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The Struggle for Labor Rights in the Maquiladoras of Northern Mexico María Eugenia de la O DOI: 10.5876/9781607326311.c007 Introduction Mexican maquiladoras are assembly plants that produce parts and components for international corporations, mostly in the automotive, electronics, and textile industries. These plants were first established in areas of free trade for exports in the late sixties, mainly on the border between Mexico and the United States due to their relationships with companies located in the United States. Later, maquiladoras were established throughout Mexico, and they revolutionized the country’s economy and caused a profound reorganization of labor relationships. Since the 1980s, governmental policy supporting neoliberal economics has made it possible to consolidate the maquiladoras. As of January 2015, an estimated 5,008 factories manufacturing auto parts, electronics , and textile products employed more than 2.2 million workers (INEGI 2015). In this chapter I examine some characteristics of worker organizations in a strategic region of maquiladora influence: the northern Mexican border. In the 1960s, a number of assembly plants were constructed in the major 186 María Eugenia de la O northern border cities. Official trade unions fought against independent worker organizations in these plants, but also had periods of internal struggle that ended in deep fragmentation of the official unions. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s, influence from transnational labor organizations supporting the struggle for labor rights in the maquiladoras caused a complex picture of the working-class struggle to emerge. I propose that a significant majority of official maquiladora unions maintained a strong relationship with the Mexican state and were aligned with the interests of capital. Therefore, they were unable to defend workers’ rights, and this explains the presence of independent trade unions and transnational organizations as alternatives. I will describe how Mexican unionism works in order to understand trade unions in maquiladoras as a complex relationship among traditional unions, independent unions, worker coalitions, and transnational solidarity networks. Then I will explain unionism in the northern border region, especially in the states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Baja California, and Sonora (Figure 7.1), where a struggle and fragmentation among the main maquiladora unions and grassroots organizations took place. Mexican Labor Unions: A Framework For a long time, the political power of the labor movement in Mexico was related to the Mexican state and its main political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) (Middlebrook 1995). In this framework two types of unions emerged: official and independent (Bensusán and Alcalde 2000:174). The first official union, the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM), was founded in 1918 at the end of the Mexican Revolution. In 1936 a significant group of workers decided to leave the CROM and establish their own confederation, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). Subsequently the Labor Congress (CT), consisting of confederations and national unions (including the CTM), was founded. Official unions have a political and economic relationship with the Mexican state through the Labor Congress, which organized federations and confederations of workers affiliated with the governing party, PRI. A federation is a group of trade unions in the same type of industry, economic activity, or geographical region, while confederations are a set of federations. Both receive political and financial support from the Labor Congress. 187 The Struggle for Labor Rights in the Maquiladoras of Northern Mexico Almost 50 percent of workers are affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). A large segment of the remaining workers is affiliated with the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), founded in 1952, and smaller groups still belong to the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM) (Bendesky et al. 2003). In the 1970s independent unions emerged that were critical of official unions. These new unions were associated with leftist and Maoist movements such as the Democratic Trend Electricians, Independent Unit of Workers, and Proletarian Line (Tendencia Democrática Electricista, Unidad Obrera Independiente, and Línea Proletaria). Independent unions generated several smaller unions but were not able to create a strong organization (De la Garza Toledo 1998). In addition to official and independent unions are the white or ghost unions. These unions are not workers’ organizations per se, but rather business owners ’ fraudulent tactics for avoiding strikes and labor disputes. For more than six decades this corrupt practice, allowed by Mexican authorities and paid for by employers as a service, has debilitated the rights of Mexican workers. This practice has weakened true unionism because it controls the negotiations Figure 7.1. US-Mexico border states...


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