By David Bacon
Dollars and Sense – September/October 2017
The Drivers of Migration
Pablo Alvarado, organizer for the Day Labor Union (and now director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network), talks to a group of day laborers getting work on the corner at Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.
The increase in migration to the United States coincided, by no accident, with the period in which neoliberal economic reforms were implemented in those countries that are the main sources of migration to the United States.
In 1994, the year that NAFTA went into effect, there were about 4.5 million people born in Mexico living in the United States. In 2008, that number peaked at about 12.6 million. Of those people, about 5.7 million were able to get some kind of visa. But another 7 million people couldn’t, and they came anyway. Fully 9% of the population of Mexico lives here on the north side of the border. People are coming now from the most remote areas of Mexico, where people are still speaking languages that were old when Columbus arrived—Mixteco, Zapoteco, Triqui, Purépecha, and others. The largest Salvadoran city in the world is what? San Salvador? No, it’s Los Angeles. And remittances going back to El Salvador are 16.6% of Salvadoran GDP.
What produced the migration from Mexico is the same thing that closed factories here. NAFTA, for instance, let huge U.S. companies—Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Continental Grain Company—sell corn in Mexico for a price that was lower than what it cost farmers to grow it. Those companies are subsidized by the federal government. The last farm bill had $2 billion in subsidies for U.S. grain producers. Those companies took those subsidies and they sold corn in Mexico at 19% below the U.S. cost of production, according to Jonathan Fox and others who have studied the displacement of people that this has caused. Corn exports to Mexico went from 2 million to 10 million tons from 1992 to 2008.
It’s not just corn. The price of pork in Mexico, because of pork exports to Mexico, went down 56%. That didn’t mean that it got cheaper in supermarkets. It just meant that those people doing the business made more money. Mexico imported 30,000 tons of pork in 1995, and by 2010 it was 811,000 tons. One company, Smithfield Foods, now controls over 25% of the market for pork meat in Mexico, and as a result, Mexican pig farmers and slaughterhouse workers lost 120,000 jobs, according to the Mexican Pork Producers Association. The systems that helped rural farmers survive by buying corn, tobacco, or coffee at subsidized prices were all ruled illegal, a restraint of trade, under NAFTA. So displacement doesn’t just hurt farmers; it hurts workers, too.
Read the complete essay here.
See also: NAFTA, THE CROSS-BORDER DISASTER
By David Bacon
The American Prospect, November 7, 2017
DAVID BACON is a California based writer and photographer. He is the author of several books, the most recent is
In the Fields of the North; En los campos del norte ( 2017) Reviewed here
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