American Workers’ Lives Risked in Support of Mexican Slave Labor

http://www.freep.com/article/20090419/BUSINESS01/904190495/Violence+in+Mexico+puts+U.S.+workers+on+alert

Here’s a consequence of U.S. trade policy that never gets reported, until now.  The linked article details how the lives of American white collar workers are put at risk every day as they are forced by their companies, profiting from slave labor wages and conditions in Mexican border town factories, to cross into that failed state’s drug war zone in order to supervise operations there. 

Nearly 3,500 white-collar workers from El Paso, Texas, cross a fortified border each workday, some of them wearing body armor as they enter the drug-torn city of Juarez, home to more than 100 parts factories that are a critical cog in the U.S. auto industry.

Rampant kidnappings, including the abduction of an executive for Southfield-based Lear, have unnerved residents on both sides of the border. Other executives have been targeted for robberies and extortion. One auto parts factory was invaded by gunmen who robbed employees.
Local officials insist the violence has not harmed U.S. workers or auto factories.
But Detroit auto executives in Juarez said they fear for their lives.
The article goes on to report that these American workers are forced to endure these conditions because the total cost of labor and benefits in such factories average $1.42 an hour. 

Mexico is a land rich in natural resources.  The U.S. imports as much oil from Mexico as it does from Saudi Arabia.  And, though twice as densely populated as the U.S., Mexico is far less densely populated than many wealthy nations, including virtually all of Europe.  By all rights, Mexico should be a wealthy country.  Yet, while the Saudis enjoy a very high standard of living, Mexicans endure abject poverty.  Slave wages persist there thanks to a corrput Mexican government and the complicity of the U.S., yielding to lobbying pressure by corporations who profiteer from these circumstances.

This is exactly the kind of situation that President Obama promised during his campaign to correct – fixing NAFTA to require labor standards and environmental protections.  Yet, since his election, he has had absolutely nothing to say publicly about the egregious conditions in Mexico that have spawned these border town slave labor camps, robbing us of manufacturing jobs and subjecting other American workers to intolerable conditions.  Instead of helping American manufacturing workers, he has threatened our auto industry with bankruptcy and has forced American workers to agree to more and more wage and benefit cuts in order to compete with conditions in Mexico. 

Perhaps there’s some sort of grand plan yet to unfold that will restore our manufacturing sector and the prospects for American workers but, so far, it’s awfully difficult to see any evidence of it.  For now, when it comes to Mexico, the only “hope we can believe in” may be that conditions along the Mexico border become so intolerable that American executives move their factories back north out of fear for their own safety.

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5 Responses to American Workers’ Lives Risked in Support of Mexican Slave Labor

  1. mtnmike says:

    Pete,

    Good article that brings out a situation that I doubt the average American is aware of. 3500 people attempting to supervise production in a virtual war zone.

    It should be noted that the Mexican oil minister just last year announced that Mexico has only about 5 years of export oil remaining. Nearly the entire government of Mexico is supported by nationalized export oil revenues. Draw your own conclusions.

    I can’t recall whether you considered uninhabitable areas in you calcs for population density? Mexico sure has their share of such regions.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Mike, I wasn’t aware that Mexico claims to only have five years of oil left to export. I wonder how Americans would feel if our country was exporting oil so fast, selling off the reserves that should be there for future generations. Seems incredibly short-sighted.

      To answer your question about uninhabitable areas being included in my calculations, the short answer is no. But it’s a very valid point. Geographic features may tend to obscure the fact that a nation may be much more densely populated than it seems at first glance. A good example is Canada. With so much of their land mass located beyond the 55th parallel, much of it is just too cold to be inhabitable by any except a few very hardy souls. Another example is Japan. Even though they are very densely populated, the situation is much worse than it first appears because the island(s) are so mountainous. If one were to attempt to develop a formula that would relate population density to per capita consumption, they’d probably be wise to take such factors into consideration.

  2. Clyde Bollinger says:

    One of the readers of the original article posted this very astute comment.

    “Bayhawks wrote:
    This will sound exceedingly unpopular, but why don’t we tax the b’jesus out of everything manufactured or assembled elsewhere that we bring into this country for sale? i know we like to rape these foreign countries’ workers for cheap labor, but couldn’t we end that by making it more financially-viable to do it here instead? perhaps a return to more fiscal – and social – isolationism would help what’s ailing us, and also subject these products to our own more rigorous saftey standards.”

    Is it possible that Bayhawks is on to something?

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Yup, he sure is. He’s talking about tariffs, of course – the same trade policy that built us into an economic powerhouse by the first half of the 20th century. My tariff plan would be a little more sophisticated, of course, but any plan would be better than what we have.

  3. mtnmike says:

    Pete,

    In reality, the U.S. did export a lot of oil up until we hit peak in 1970.

    Thanks for the clarification on uninhabitable areas. I’m thinkin’ that you are correct, it would make the consumption factors ever worse in many countries, such as Australia.

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