- Gendered Struggles against Globalisation in Mexico
Teresa Healy's new book illuminates collective labor struggles in Mexican automobile manufacture. Using a gender analytic, Healy provides fresh insight on auto workers; their collective goals and constraints; and the increasingly brutal repression they encountered from the late 1960s to the 1990s. Workplace confrontations ultimately led [End Page 179] to the dismantling of corporatist unions and the "disintegration of labour rights" just before the 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In her argument, Healy examines three protracted battles: Nissan workers in Cuernavaca, Morelos (1968–1982); Ford workers in Cuautitlán in the state of Mexico (1983–1987); and Volkswagen workers in Puebla (1992–94). She documents the rise of "social unionism" in the first example in which two distinct independent unions competed to represent Nissan workers. One of these, Frente Auténtico de Trabajo (FAT), reached out and embraced community concerns, while the other, Unidad Obrera Indepediente (OIU) focused exclusively on workplace issues. Healy's second example highlights the activism of Ford workers in the face of violent reprisals, job losses to "greenfield" sites in the northern Mexico, and a devastating economic collapse. The northward shift in auto production (mirroring U.S. sunbelt expansion) undercut the demands of male unionized Ford workers in central Mexico while cultivating a new maquila-style workforce of younger women and men in dispersed northern locations. In Healy's third example, Volkswagen workers in central Mexico fought to defend their rights against hard-line neoliberal politicians and bosses who unilaterally imposed "work teams" and other forms of workplace "flexibility". This exceedingly heavy-handed approach to labor control at Volkswagen "touched a national nerve" (p. 127) and provoked one labor lawyer to decry the throwing of Mexican labor law "into the garbage" (De Buen quoted in Healy, p. 128).
Healy's account is sophisticated yet also accessible. Her gender framework explores the way competing forms of masculinity - a hegemonic caudillo ("strong man") masculinity and a worker-father masculinity - have shaped, and been shaped by, worker mobilizations in the auto and auto-parts sector. Her approach illuminates competitions among distinct men, and groups of men. The first two chapters set up this innovative framework by engaging theorists of Mexican masculinity and providing a close reading of the Mexican Constitution. In using masculinity to re-read "Revolutionary Nationalist" Constitutional rhetoric, Healy is nothing short of brilliant. She reveals gendered contradictions and also mobilizes support for her claim that caudillo masculinity is hegemonic in Mexico. While the worker-father and the caudillo are two central ideal types in her analysis, Healy is careful to avoid binary oppositional concepts; instead she steers her readers to consider a spectrum of masculine identifications within the "condition of hegemony". This provoked me to wonder how Healy would characterize the masculinity of campesinos and working-class men who fled in ever increasing numbers to the United States after 1994. If the worker-father was beaten down by more powerful groups of men in unionized workplaces in Mexico, it seems logical that this worker-father would pursue whatever risky livelihoods such as bus-boy/landscaper/day-laborer/carpenter in newly created NAFTA-spaces. I also reflected on emergent and residual forms of indigenous masculinity in Mexico profundo - might we expect new communal and cooperative forms of politics and resistance to flourish in these diasporic and remote locations?
I highly recommend Healy's book to scholars and students of globalization, unionization, feminist theory, Mexico, and NAFTA. It would be useful in courses on global labor, trade unionism, Mexico, social movements, gender, NAFTA, globalization, and neoliberalism. Upper level undergraduates and graduate students will enjoy Healy's clear concise prose. I hope that Healy's work will persuade union activists and labor scholars of the utility of gender analysis in designing collective strategies, building alliances, understanding capital accumulation, and de-coding family ideologies. Community and union organizers, students, and scholars will benefit by reflecting on Healy's analysis of masculinity and masculine competition...