ROSS PEROT?S famous 1993 prediction that the North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would trigger a ?giant sucking sound? as
U.S. companies closed factories and moved their jobs south of the
border turned out to be right?at least for manufacturing jobs..
NAFTA made border maquiladora zones too good to resist. U.S.
companies could not only exploit Mexico?s lower wages and lax
environmental and labor standards, but also send goods back without
an import duty.
Now, that giant sucking sound is back. Only this time it?s the
sound of Mexican jobs moving east?to the Far East, reports Saul
Landau in The Progressive (Sept. 2002). ?Over the
last 18 months, some 250,000 factory workers have lost their jobs,?
writes Landau. ?Ironically, some of the very factories that moved
from the United States to Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s now find
the same compelling reasons?lower wages and regulations?to shift
operations to Asia.? An entry-level machine operator in Juarez
makes about eight dollars a day, while the same job in a Chinese
factory fetches around two dollars. And in China, even more than in
Mexico, there are no pesky unions to worry about.
Still, sociologist Victor Quintana of Chihuahua says losing the
maquilas (from the Spanish verb maquilar, to do another?s task) is
not such a bad thing. The free-trade model ?launch[ed] a cultural
offensive against the majority of the world?s poor,? he says. The
maquilas entice peasants by the millions out of their traditional
rural communities with the promise of employment and into the
industrial centers, only to discard them when the factory owners no
longer find them useful. And now, as unemployment climbs in border
cities like Juarez, Matamoros, and Tijuana, so do crime, pollution,
and a host of health problems.