The rhetoric of globalization: can the maquiladora worker speak?

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Rosenberg, Judith

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Too often discourses of globalization fall into simplistic pro-and-con positions. Universally omitted is the voice of maquiladora workers who are specially qualified to speak; they work in foreign-owned assembly plants or factories that produce in Mexico for export to the United States. Governments and transnational bodies created these factories expressly to answer Mexico’s development needs and U.S. corporations’ desire for low cost labor. The maquiladoras embody free trade ideologies, a pillar of globalization, and mirror transnational investment and manufacturing in other parts of the world—but they’re close to Austin, share culture and history with us, and are, thus, easier to access for study. The dissertation offers activists and students access to the voice of Mexican maquiladora workers directly, rather than through representatives, and makes available a unique archive of worker-generated documents, eyewitness accounts and anecdotes of worker speech and actions, Mexican press, and U.S. corporate materials. Historical research provides context. Analysis of rhetorical politics and practices explores the dynamic by which elites circulate a monolithic account of globalization and how, nevertheless, myriad voices tell a different story. We must listen to them and use tools of textual analysis if we are to break out of epistemological straight jackets, hear and recognize oppression, and create new relationships for social change. Chapters explore relations of the maquiladora workers internally and with the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO or Border Committee of Women Workers), the American Friends Service Committee, Alcoa, a Fortune 100 corporation and Duro, a small privately owned company; both manufacture in Mexico at the border. Through analysis of symbols, narrative styles, and language choices, the chapters look at the grassroots’ struggle for democratic process, legacies of the Mexican Revolution, the gender component of labor exploitation, and consciousness as a basis for labor organizing. The narrative of my own relationship with the workers since 1999 weaves through the chapters. I offer it as a model of a privileged person’s voyage of discovery and quest for consciousness, the issue being: how to understand solidarity across myriad borders and the crucial, yet elusive, difference between solidarity and charity.