This Week in the Americas

No Rest for the Working Poor
By Laura Carlsen

Globalization continues to break down its own myths, especially in developing countries.

In Mexico, the promise of more jobs withered shortly after NAFTA went into effect, when it became clear that displacement outpaced job generation. Now, its twin promise—that globalization would create better jobs and improve standards of living—has finally committed public suicide as well.

Ford and General Motors change their operations in Mexico. Ford announced a major investment in Mexico of over $2 billion this week. Alongside the self-congratulatory remarks of industry representatives and government officials, was an interesting tidbit of information. According to an AP report, at the Ford plant to be expanded in Cuautitlan—on the outskirts of Mexico City where the cost of living has been going up sharply—workers’ wages would be cut in half from their current level of $4.50 an hour. Mexican union leaders stated that this was necessary to compete with China.

The same week, General Motors announced a $1.3 billion investment in its Coahuila, Mexico plant and the creation some 875 jobs (note the low job-to-investment ratio). It also announced the eventual closure of plants in Janesville, Wisconsin and Morraine, Ohio. The Mexican press noted that the company first hinted at the closure of its plant in Toluca, which elicited an immediate promise from the union leadership to accept wage reductions. It soon after announced it will remain open but cut back on operations and lay off some of the workers. Although the new contract terms were unavailable at the time of this writing, the trend is written on the wall.

The companies justified further gouging into the fragile economy of working families by pointing the finger at global competition. As long as China offers wages of as little as $2.00 an hour, Mexico has no choice but to follow suit if it wants to attract investment.

The only legal floor to this race to the bottom is Mexico’s minimum wage of about $5 per day. And the same week, the Mexican government made it clear it has no plans for relief in that area. In classic patriarchal style, Sec. of Labor Javier Lozano explained that raising the minimum wage would trigger "a salaries-prices race and it would be an illusion for workers, it would be deceiving them, since while they might think they have more money to purchase goods, these (prices) would keep going up."

The problem is that prices are already going up—the price of the basic food staple, the tortilla, went up from 5 pesos at the end of 2006 to 12 pesos in some parts of Mexico today. That alone places Mexico in the growing camp of nations threatened by the global food crisis, where even full-time workers find it difficult to assure a basic diet.

In a June 9 speech at the International Labor Organization in Geneva, Lozano expounded on the perils of granting living wages to the working poor: "The legitimate aspiration of higher wages for workers should come about through increases in productivity and not artificial measures such as generalized price controls or emergency wage hikes." As Sec. of Labor, you’d think that Mr. Lozano might have seen just one of the dozens of studies that show that Mexican manufacturing has experienced a marked increase in productivity accompanied by a fall in real wages. But the use of the word "artificial" belies his conviction that anything outside the dictums of the neoliberal market is "unnatural." So whatever reality serves up that contradicts these dictums continues to be treated as an inconvenient anomaly or ignored completely.

Funny that raising substandard workers’ salaries is presented as the villain in the crusade to control prices for the good of all, whereas other causes—such as monopoly market control—receive no mention whatsoever. Funny, but not in a laughable way. Mexican workers are being urged to resist their lower instincts of wanting to eat regularly and provide a future for their families, and to have faith in the same macroeconomic policies that have failed them for years. That’s a tough order in a society where the cost of basic items rose 47% between December of 2006 and May of 2008 while wages went up a little over 4%.

Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(@) is director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City. The Americas Mexico Blog is found at


New from the Americas Policy Program

Homeland Security’s Enemy Next Door
By Tom Barry

Why all the anti-immigrant fervor in government? What are the politics behind this offensive? This new article in our series on immigration policy examines how the politics of immigration restrictionism have mixed with national security politics to create America’s new immigration crisis.

Tom Barry is a senior analyst with the Americas Policy Program ( of the Center for International Policy.

See full article online at:

The Deterrence Strategy of Homeland Security

County Jails Welcome Immigrants


Colombia: Indigenous Self Defense in Times of War
By Raúl Zibechi

The Cordillera Central is one of the prime regions torn by the war between the Colombian military and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The rural population, which is mostly lower class and of indigenous decent, and consequently the sector of the Colombian populous most dramatically hit by the armed confrontations, defends itself through the "Indigenous War."

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst of the weekly Brecha de Montevideo. He is a teacher and researcher on social movements in the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and an adviser to various social groups. He is also a monthly collaborator of the Americas Policy Program (

See full article online at:


When More Is Less: The Limited Impact of Foreign Investment in the Americas
By Kevin P. Gallagher and Andrés López

A comprehensive review of the impact of foreign investment liberalization in Latin America shows that, with some exceptions, foreign investment has fallen far short of stimulating broad-based economic growth and environmental protection in the region, according to a report by the Working Group on Development and Environment in the Americas.

Kevin Gallagher is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Boston University, Research Associate, Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University. Andres Lopez is Director of the Centro de Investigaciones para la Transformación, and Professor of Economics at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. They are contributors to the CIP Americas Policy Program at The full report can be downloaded at:

Read the full article online at:


The Revolution of 1968: When Those from Below Said Enough!
By Raúl Zibechi

The four decades that have passed since the "Worldwide Revolution of 68"—a concept coined by Immanuel Wallerstein—seems like sufficient time to attempt to understand the direction taken from that moment on by the anti-systemic struggle in Latin America.

What remains if we take away from ’68 the multitudinous protests on main avenues? If we leave the colossal although fleeting events of that period?

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst of the weekly Brecha de Montevideo. He is a teacher and researcher on social movements in the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and an adviser to various social groups. He is also a monthly collaborator of the Americas Policy Program (

Read the full article online at:


Comments from our readers:

I just read Two Chicken Stories: NAFTA’s Real Winners and Losers and thought it presented a global issue with brevity in a clear, emotive style and was unusually well informed. Bravo Laura Carlsen! I worked in England campaigning against GATS for a number of years. I live in France now and greatly value the information you provide.

-David Weeks