Living in a globalised world
Living in a globalised world

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Living in a globalised world

2.2 The purpose of this activity

For these short video extracts we have chosen to focus on two main viewpoints. Try not to look beyond the outline of the debate, for we are not expecting you to come to a conclusion about who is right and who is wrong – the issues are far too intricate for that. All you need to do is to recognise what the issues are and to be able to identify what arguments each side puts forward in support of its case.

The key skill being developed is identifying the arguments used by various individuals and groups. You will need first to identify the two perspectives on the issue and then to summarise the points made by each group. A sample summary has been created for these video extracts ‘Jobs at any price?’ The two groups were identified as; on the one hand, the workers and those campaigning for workers’ rights and, on the other hand, the multinational firms and the Mexican government. Different labels for the two perspectives could have been used, but the important thing is that identifying the groups from the evidence presented in the video. You may feel that the video shows more than two viewpoints; if so, then you can create space for these in your note taking, but do not be tempted to overcomplicate your notes.

Do not attempt to draw conclusions from the material in the video; rather concentrate on identifying what evidence is given for the two perspectives. Assembling the evidence is an important first stage in the process of evaluating arguments and it is essential that you do this before you try to draw conclusions.

Interviews with individuals play an important role in presenting the arguments. Therefore, we need to think about how to make notes from interviews. Some of the people interviewed have strong views or stories of personal hardship. These stories provide richness and a depth to our understanding of the issues, but we need to ensure that we do not lose ourselves in the detail of these personal accounts. In the commentary notes, the arguments presented by Martha Ojeda and Mike Hissam have been identified as significant because they are closely involved in debates over jobs. However, it is important to frame their comments within the broader discussion about the nature of jobs, rather than simply leaving them as individual viewpoints.

Activity 2

  • Are bad jobs better than no jobs?

  • Does outsourcing offer poor countries to develop?

  • Or does it just perpetuate poverty wages? (a 'race to the bottom' or a 'race to the top'?)

Watch the following video extracts. Use the ideas from the note-taking section to try and answer these questions.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video Extract 1
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Transcript: Video Extract 1

On the Mexican side of the border there are thousands of factories, many bearing international brand names – Hoover, LG Electronics, Sony, Panasonic.
The factories, known as ‘maquiladoras’, are foreign owned, foreign run, and hire local labour. One and a half million people along the border are employed in ‘maquiladoras’, which supply the huge American market to the north.
The ‘maquiladora’ programme, boosted by NAFTA, the ‘North American Free Trade Agreement’, has lead to an explosion in population in the border towns of Tijuana, Juárez and Reynosa.
Juárez, where the first of these transnational factories were built in the 1960s, is now the largest Mexican city on the border, with a population of 1.2 million, and 600 ‘maquiladoras
Michael Hissam, Corporate Affairs, Delphi, Mexico
What does the border mean to me? It’s two great countries working together, neighbours, good neighbours …
Every day Mike Hissam crosses the border from his home in El Paso, Texas, to Juárez, where he is Director of Corporate Affairs for Delphi, an American company making car parts that employs 70,000 workers in Mexico.
Michael Hissam
It was felt the smart move would be to focus final assembly here in Mexico, obviously at a lower total cost, and blend the cost [to the] US and Mexico to improve the competitive position.
Now, Mexico is making a full range of automotive and non-automotive components such as engine control, brake control, brake devices, satellite radio. It’s really gone electronic; really, really gone high technologys.
Hissam is proud of the statistics. The number of components that are transported from the States to final assembly here in Mexico is staggerin
Mike Hissam
The plant brings in about four million a day. Those four million are processed into about more than a quarter million products destined outbound. Those products are taken to our docks here, under strict supervision.
[To cut a] long story short, those trucks are sealed to assure that no contraband goes into those trucks.
They go to a distribution centre in El Paso, Texas, where they are cross-loaded into the individual trucks that go across the United States to more than 100 customers.
It’s Mexico and [the] United States together, competing as partners in a global economy. We need each other
Mexico needs these jobs, which have attracted workers from near and far. And the local economy has been boosted. But are they paying too high a price? Workers generally belong to the state-sponsored union CTM, set up by the Mexican government to ease the supply of a compliant workforce to the ‘maquiladoras’. Typically they work long hours – nine-hour shifts – and minimum pay is fixed at four dollars a day.
Martha Ojeda has been campaigning against low pay for ten years. Before that she was a worker in a ‘maquiladora’ until she tried to organise an independent union. She was dismissed, and went on to fight for workers’ rights.
Today she is hearing about the problems inside the Delphi plant in Reynosa from sacked employees. She believes that the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Mexico has disadvantaged the Mexican workers
Martha Ojeda, Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras .
You can see that really NAFTA was the detonator of emigration for many people from the south, from South America. They were coming to all these small towns along the border where [there] was this laboratory of NAFTA. All these towns were not prepared to receive all these people, and you can see the huge industrial park where the government is providing everything – electricity, power plants, big water tanks, all the pavements, all the infrastructure – that they need.
But you can go to the neighbourhood of the workers, to the settlements where the workers live, and they don’t have any sewerage, electricity, water, any services of any kind.
The only thing that they think is in profit. It was not any economic growth because they are not buying [from] the Mexican suppliers, they are bringing from China, they are bringing from Korea, from Taiwan, the more cheaper companies, they just assemble right here and send it to the US market
As many as 60,000 people migrate to Juárez each year from other parts of Mexico, looking for work. The employment situation in other parts of the country is more desperate than in these border cities.
But here the living conditions are often far worse. Most of the newcomers find themselves in these recently constructed shanty towns, known as ‘colonias’.
Juan Mejia came to Juárez from southern Mexico to take a job in a ‘maquiladora’. Here he met and married Yuridia. They have a child, and another on the way. But Juan says he is glad he came to the border because there are jobs. But at the moment Yuridia is the breadwinner. Rent on their house is thirty-three dollars a week. With a single wage and bonuses that add up to fifty dollars, it leaves just seventeen dollars a week on which to survive
Juan Mejia, worker
It is not a living wage. The conditions I see people living in concerns me. Seriously they are very bad. The living conditions in Mexico are getting worse, not better. The workers have to leave early in the morning to get to work. That is just part of the bad things about the maquiladoras
The displacement, desperation and poverty evident in Juárez that have followed in the wake of the ‘maquiladoras’ have made the city the most dangerous in the Americas.
In a ten-year period there have been over 400 unsolved murders, mainly of women. But still they come here to work. The ‘maquiladoras’ may be built to American standards but, without the presence of strong American unions, the workers do not enjoy the same conditions of employment. It is part of the price they have to pay to keep their jobs.
Diana Washington Valdez is a journalist on the El Paso Times, who has made a study of workers’ conditions in Juárez.
Diana Washington Valdezs
The workers don’t really have any rights at all. About 15 years ago I had an assignment to get hired at one of the ‘maquiladoras’, and I did in Ciudad Juárez, just to get an idea of what it was like to work there..
And I remember back then the wage for a day was four dollars average. Today the wage for a day is still four dollars, the same. It hasn’t changed in nearly fifteen year
There were attempts at the beginning of the ‘maquiladora’ industry, in its beginnings, to organise workers.
There were unions who went in there and tried to organise workers because it was felt by these unions back then that the workers would have even less protection with the multinationals than they had even under the old Mexican CTM government-sanctioned, government-authorised union. And in fact those efforts to organise one by one eventually were stamped out. It was not so much the multinational companies themselves doing this, but it was the Mexican government doing it for them. And to this day there isn’t a thriving independent union in Mexico.
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Transcript: Video Extract 2

Martha Ojeda is meeting former workers for the American multinational Delphi.
All have been sacked with the connivance of the official union, the CTM: some for small transgressions.
Martha Ojeda
Reina was fired because the company told her that she was having two days absent.
And according to the Mexican law you have the right to miss three times, and then the company, more than three absences, the company can fire you without any responsibility; but in this case she was having just two absences.
Some complain of medical problems brought on by exposure to chemicals. And others say that they were sacked for trying to organise themselves to promote their rights. Martha Ojeda believes that globalisation has only helped these workers in one way.
Martha Ojeda
If you can see the globalisation from the top, yes, it was for the wealthy people, for the big corporation. But if you want to see about the globalisation from the social view, I can say that the only good thing that has been happening is that it’s been the opening to do alliance around the world, the workers, and it’s the only way that we can survive.
But even with the encouragement of the international labour movement, Martha has made little impact. It is obvious that the Mexican government and the state union, CTM, keep firm control on the labour force in the ‘maquiladoras’ despite claims by the companies to the contrary.
Michael Hissam
The workers have the right to organise. They have, and you know, we’re on the same team.
So the workers here have the right to form their own unions?
Michael Hissam
That is correct, OK? And have, OK? It’s their choice.
There is no independent union in Delphi, as there is no independent union in LG Electronics in Reynosa, Mexico. This is a Korean-owned and run corporation that makes televisions under the brand names of LG, Zenith and Electra.
Its President is Ben Sung. Mr Sung has only been here for a few months, and he’s struggling to communicate.
Ben Sung, President, LG Electronics, Reynosa, Mexico [on the phone]
To be number one priority to our customer. Understand what I say? Mr Sung knows why his company is here: his Mexican workers are paid substantially less than workers in his own country, and in the United States.
Ben Sung
Korea was maybe five times compared with Mexico, in United States maybe eight or nine times compared with Mexico.
Mr Sung is only one of eleven Koreans supervising a staff of over two thousand. The managers, paid on Korean rates, supervise a very productive workforce.
Korean manager
Normally they are working nine hours per day and then extra hours. They are making almost 300 television sets an hour.
In LG Electronics there are the same complaints of exploitation as elsewhere in the ‘maquiladoras’. Former employees speak of lack of safety in the factories, promised bonuses denied, workers sacked for trying to form their own unions, blacklisting, and compulsory pregnancy tests. The Korean management denies all allegations. Juan Mejia worked at LG Electronics for 11 years until the company sacked him for being a troublemaker. The official union, the CTM, put him on a blacklist
Juan Mejia
I was the principal one they put on the blacklist. I cannot look for work in a factory with the union. They do not help people. And when you complete the work, they abandon you. Neither the union nor the employers help the conditions in the ‘colonias’. I never want to be part of the union.
Juan has now lost his job, but Yuridia is still working – at LG Electronics.
Yuridia Mejia
Why do I stay with LG? Because I am now pregnant and I cannot leave. It is hard, in the department in which I work. It is hard when you are pregnant and have to work because you are moving heavy things. We have to carry them. Yes, it’s difficult. The machine is everything, the machine is everything.
Yuridia earns seven dollars a day, 25% less than is actually needed to survive. In contrast the minimum wage in Texas, just across the border, is over forty dollars a day. It is hard to argue that the workers are receiving a just wage. Low wages paid to Mexicans have always been justified by the claim that the cost of living is lower than in the United States. But confounding all expectations, this is not the case. These Mexicans have been shopping across the border in El Paso.
Mexican shoppers
For the reason, that it is cheaper.
Because it is much cheaper, nothing more.
That is the only reason. Because it is more economical.
Underwear, knickers, things are cheaper there than in Mexico
.In the ‘maquiladoras’ along the border in Mexico, wages have been driven down through inflation, workers’ rights lost, poverty increased. And the companies are now restructuring, demanding more productivity with fewer workers. The ‘maquiladoras’ are susceptible to the ebbs and flows of the global economy. In the year 2000, the Mexican workforce along the border lost half a million jobs..
Diana Washington Valdez, Journalist
Several years ago there was a depression in the ‘maquiladora’ industry. Thousands of workers were laid off, 50,000 easily in Cuided Juárez about two years ago. And this was because some of the Fortune 500 companies that were in Mexico were moving to China, to other central American countries, because the wages they could pay there were far cheaper than what they were paying in Mexico. So this kind of exploitation is something that seems to follow the globalisation of businesses and industry, big businesses in particular, multinationals in particular. The multinationals and their capital flow where the economic advantage is better for them and where the return to the investors is greater.
Today in Juárez, employers are threatening workers with a new rival in Asia. This was a textile factory, making jeans and shirts for Americans, employing 250 workers. In 2000, its owners from the United States closed it, and relocated its operations to China. There they are paying workers less than four dollars a day. What the Mexican government and the Mexican workers fear most is the loss of jobs abroad. For the ‘maquiladora’ worker these may be bad jobs but losing them is an even worse prospect
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Here are the notes that were outlined in repsonse to the activity questions. Remember that they are one person's interpretation and may not be an exact match for your own notes.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Commentary

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