Although the Mexican government ordered the closure of all ‘non-essential’ businesses during much of the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, many maquiladoras- foreign owned factories which assemble goods for export- have kept operations running while offering minimal protection for workers who have continued to labor for extremely low wages. But pandemic-related challenges are part of a much longer history of economic crises which have impacted the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. In this webinar, I discuss how how recent pressures—the pandemic, but also the 2008 financial crisis, violence in Juárez and expanding border militarization and immigration enforcement—shape the ability of workers to both make ends meet. I demonstrate how workers turn to livelihood strategies outside of the workplace, such as crossing into the U.S. to sell blood plasma, to navigate ongoing economic uncertainty. In turn, I argue that these livelihood strategies contribute to labor devaluation inside of the factory, in other words, to the availability of a ‘cheap’ labor supply that bolsters the maquiladora's competitiveness in a crisis-prone global economy.
Nina is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia. Her research examines how economic restructuring impacts both development processes and experiences of work in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. She currently lives in Ciudad Juarez; and when she isn't writing her dissertation, she does solidarity organizing with the Fronterizx Fianza Fund, a bond fund based in El Paso, TX.