Maquiladoras not beneficial

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Dec 2 11:04:27 MST 2002

Monthly Review, December 2002

Challenging Neoliberal Myths: A Critical Look at the Mexican Experience
by Martin Hart-Landsberg


The best way to understand why Mexico’s working people have not
benefited from their country’s recent growth is to study the operation
of the country’s most dynamic exporters. These include the maquiladoras,
foreign export platforms, and large private national exporters.

Maquiladoras: Maquiladoras are registered foreign-owned manufacturing
firms (most of which operate along the U.S.-Mexican border) that are
allowed to import inputs duty free because they export their entire
output. In line with Mexico’s changing economic strategy, maquiladoras
became increasingly central to the Mexican economy. Their exports grew
by 17–20 percent a year from 1990 to 1997, with their share of total
exports rising from 33.1 percent to 40.9 percent. Their share of total
foreign direct investment rose from 6 percent in 1994 to 26 percent in
1999. By 2000, they were producing 47 percent of all exports and 54
percent of all manufactured exports.

This increase in economic activity was accompanied by a rapid increase
in maquiladora employment, from 420,000 in 1990 to 1.3 million in 2000.
This growth has taken place in the context of an overall decline in
non-maquiladora manufacturing employment. Reflecting the austerity and
market openings of the 1980s and mid-1990s, non-maquiladora
manufacturing employment fell from 2.6 million in 1981 to 2.2 million in

While the maquiladoras have been celebrated by mainstream economists for
anchoring Mexico’s economic transformation, Mexican workers have not
benefited from the accompanying shift away from non-maquiladora
production. Maquiladora workers receive wages considerably below those
paid to non-maquiladora manufacturing workers. In 1994, average
maquiladora wages were only 47 percent of non-maquiladora manufacturing
wages. While the gap narrowed over the remainder of the decade, closing
to approximately 80 percent, this trend did not represent an improvement
for maquiladora workers. Rather, it was caused by non-maquiladora
manufacturing wages falling at a faster rate than maquila wages.

Maquiladora working conditions also remain poor. Turnover rates average
between 15 percent and 25 percent of the labor force per month. The
average work-life of a maquila worker is only ten years because of
injuries, health problems, and the firing of women workers who become

The problems with the maquiladora-based development process extend
beyond wages and working conditions. As the New York Times explained:

"All along the border, the land, the water, and the air are thick with
industrial and human waste. The National Water Commission reports that
the towns and cities, strapped for funds, can adequately treat less than
35 percent of the sewage generated daily. About 12 percent of the people
living on the border have no reliable access to clean water. Nearly a
third live in homes that are not connected to sewage systems. Only about
half the streets are paved."

Moreover, the maquiladoras continue to function as an enclave with few
connections to the broader Mexican economy. Over 97 percent of their
nonlabor inputs are imported from outside Mexico.



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