- Transnational Tortillas: Race, Gender, and Shop-Floor Politics in Mexico and the United States
Carolina Bank Muñoz has written a passionate, polemical but scrupulously objective volume on the intersection of race, gender, and class in two tortilla factories located on opposite sides of the United States– Mexico border in California. Although both are owned by the same Mexican multinational firm, Tortimundo, and managed by Mexican nationals, the production of tortillas and maintenance of shop-floor discipline depends on variations in the reproduction of inequalities between the workers: women versus men, documented versus undocumented, and light- versus dark-skinned female laborers. The construction of factory regimes in the twenty-first century, Muñoz argues, necessitates looking beyond and beneath globalization to analyze how state policy, labor markets, and shop-floor politics fuse to keep workers docile through a combination of old-fashioned coercion [End Page 177] and ever-evolving forms of hegemony. However, since employers and governments have always used these tactics, the challenge for Muñoz is to demonstrate that new disciplinary regimes have emerged in a supposedly post-State global economy.
The tortilla factory in California, Hacienda CA, is labeled an "immigration regime" by Muñoz, where documented workers are pitted against the undocumented. The former are kept in line by occasional promotions above the assembly line and the aspiration of someday obtaining the American dream of a house, car, and steady work that their managers have already acquired. The latter are kept down on the shop floor, perform the lowest-paid work, and fill nearly all night-shift positions. Coercion of the labor force comes in the form of threats of deportation, heavy penalties for tardiness, and constant visual surveillance inside and outside the factory. Hegemony plays a subordinate but important role in this regime; around 75 percent of the workers were men and the managers at Hacidena CA deride assembly line work as "women's work," not worthy of a Mexican male. By using those gender stereotypes the company's management could divide the workers. Race and nationality also frustrate labor solidarity. Management repeatedly stresses the theme that this is a Mexican-owned firm, thus appealing to Mexican nationalism, while the word "Latino" is synonymous with "dirty" and "uneducated" (p. 90). Muñoz makes a strong case that Tortimundo would not be able to get away with such practices had it not been for the stiff immigration laws passed under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and the militarization of the border by George W. Bush after 2001, which made the fear of deportation more real and the stigma of being undocumented more stinging.
The same lethal triad of State–employer–labor market is at work at the Tortimundo plant in Baja California. Hacienda BC uses discrimination against women—at a factory where three-quarters of the work force is female—to increase productivity and enforce coercion against all employees. Employers prefer to hire young, preferably single women, many of them mothers, because they are seen as more pliable, both as sex objects and workers. This "gender regime" overlooks and even encourages sexual harassment of women—hugs, kisses, squeezes—by managers not only to show them who's boss but to get women to compete against each other for favors from management, e.g., showing up late for work occasionally. Light-skinned women are given preferential treatment over the dark-skinned, who are degraded as "Indians." Men at the factory receive higher pay, quicker promotion, and greater job flexibility, while women are stuck on the assembly line. Why do the women at Hacienda BC tolerate such abuse? Because Tortimundo is the product of a sweetheart deal contracted between former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de [End Page 178] Gortari and the company president, who was given a virtual monopoly over tortilla sales in Mexico. Hence, workers are up against a monolith composed of the Mexican government, a multinational closely allied to the...