- Maquilapolis, and: Bolivia
The documentary Maquilapolis is a new cut at the social impacts of the maquiladora industry on Mexico's northern border. The film discusses the current state of maquiladora workers and the job losses they now face as industries uproot themselves from Mexico in search of even cheaper labor in other parts of the world. The all too familiar conditions of low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions, border pollution, redundant routinized tasks, and feminized labor stand in contrast to the progress that has been made – women are winning labor disputes and their demands for toxic cleanups are being met by the national government. In the process the documentary explores the gradual empowerment that women working in maquiladora industries are experiencing as they gain awareness of their rights as Mexican citizens and workers. The documentary was written and directed by the very women who are its topic of inquiry, making the film itself, as a vehicle of activism and empowerment, its greatest contribution. The documentary stands at a turning point in time: it exposes an important slice of the maquiladora industry, allowing for historical reflection and a glimmer of the more globalized circumstances of today; but, it was produced before the onset of the current economic recession, and thus, the vulnerabilities of maquiladora workers so clearly represented in the experiences of the documentary's protagonists could potentially be dwarfed by the global economic circumstances of the upcoming years. This creates fertile ground for debate surrounding the industry's real contribution as an industrialization model for regional development and the quality of life Mexico's labor force faces under this model.
The life stories and experiences of the documentary's protagonists reflect many of the reservations voiced against this industrialization model—that the maquiladora industry would not promote endemic value added production, that it was dependent on reaching ever cheaper labor sources and would uproot itself once those sources were discovered, that workers would not find opportunity to enhance their skill levels, that the workforce is feminized and objectified, and that companies would all too easily side step regulation (environmental and labor). Yet, stereotyping the maquiladora industry to its beginnings, is not completely balanced. Second and third generation plants have moved away from redundant assembly production, toward manufacturing and even research and design, all of which employ higher skilled technicians and engineers (Carrillo and Haulde, 1998). Some of these have become autonomous in decision making. There are even cases where maquiladora management, non profits and local residents are teaming together to address pollution issues and promote more quality community environments (Austin, Mendoza, and Kimpel Guzmán, 2004). The film neglects these newer, even if still largely exceptional, sides of the industry's impact. [End Page 225]
Be that as it may, for those who have no knowledge of border industrialization and its beginnings, the documentary works very well to expose the most common experiences of Mexicans dependent on the maquiladora model. Today, approximately 1 million Mexicans rely on the sector for their livelihoods and the majority of plants remain assembly intensive. Maquiladoras are responsible for near to half of Mexico's total export earnings, reinforcing that the industry is still a substantial component of national economic development. Most importantly, the footloose quality of the sector is clearly emerging. Since the early 2000s, Mexico has lost over 500 maquiladoras, with three quarters of these pulling out of the border states. Stories abound about plants relocating to Asia—Royal Philips Electronics whisked 900 jobs out of Ciudad Juarez in July of 2002 and proceeded to China; Sanyo Electric shut two plants in Tijuana, yanked 1,884 jobs from the city, and headed for Indonesia as well as China; Canon closed its inkjet plant in Tijuana and has reappeared in Vietnam (Cañas and Coronado, 2002).
If not representing the cutting edge of the maquiladora industrialization model, the stories within Maquilapolis certainly emphasize the most common...