Peso Meager
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your article "Bordering on Exploitation" (John Dougherty and David Holthouse, July 9). You keep getting better all the time.

Theresa Mac Nevins

"Bordering on Exploitation" was a great article! I loved it. Couldn't put it down. It's the first time I have read an article on the Mexican economy and situation that made me understand what was going on. Kind of makes me want to start a plant in Mexico--don't know if that is good or bad. Keep it up!

R. James Gibson
via Internet

New Times is to be congratulated for its in-depth series of articles on the maquiladora industries. This should remind readers inured to the McNugget version of reporting just what a good independent voice can provide: compelling, insightful, socially responsible journalism on a subject of major importance. New Times delivered a brave yet balanced treatment of this difficult subject. I would, however, like to offer a few comments.

In his article "Arizona Firms Move South," John Dougherty, using Karsten Manufacturing as a symbol for the decisions facing American industry, wrote: "Like many American companies whose competitors use low-cost, foreign labor, Karsten was faced with a difficult choice: shift jobs out of the country or lose significant sales, possibly endangering the company."

This seems to imply that unless these companies can drastically lower their prices, they will be outmaneuvered by the competition. Yet we seldom see such price reductions. American and foreign companies are both familiar with the price structure of the American market and neither wants to sell products for any less than it has to in order to maximize profits. In my opinion, the difficult decision many companies face has more to do with keeping shareholders happy and profits high than with staying in business. Executives unwilling to cut labor costs--and thereby increase profit margins and stock values--are likely to incur the wrath of greedy shareholders seeking to maximize the return on their investments. Of course, this is singularly unsympathetic to the average worker, so it's much easier to tell people that your company survival is at stake.

With respect to the number of U.S. jobs lost as a result of NAFTA, both the U.S. Labor Department figure of 200,000 and the union figure of 500,000 are likely to seriously understate the problem. The reason is that both of these figures deal with the movement of existing jobs from here to Mexico. Neither one attempts to include losses from what is likely an even larger source: new jobs that are never offered here, either because new plants that would have been built here are instead built there, or because plant expansions that would have been built here are instead implemented there. Remember that even during the economic expansion of the last six years, our manufacturing base (providing some of the best-paying jobs) has been shrinking as a share of our gross domestic product. Nor is Mexico the only foreign market receiving U.S. manufacturing jobs.

I agree, however, that single-minded nationalism is not the solution, and can play into racist hands. I also agree with the writers' conclusion that industrialization is the key to Mexican economic development. The real question is, industrialization for whose benefit and on whose terms?

Mark Adkins

I am disturbed that American companies are taking advantage of Mexicans. The maquiladora program does not seem to be any better than the Bracero program which allowed undocumented Mexican people to cross the border when it was convenient for us so they could pick our fruit. During this period they lived in substandard housing, worked in deplorable conditions and received pittance wages. With the maquiladora program, the problems are just on a larger scale--while U.S. corporations benefit. It makes me sick that this is tolerated by our government and the Mexican government. I hope your articles, which were very descriptive and concise, are a wake-up call to those in power who are in a position to change things.

Gwynne Hamilton

You presented a good and a shocking view of what is generally unknown and invisible to most North Americans. I'm shocked to read about the wicked conditions these people live in, and yet, at the same time, relieved to hear and understand that for them, this is actually a "moving up a peg or two," so to speak, an improvement to their former condition or lifestyle in southern Mexico. Your story makes me a little ill-at-ease, and somewhat frustrated that there seems to be no end in sight to these terrible conditions.

Pat Paul
via Internet

I just spent lunch hour reading and being bowled over by your articles. They are award-winners and deserve as wide an audience as possible. I would only add that despite the opening of capital and commodity markets, NAFTA did not provide for an opening of labor markets, too. NAFTA left the U.S. and Mexico free to pursue their own immigration policies, and the U.S. is increasingly militarizing the border and barring immigrants from receiving public benefits. The U.S. form of capitalism--the lowest wages possible, big gap between rich and poor, a large amount of social dysfunction, etc.--has been copied by PRI in Mexico and is the basis of globalization, as the more egalitarian European/Japanese form of capitalism is being pushed aside. U.S. elites want to have their cake and eat it, too--an American free-trade zone but with no movement of labor, which is vigorously suppressed, though migration is encouraged by exactly the kind of development that NAFTA supposedly was intended to promote.

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