Mobile Capital, Immobile Labor: Inequality and Opportunity in the Tortilla Industry
Bank Muñoz examines the plight of workers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border in a transnational tortilla company. She argues that while both sets of workers confront a despotic labor regime, the context for labor exploitation differs relative to a worker’s location on the U.S.-Mexico border. In the United States, Latino immigrant workers, most of whom are men, toil in sterile, highly impersonal factories under high levels of surveillance. By contrast, most of their Mexican counterparts are single mothers who toil under unsafe working conditions in which sexual harassment is common. State policies reinforce the exploitation of workers in both countries. Punitive policies toward immigrants in the U.S., including the militarization of the border and rules denying immigrants access to public assistance, limit Latino immigrant workers’ employment opportunities and make it difficult for them to organize. This, in turn, has kept their wages low and reinforced income inequalities between white and Latino workers in the food processing industry. In Mexico, protective labor legislation is weak, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitative and unsafe working conditions. Despite the challenges facing both workers, Bank Muñoz suggests that the perishability of tortillas and their consumption by Latino communities leave tortilla companies highly vulnerable to strikes and boycotts, especially if such actions were strengthened by cross-border labor solidarity.
food processing industry, surveillance and sexual harassment of workers, immigration, cross-border labor organizing, Mexico
Citation: Social Justice Vol. 31, No. 3 (2004): 21-39