Opinion: Misery in Chains: NAFTA, the TPP, and Juarez

Individualistic societies. Indifferent men and women. Tired faces, absent looks, rare smiles, no smiles. Childhood depression, a bitter present, and nonexistent future, not even considered. Abandoned women, promiscuity, sadness, hunger… misery.

Misery in chains, that’s what the maquiladora industry in Ciudad Juárez generates.

Poverty and lack of opportunities and education result in this apparent indifference. Nothing represents a triumph, unless it involves a game of football (TRI) or the ruling party (PRI). This is the main reason I think that the party in power can never be defeated.

The poor in Mexico, do not win anything, except for a rare football game…and elections.

My people are worn out, desperate, and lost in their misery. They dreamt that they could bring about a change. They voted for others , who promised change…but they did not keep their promises. For years, my wounded people heard that party’s haughty taunts confronting them with their error, asserting that they had no choice.

The only alternative was to opt for the conquerors, returning their power, to at least have the consolation of having played on the winning side.

So that’s what the people did. They returned with their master and to date, have more than paid for their audacity. The master, set aside without control or power for twelve years, returned rested, haughtly arrogant, starving, and desperate. In three years, the (PRI) party stripped people of everything they would have had in fifteen, according to the law.

Now, after NAFTA, which left 83% of the nation’s farmers without work, the Mexican government is poised to sign the TPP, for the convenience of the powerful countries, who are the only ones that will profit from these trade agreements.

Mexico is a country that allows and develops structures to violate the most basic human and labor rights of Mexicans, especially those hired at the operational level within the twin plant industry.

This industry gradually dropped from being an optional source of remunerative employment to being the only source of employment, with poverty wages that are insufficient to provide workers and their families a decent life, in terms expressed by the Constitution of the United States of Mexico.

Twin plant workers begin their activities at 3:00 pm daily.  From the first moment of the day when their alarm sounds to alert them that their bosses wait for them, they do not have the right to remain in bed five minutes after the alarm, because if they did, they would lose their punctuality bonus.

They get too little sleep to recover from the previous day’s work. A missed day of work leads to the loss of both punctuality and attendance bonuses, as well as a considerable reduction in the weekly savings fund based on a worker’s weekly earnings, that can range from 5 to 13% of one’s usual, meager weekly pay.

This payment system, with one’s income conditional upon one’s perfection, is, of course, not humane. It is constantly threatened.

Foreign investors tell the workers that they now face the devastating consequences for one having dared to oppose the ruling party, their employers will react in the same way, if they are to challenge them to fight for their rights.

Foreign investors, in obvious relationships with the Mexican government warn: “Say no to independent unions defending your rights to improve workers living conditions, or l’ll leave with my money and invest elsewhere in the world. Then, without work options, Mexicans will starve.”

I asked: “How long?” No to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)! Stop the abuse of foreign investors! There must be something better for my people, Mexicans are worth it!”

Furthermore , as we saw two weeks ago, the discussion of the working class presented by the Pope, was the result of hard work, work all of us have invested in. The Press in Cd. Juárez has done nothing to further the discussion, but instead has only spent their efforts trying discredit me.

As we witnessed in the words from the Pope, they have failed. The vast majority of our city’s populace know that our struggle is honorable, but even they do not express it.

We have worked 24 hours a day, in a bi-national project (in an effort to establish an independent union to improve the lives of workers).

Like in the U.S., independent unions can engage in collective bargaining to benefit workers; government controlled unions like the CTM that work in collusion with labor officials favor employers and corporations.

Miguel Juárez, on the US side, was a key to the unification of our border problems. Via his efforts, he managed to capture the attention of the International media, as article after article that listed our demands was published. These articles eventually reached the Pope and he included us in his words in his visit to Juárez–all the while the local press continued their campaign of disinterest and/or slander.

Getting the Pope to listen and include our efforts in his messages was an unprecedented achievement that we are proud of. The government, local newspapers and employers were exhibited internationally. Meanwhile, the precarious labor effort in Cd. Juárez is rumbling.

We just want justice for the working class and better conditions, not for lawyers to win, but for workers and their families. It’s a shame that local groups do not join this fight, but it is a higher victory for the workers resistance in Lexmark. My pride and respect is for them.

The Pope stated in his visit to Juárez that he is in support of Lexmark workers, as expressed through the International press. Thanks to them and to those who made it possible to contact them.

Let’s hope for a fairer Juárez. It has achieved a lot. Let us not take steps back! Now a large committee of El Pasoans made up of activists, students, union members, lawyers, professors, and nurses, have come forward to lend their support.

We must all try to neutralize the intrusion of government in the Lexmark case, and against their flagrant corruption, via the CTM! In favor of independent unions in Mexico!


Susana Prieto Terrazas is a labor lawyer with over 25 years of practice in Cd. Juárez, México. She is representing the workers who were fired unjustly by Lexmark. She can be reached at [email protected]

For further information, visit the Obrer@Power Facebook group page or Like Obrerxs de la maquila en lucha. You can also visit the workers’ website.