them tightly. Some have earned the same wages for years. The government subsidizes credit, allowing purchases of appliances and even simple houses. But the credit sinks them into debt they can never hope to repay. Their teenage children, rather than staying in school, rush to factories themselves or join criminal gangs.
Without deep political and social reforms, experts say, the thousands of maquiladora plants that cluster at the U.S. border and around cities in the interior will remain a fixture for decades to come, and Mexico won’t build a middle class that’s big enough to fuel faster economic growth.
Mexico does all it can to ensure that workers don’t unionize, or if they do that they join so-called “protection unions” designed to assure the interests of plant owners and keep wages low.
The article illustrates the plight of Mexican factory workers by looking at one of them.
By day, Sergio Martinez labors in a modern air-conditioned factory a few miles from the Texas border, a human cog in the global supply chain that helps build pickups and tractor-trailer cabs. He wears a smart uniform at work.
At night, he comes home to a dirt-floor shack with a bare light bulb and no indoor plumbing. Mosquitoes buzz incessantly. He and his family live like poor dirt farmers.
His salary of $7.50 a day is enough to provide for the family dinner table, the cost of bootleg water and electricity, and an occasional article of discarded clothing for his wife or two girls, but rarely anything else.
And even the foreign corporations don't hide the fact that they're getting rich picking the bones of impoverished Mexican labour.
Factory managers say that by keeping unions out and bringing workers in from southern Mexico, companies that operate here are able to keep wages low.
"These people come to work hard, to suffer. They are willing to work for very little,” said Roberto Rivero, a human resources manager at the Japanese-owned Takata plant here that employs 2,400 people to piece together automotive air bags.