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We Are in This Dance Together

We Are in This Dance Together: Gender, Power, and Globalization at a Mexican Garment Firm

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    We Are in This Dance Together
    Book Description:

    Changes in the global economy have real and contradictory outcomes for the everyday lives of women workers. In 2001, Nancy Plankey-Videla had a rare opportunity to witness these effects firsthand. Having secured access to one of Latin America's top producers of high-end men's suits in Mexico for participant-observer research, she labored as a machine operator for nine months on a shop floor made up, mostly, of women. The firm had recently transformed itself from traditional assembly techniques, to lean, cutting-edge, Japanese-style production methods. Lured initially into the firm by way of increased wages and benefits, workers had helped shoulder the company's increasing debts. When the company's plan for successful expansion went awry and it reneged on promises it had made to the workforce, women workers responded by walking out on strike.

    Building upon in-depth interviews with over sixty workers, managers, and policy makers, Plankey-Videla documents and analyzes events leading up to the female-led factory strike and its aftermath-including harassment from managers, corrupt union officials and labor authorities, and violent governor-sanctioned police actions.We Are in This Dance Togetherillustrates how the women's shared identity as workers and mothers-deserving of dignity, respect, and a living wage-became the basis for radicalization and led to further civic organizing against the state, the company, and the corrupt union to demand justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5315-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction: “WE ARE IN THIS DANCE TOGETHER”
    (pp. 1-21)

    On March 15, 2001, at 3 p.m. sharp, women workers at Moctezuma, located in central Mexico, walked out on strike.¹ I was one of them. The Mexican-owned high-end men’s suit factory, part of an industrial group that included two textile firms and an international distribution center, was considered a model to follow by local entrepreneurs and state agents. In fact, the state government envisioned Moctezuma as the anchor of an industrial garment and textile district premised on cutting-edge technology and organizational innovations that would compete in the global economy. The internationally renowned firm had operated for thirty-two years under the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Contextualizing the Case of Moctezuma
    (pp. 22-42)

    Workers’ actions are shaped and constrained by the economic structures and political institutions in which they are embedded. To understand the mobilization of Moctezuma’s women workers in 1972 under piecework and in 2001 under teamwork, it is necessary to appreciate how the social, economic, and political contexts—what labor process theorists call thepolitics of production—set the conditions for shop floor relations and working-class struggles.

    When Italia, Moctezuma’s parent company, opened in 1951, Mexico’s developmental state was in the midst of a modernizing campaign, ushering in a hegemonic regime where social and industrial policy mediated worker-capitalist relations. A period...

  8. CHAPTER 2 “I Like Piecework More … Because I Work for Myself”
    (pp. 43-63)

    This chapter explores the labor process at Moctezuma under piecework, the production system employed since the firm began making men’s suits in 1964. Although the factory had transformed to modular production in 1996, the ghost of piecework was always present while I was on the shop floor. Managers continually brought up the disadvantages of piecework in interviews, while workers implicitly and explicitly compared piecework and teamwork in their daily conversations. To better understand how piecework shaped the evaluation of teamwork by both managers and women workers, I describe the 1972 strike, then follow with a discussion of hiring and training...

    (pp. 64-93)

    The concentration of power in the global apparel industry changed the conditions under which Moctezuma functioned. The firm’s clients demanded quicker turnaround time, higher quality, and lower costs. Several high-profile buyers stipulated the use of just-in-time (JIT) and statistical process control (SPC), where work is measured at preset intervals to chart and assess whether production is within quality parameters.¹ To retain high-value clients, in large part, Moctezuma reorganized production from piecework to teamwork.

    In 1995, the industrial group invested heavily in the services of a high-profile international consulting agency, which proposed Japanese-style lean production, termed “modular production” in the apparel...

    (pp. 94-120)

    When the training modules ended at the end of November 2000, I requested permission to work on the shop floor. However, with company holiday events and work slowdowns caused by lack of material, the human resources (HR) director suggested I wait until the new year to begin working on the shop floor. December in Mexico is saturated with religious festivals to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe andposadas(the reenactment of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter in an inn) as well as company and school festivals. December at Moctezuma was no different.

    On December 12, the day of the Virgin...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Lean during Mean Times
    (pp. 121-141)

    By mid-February 2001, heightened tension was palpable on the shop floor. Rumors abounded that workers would be fired because of the economic crisis. One day, rumor spread that the second shift would be eliminated. Nobody felt secure in his or her job. Even those I would have considered the best and most indispensable workers felt their livelihood threatened. It was the beginning of the end. Management changed the rules of teamwork, the social contract established with workers. In response, individual resistance rapidly cascaded into open collective struggle on the shop floor.

    The events that led up this confrontation are important...

    (pp. 142-167)

    On March 15, 2001, at 3 p.m. sharp, the workers of Moctezuma walked out on strike. The strike committee, a group of men and women chosen at the last union assembly meeting before the strike, rallied workers at the loading dock. They told workers to guard every entrance and exit so that machines could not be taken out, to go and “defend our turf.” Some machines, which the firm likely destined for work outsourced to workshops during the strike, had already been removed during the lunch break. I joined my new team in the back of the factory. Production managers...

    (pp. 168-188)

    After the labor authorities colluded with company management to declare the strike at Moctezuma illegal, workers had no choice but to return to work. However, most women and men returned with a renewed fervor to fight for their rights as workers. In response, management intimidated, harassed, and fired workers while it installed a phantom union that was quickly rubber-stamped by the labor authorities. Although public demonstrations ceased after three and a half months, some workers still discussed how to elect another democratic union or make especially harsh managers pay for their excessive pressure. Still dealing with resistance on the shop...

  14. Conclusion: “WE ARE WORKERS, NOT BEGGARS”
    (pp. 189-206)

    What does the case of Moctezuma tell us about development in the age of globalization? How did globalization shape women’s struggle in 2001? And how do women’s actions inform the concept of agency? Moctezuma is an important case to study because it represented a high-road model for local development premised on empowered women workers, high wages, and organizational innovations. As a full-package producer, it offered, according to Gereffi and Martínez in a paper prepared for the World Bank’sWorld Development Report 2000/2001 on Poverty and Development, “better opportunities for development by accelerating technology transfer, creating high quality jobs with better...

  15. Appendix A: The Workforce at Moctezuma
    (pp. 207-212)
  16. Appendix B: Past Work Employment Classification Methods
    (pp. 213-218)
  17. Appendix C: Reprimands in Worker Files, 1993–2001
    (pp. 219-222)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 223-230)
  19. Glossary
    (pp. 231-232)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-248)
  21. Index
    (pp. 249-260)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-262)