With Lopez Obrador In, Workers Have the Confidence to Walk Out

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1758 ... February 9, 2019
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With López Obrador In, Workers Have the Confidence to Walk Out

David Bacon

The election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as president of Mexico has raised the hopes and expectations of millions of Mexican workers. There could be no better evidence of this than the strike of tens of thousands of workers in Matamoros, a city at the eastern end of the U.S.-Mexico border, across the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo in Mexico) from Brownsville, Texas.

During the past month, between 30,000 and 40,000 of the 70,000 maquiladora workers in Matamoros plants have walked off their jobs. The maquiladoras are factories, mostly foreign-owned, that manufacture goods destined for sale in the United States. They are the product of a development policy begun by the... Mexican government in 1964, allowing the construction of foreign-owned plants, so long as their products were sold outside Mexico. The attraction for foreign companies has been a wage level far below that of workers just a few miles north, and the lax enforcement of environmental and worker protection laws. As a result, along the border today, more than two million workers labour in these factories.

“Workers and employers from Tijuana to Juarez are looking at the courageous actions of the Matamoros workers,” says Julia Quiñones, director of the Border Committee of Women Workers in Ciudad Acuña, and a veteran of three decades of labour conflicts. “Workers are thinking about following the Matamoros example, and of course, employers are worried they’ll do exactly that.”

The strikes have their immediate origin in a promise made by López Obrador in his speech to the Mexican Congress, and repeated in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zócalo, as he was sworn into office on December 1. “From January 1,” he promised, “the minimum wage [on the border] will be doubled.” Keeping his word, on January 1 he raised that wage from 88.36 pesos ($4.63) per day to 176.72 pesos ($9.25) [all dollar amounts in U.S. currency].

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