With most American journalists focused on serious issues like A Gift Guide for Billionaires, it’s easy to see how they’ve failed to notice this century’s largest strike in North America. It’s unfolding across the river from Brownsville, Texas, in the Mexican town of Matamoros, where the class war has been joined by a battalion of 70,000 workers in wildcat strikes, mostly at auto parts plants. No professional
journalist outside of the nonprofit World Socialist Web Site seems to even know it’s happening.
The story of these Mexican factories, called maquiladoras, is as entwined with the story of the American working class as Matamoros is entwined with Brownsville, its sister city across the Rio Grande. The maquiladora system began in its modern form in the late 1980s. The big picture event that led to its creation was Bill Clinton coming to power through the Democratic Leadership Council, with help from ARCO, Chevron, Merck, Microsoft, Koch Industries, Philip Morris and Walmart.
Clinton helped Republicans pass the unpopular NAFTA trade agreement during hiss first term, and manufacturing companies began moving their factories to Mexican border towns where they staff manufacturing plants with cheap labor and ship production back to the U.S. free of tariffs and use it to assemble “Made in the USA” goods.
Ever since U.S. companies have transferred jobs to Mexican factories to force down wages. Mexican workers at maquiladoras are paid a few hundred dollars a month and have very poor working conditions. Most of the striking workers in Matamoros are members of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which generally works closely with employers.
Over the past few decades U.S. auto manufacturers have been caught bribing United Auto Workers executives to pass company-friendly contracts. A handful of UAW personnel have been prosecuted for minor financial crimes, but no auto executives have been held legally accountable to what amounts to the direct transfer of massive sums from working class people to the companies that employ them.
The non-coverage of the strike is especially glaring given that it is causing shortages of parts for manufacturing companies. Already Ford is scheduled to stop production at its Flat Rock plant, which manufactures the Mustang and the Lincoln Continental. Other Ford and GM plants have slowed production in response to the
strike, according to the World Socialist Website.
A Google search of terms such as “Mexico Strike” and “Matamoros Strike” showed zero articles at the New York Times, CNN and MSNBC. Nor have “leftist” publications such as Mother Jones reported on the strike and there is a similar lack of coverage in the Mexican
media. Meanwhile, progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib have thus far not said a word about the strike (as far as I can tell), which began two weeks ago.
Last Monday, strikers marched to the border at Brownsville and
called for unity with American workers. More strikes are scheduled for today, which would bring the total number of companies hit come to 49.
With backing from some union leadership, maquiladora owners have appealed to Mexico’s new left-leaning president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to end the strike. Their fear is that strikes
will spread to other areas of Mexico or, heaven forbid, to the U.S.