American Companies Want Mexican Workers to Risk Lives for Weapons Manufacturing
The United States has decided to play hardball with Mexican authorities rather than working toward a collaborative solution.
Despite rising coronavirus cases and deaths in Mexico, American manufacturers and the Trump administration have increased pressure on their southern neighbors to open up American manufacturing plants deemed non-essential by the Mexican health authorities.
Protests in border towns began in mid-April with coronavirus deaths at four American-owned manufacturers. Lear, an American car seating manufacturer, confirmed 13 workers at a Ciudad Juárez plant died of coronavirus in April.
“They didn’t give him anything, not even antibacterial gel,” Susana Garcia Tafoya, the niece of one of the deceased workers told the Chicago Tribune. “They told him that he was fine … so he kept working.”
The spread of coronavirus within factories occurred before testing was increased, and Mexico still has one of the lowest rates of testing in the world. No country with as many confirmed coronavirus cases as Mexico has carried out so few tests, 727 tests per million people (the US has done 21,742 per million people).
Even with low testing numbers, coronavirus cases and deaths are increasing in Mexico with 23,471 cases and 2,154 deaths as of May 4. The country’s curve is still rising with at least 1,000 confirmed cases per day in the last five days.
However, the United States has decided to play hardball with Mexican authorities rather than working toward a collaborative solution.
US Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau tweeted, “you don’t have ‘workers’ if you close all the companies and they move elsewhere. Of course health comes first, but to me it seems short-sighted to suggest that economic effects don’t matter.”
The suggestion by Ambassador Landau is an only slightly-veiled threat at taking away the manufacturing jobs if Mexican authorities refuse to reopen American manufacturing plants. The American pressure is playing off the Mexican dependency on American manufacturing jobs, specifically in these northern border towns.
Other solutions are available, and likely preferable for those on both sides of the border, but Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has cozied up to the idea of reopening some of the plants.
The American government has been in talks with Mexican officials about the importance of reopening manufacturing plants related to defense and weapons.
In an April 30 press conference Ellen Lord, Undersecretary Of Defense, said, “I have had ongoing conversations with our U.S. ambassador to Mexico, U.S. corporate CEOs, members of the House and Senate, as well as other officials in the State Department over the past two weeks to highlight key companies constraining our domestic defense supply chain in order to catalyze re-openings in Mexico. We appreciate Mexico’s ongoing positive response.”
Alongside defense and weapons manufacturing, Mexican factory workers have also questioned how essential many commercial manufacturing plants are.
A protestor in Ciudad Juárez told Democracy Now, “they say we are under quarantine and we should be in our homes, but the company has not closed because this company is essential — as if people are desperate to buy refrigerators, stoves or washing machines, as if they’re very important.”
The Mexican government ordered the shuttering of non-essential industries to close, but initially many American manufacturers were exempt. Similar to meat-packing plants in America, Mexican factories have become coronavirus hotspots as politicians and factory owners prioritized production over worker safety.
“We want them to respect the quarantine,” a Mexican Honeywell factory worker told Reuters, “the manager said that we are essential workers. I don’t think an alarm is essential.”
President Lopez Obrador, a man who assumed power railing against neoliberalism, now faces his biggest test yet with American manufacturers clamoring for Mexican workers to get back to work and produce American goods. With a worldwide slump in the economy and an impending catastrophic coronavirus spread in Mexico, AMLO is beginning to bow to business interests before workers are protected.