In his riveting book Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities, sociologist Chad Broughton looks at the economic impact of globalization on workers in the United States and Mexico. But rather than present a macro view of the issue through economic theories, statistical analysis, or commentary from experts, Broughton instead utilizes a micro view by chronicling a small sampling of workers on both sides of the US and Mexican border whose lives were irrevocably changed by the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Using their stories and their voices, Broughton paints a damning picture of the hidden costs of the policy. He also makes the case that “economic globalization is not the nub of the problem . . . it’s how the American political system responded (and failed to respond) to it” (296). The result as Broughton sees it has been an expansion of economic inequality that continues to impact not only those whose stories Broughton tells, but tens of thousands of others who feel discarded, disenfranchised, and disaffected by the political system.
Broughton begins his story in Galesburg, Illinois, home of Knox College, where he was on the faculty. It was also the home of Appliance City, a huge [End Page 136] factory with a proud history where union workers had made refrigerators for decades. Begun as the Admiral plant that produced the first side-by-side models, in 1986 it was bought by the family-run Maytag Company. Maytag was founded in Newton, Iowa, by Frederick L. Maytag, a near mythical figure in home appliance innovation who held a paternalistic view of his workers. The company was passed down through several generations of Maytags, and in the late 1940s was run by Fred Maytag, a grandson of the founder who continued the company’s ideology: “Our management must maintain a just balance among the interests of customers, employees, shareowners, and the public. Although these groups may apparently compete in their short-term goals, their long-range interests coincide, for none can long benefit unless the needs of all are served” (56).
Eventually, however, Maytag was taken over by a new generation of corporate leaders who failed to recognize these shared interests. With increasing competition from cheap Chinese products, Maytag brought in Ralph Hake, formerly with Whirlpool. The Maytag brand of quality appliances built to last was replaced by cost-cutting that ultimately led to the decision in 2002 to close the Appliance City plant in Galesburg, eliminating over two thousand well-paying union jobs. The response of the financial markets to the decision was as expected—they cheered as the price of Maytag stock soared by 7 percent (71).
Union leaders, backed by then-US Senate candidate Barack Obama, tried unsuccessfully for two years to stop the plant’s closure. The stories of the lives of a few of these Maytag workers that Broughton followed after the closure are mostly bleak. But Broughton does not stop with the stories of these American workers who lost their jobs, their savings, their homes, and their families. He also tells the stories of workers who replaced the Americans at the new Maytag plant in Reynosa, Mexico.
And this is where Broughton’s book differs from others that have examined the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He found that not unlike their American counterparts, the post-NAFTA Maytag was devastating to Mexican workers as well. Broughton chronicles the shady “economic development” characters who opened their towns to exploitation by American corporations. Many of the workers were transplants from Veracruz, lured to the border towns by the prospect of jobs that paid more than the backbreaking agricultural work they left behind. They worked long hours for a little over a dollar an hour.
Particularly enlightening is Broughton’s examination of the impact of the [End Page 137] border factories on the women who worked in them. While many escaped their traditional societal roles because of their jobs in the factories, they did so...