Resistance to global capital at the local level: search for solidarity and
transnational organizing among women workers in Mexico:
1Final report of results (preliminary version)
Edmé Domínguez R.
Women‟s organizing, both at the local and global level -through transnational networking, has
been one of the new social movement phenomena in which the role of human agency to resist global restructuring is most significant. For many of these movements in the periphery countries the issue is not the rejection of economic globalization as such but the reform and control of such a process by civil society, the creation of international norms and mechanisms that can survey and guarantee the defense of their rights, in the case of female workers both as workers and as women.
Transnational organizing is particularly vital for workers connected to global capital expansion and most of them, as we can witness in several regions, happen to be women. Gendered labor may also affect the way this organizing is taking place and the transnational networking issues as well as the leadership style. The entanglement of the identities of class and gender is not unproblematic but it also opens new possibilities for example in the way of the creation of alternative labor organizations rejecting the traditions of authoritarianism and patriarchal hierarchies plaguing classical trade unions. And transnational organizing opens also new opportunity windows not only in the sense of resources but also of ideas, of ways to frame demands. However, transnational organizing also entails risks and raises obstacles that have to do with contextual, cultural, political, social and ideological differences as well as asymmetric access to resources among groups that form part of these heterogeneous alliances. In other words transnational solidarity networks regarding labor although positive in themselves, may become extremely complicated when put into practice.
1 This paper is part of the research project carried out by Edmé Domínguez and Cirila Quintero, “Transnational
networking around Free Trade issues seen by the South: the experience of Mexican organized women workers”
financed by SIDA-SAREC, the Swedish International development Agency during 2004-2007.
This paper is the preliminary version of the final report of a major project dealing with women as transnational actors in the case of NAFTA taking as point of departure the case of Mexico. Some of the issues this paper will try to deal with are the following: Is transnational organizing among countries belonging to different positions in the global system a valid strategy serving to strengthen local worker organizations in their fight against transnational capital? How is gender affecting these efforts of resistance? What are the issues at stake in this cooperation and what are the problems they confront? Are these networks and their actions advancing some notion of a global citizenship in the sense of global regulations to protect individual and collective rights?
Global restructuring and resistance and global citizenship from a gender perspective However neo-liberal, the process of regional integration through free trade in the case of NAFTA has also provoked, and continues to provoke, a new phenomenon that was not contemplated by its designers: the reactions of a civil society affected by the process and trying to get organized in order to influence this process. National divides are no longer as relevant as class/sector/group divide. Not all groups in civil society react to the effects of globalization or regional integration, only those that are affected and have the possibility to organize. This may be the case of workers and of women in their different identities: as mothers, as workers, as peasants, as indigenous or as consumers. And these groups and sectors look for support, solidarity, coordination, sometimes within the same countries sometimes beyond their national borders. They try to find common areas of concern; common interests and common strategies and tactics, even if their political or ideological perspectives may differ. They try to find common ways of resisting the effects of global restructuring in their immediate context based on a common understanding of the existence of certain rights that should be respected notwithstanding the state belonging. Our concept of resistance is inspired by Marchand and Runyan ideas, in the sense of actions against a
certain order which can be perceived as permanent or transitional but nonetheless harmful to the interests of a certain group. These actions can be defensive but also “propositive” and account for
both large scale mobilizations and day to day practices and strategies (Marchand, Runyan 2000: 19). Moreover, these practices of resistance adapt themselves to different roles and identities going from the private to the public spheres, from the household to the working place. Also, different practices of resistance are linked to the globalization structures themselves. Global restructuring in the form of
regional integration opens up new opportunities of resistance in the form of collective transnational actions as we have already noticed. These forms of collective action have been studied by several authors who have depicted such alliances as the new transnational actors or transnational movements (see, for example, Mitchell 1973; Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco 1997;Willet. 1999, Keck & Sikkink
Resistance to global restructuring is directly linked to the way in which one analyzes this process and to the national context of the movements in question. According to Suzanne Bergeron, in the current accounts of globalization there is a certain ambiguity regarding the power of global capital in relation to the state. While some authors suggest that global capital neutralizes the power of the nation-state other authors contend that the latter still has some power to manage their economies and protect weak sectors of the population. Although these differences are important regarding strategies for response and resistance (Bergeron 2001: 988-9) it is equally important to take into account the position of each state within the international political economy. In other words, it is necessary to go beyond the zero-sum game. The strength of global capital or of the state depends on whether the state belongs to the so called core economies, to the very low periphery, lower, middle or upper periphery (Ikeda 2004: 269). The strategies of resistance would thus differ, a state in the core economy may be as strong as transnational capital making it necessary to combine a so called „national management‟ with a „global imperative‟
approach whereas one in the very low periphery would perhaps demand a strategy targeting transnational capital in the first place. In most cases „hybrid‟ approaches (combining both the
national management and the global imperative) will have to be elaborated but once again the optimal combination of these will depend on the place of the state within the so called globalization order.
In the case of NAFTA we have three states belonging to different zonal positions in the global system (Ikeda 2004: 264). The United States would belong of course to the upper core while Canada and Mexico would be part of the upper semi-periphery and upper periphery respectively (Ikeda 2004: 267). In any case the fact that neither Mexico nor Canada are part of the core countries makes them share certain concerns and as we shall see gives some groups in these countries the necessary pre-conditions to join forces in common efforts of resistance. The choice of joint strategies in this resistance will not be unproblematic but the obstacles confronting
coordination will no be as difficult to overcome as in the case of Mexican and American groups in partly due to their belonging to so different zonal positions in the global system. Similar pre-conditions given by similarities of positions in the world system and common concerns regarding transnational capital are important in the choice of joint strategies but a number of other factors need to be taken into account. In the case of Mexico and Canada their different anti-NAFTA movements general aims (one anti-NAFTA, the other for a modified people friendly integration) and industrialization experiences and levels (regarding their exposure to out-sourcing for example) do challenge coordination of efforts. In the fight against transnational companies should the aim be “ethical codes of conduct” for every such company or international right regulations? Or should efforts target the state to enforce already existing laws or to create new such laws and regulations that can protect minor actors such as workers and women? And how to empower civil society in order to strengthen the state in its confrontation of transnational capital interests?
At the transnational level, this resistance has even acquired a continental shape focusing on gender issues linked to free trade schemes in the Americas. Thus, women organizations do appeal to the shared responsibility of their own organizations, the state, transnational and international actors to defend and improve women‟s rights associated to a multiplicity of
identities: as mothers, as workers, as trade unionists, as consumers, as head of households, as part of the political community. In this sense we could say that such demands and actions are part of a process to build a „global citizenship‟.
Historically the struggle for rights linked to citizenship has had two movements top-bottom and bottom-top. Citizenship building from below has broadened the culture of rights regarding the type of rights but also the spaces of the struggle. The local becomes global and vice versa (Vargas 1999). We see every day examples of local movements “going global”, from the peasant or indigenous movements taking their message and struggles to international attention to the organization of global social forums gathering all kinds of movements with heterogeneous agendas but sharing a double goal: the democratization of global decision making and the demand of the recognition of their rights at the local, national and global space. This situation raises however several problems as to how to democratize this new global civil society ensuring that all groups have a say in the creation of new normative transnational systems and how to
make these systems accountable to the demands of these groups. But even the creation of such a system is still an issue of debate among these groups.
According to Richard Falk, “citizenship is tied to democracy and global citizenship should in some way be tied to global democracy, at least to a process of democratization that extends some notion of rights, representation and accountability to the operation of international institutions..” (Falk 1994:128). Falks presents four levels at which the extension of citizenship beyond the nation-state can be conceived; the “aspirational”, drawing on traditions of thought regarding the
unity of human experience, the one associated to global economic integration, the one regarding “attitudes of necessity” to confront global problems and finally that of “transnational militancy”, to “make the impossible happen by dedicated action”. (Ibid: 131-132). Related to these levels,
there are several contradictory images as to the meaning of a global citizenship. We have the image of a global reformer favoring an utopian scheme that risks to become fundamentalist and authoritarian and the one associating the global citizen to transnational business affairs (where a startling majority is men) without any global civic sense of responsibility. The third image focuses on the management of the global order, in environmental and economic dimensions. This image gathers both reformist elites and influential groups of the global civil society. The fourth image regards the rise of regional political consciousness, something that can be associated to the “new kind of regionalism”. A final image of global citizenship focuses on the emergence of
transnational activism regarding the environment, human rights, women‟s rights, indigenous rights. This image is associated with grassroots mobilization efforts but also transnational NGOs militancy where the relevance of the issue blurs the national boundaries and those between the professional and the political arenas (Falk 1994: 138).
Falk‟s latter image where “transnational activity can be conceived both as a project and as
preliminary reality” (Ibid: 138) which lead to new ideas regarding the political and the
community, in an effort to create a “new global civil society” is a very powerful vision that has to be taken into account if we are to understand the process of “globalization from below” that is
now days taking place. Yet such a vision has to go beyond its idealistic and “aspirational”
expression, its authoritarian connotations to become a democratic political project with respect for diversity but with a strong sense of solidarity, “a feeling for equity and for nature”, accomplishing both local and planetary awareness (Ibid: 140).
The workers and the women‟s movements have shared for at least two centuries global aspirations as to the recognition of their rights. Globalization or economic restructuring has updated the need to „act globally‟ (Gita Sen quoted in Bergeron 2001: 995). In the case of the women‟s movement there is much literature presenting the experiences and possibilities of this kind of strategy that covers regional forums and world conferences on different issues, diverse thematic networks and even the transformation of powerful international organizations such as the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization (see Alvarez 1999, Marchand and Runyan 2000, Friedman, Hochstetler and Clark 2001). By adopting a “hybrid” approach adapted to the traits of the states in question and to the different groups active in resistance efforts within the NAFTA states we can try to explain how these groups act and the potentialities of these actions to influence both the state, global capital and their own social orders (challenging for example gender orders). Concerted resistance can take the form of organized networks, exemplifying Falk‟s last image of global citizenship, with concrete agendas joining forces around a single issue or alliances with more long-term objectives and platforms. And in the case of women, resistance may cross several borders, beyond the geographic ones. The initial efforts of this resistance aimed at improving economic/working conditions, the so called practical demands may transform women‟s sense of individual and collective identity by questioning their roles and places within the household, the workplace, their organizations and the community (Bergeron 2001: 999).
Now to the tactics and strategies. Keck and Sikkink develop the notion of transnational
advocacy networks, TANs. These kind of networks are affecting the practice of national
sovereignty by blurring the boundaries between a state‟s relations with its own nationals and the recourse both citizens and states have to the international system to influence state behavior (in a „boomerang pattern‟). Also these new transnational actors may go beyond the aim of policy
changes to advocate fundamental changes in the „institutional and principled basis of
2 international interactions‟ (Keck & Sikkink 1998: 2).
2 TNAs appear mostly in issue areas characterized by high value content and informational uncertainty. These non-traditional international actors succeed in mobilizing information strategically to help create new issues and categories, in order to persuade, pressure and gain leverage over much more powerful international actors such as international organizations and governments. There is a double aim in this action: to influence policy outcomes and to transform the terms and nature of the debate. These network actors „frame‟ issues to reach broader audiences and
to fit with favorable institutional values, and at the „right moment,‟ they bring new ideas, norms and discourses into
TANs can also be considered as an instrument in the process of building a global citizenship: they help to create issues and set agendas, they try to exercise an influence on the discourses and behavior of states, international organizations and on institutional procedures. Examples of TANs on different issues can be found at the level of different kinds of grassroots movements within NAFTA. These organizations, through transnational networking, cross- fertilize issues in order to be more effective, thereby connecting the issues of labor, indigenous people, women,
3 refugees, the environment, and human rights.
4Transnational networking or cross-border mobilizing involve many challenges. There are risks
of dependency or asymmetry. Local NGOs and movements are typically dependent on upper core to upper semi-periphery countries or international NGOs for funds, in spite of networks being two-way streets where partners enrich each other by their mutual experience. And financing involves also conditions, imposed priorities or imposed strategies, which the „periphery‟ partners (be it NGOs or movements) may resent. This is specially true in the NAFTA
case where asymmetries can obstruct transnational activism or make it more difficult and less
5effective even taking solidarity as a compensatory factor.
Another problem affecting the collaboration between core and periphery or semi-periphery organizations is the difference of cultures and experiences that make the choice of tactics and strategies difficult. These differences are even noticeable among the groups in periphery countries. Such groups (whether NGOs, trade unions or networks involving both) show an enormous heterogeneity regarding goals, strategies, and type of „feminism,‟ if any. Moreover, international activism complicates heterogeneity by creating new kinds of hierarchies, with international activists at the top working from above and grassroots organizations or movements
policy debates and serve as sources of information and testimony. They promote norm implementation by pressuring state actors for example, but also other kind of actors like transnational companies or international organizations to adopt new policies, and they monitor compliance with international standards. Keck and Sikkink
enlist a typology of tactics that networks use in their efforts to persuade, socialize and pressure: 1) information
politics or the ability to produce credible and usable information; 2) symbolic politics or the ability to use symbols,
stories, testimonies in their campaigns; 3) leverage politics : the ability to enlist powerful actors‟ influence in a
certain cause; and 4) accountability politics: to monitor powerful actors, states, intergovernmental organizations
(IGOs), transnational companies‟ compliance of previously accepted principles, rules, policies, etc. See: Keck and
Sikkink 1998: 16).
3 For a detailed account of some examples of these transnational actions see: Domínguez R. 2002. 4 For a detailed account of cross.boder collaboration see: Staudt and Coronado 2002. 5 There is a discussion on different forms of solidarity. McGrew has made a distinction between thin and thick forms of solidarity. Thin forms refer to networks, mobilizing and connecting people while thick forms demand a sense of mutual obligation and duties to others regardless of whether there is reciprocation. See Cooper 2000.
working from below. As Sonia Alvarez argues, the NGOization of the women‟s movement in Latin America has had mixed results. On the one hand, local NGOs with the help of the „global
feminist lobby‟ obtained from most Latin American governments the enacting of several feminist-inspired programs of reform to improve women‟s situation at the level of political representation and in terms of public policies and legislation against domestic violence (Alvarez 1999:182). On the other hand, structural adjustment programs have diminished social investments, thereby forcing feminist NGOs into the role of administrators of self-help, social service and training programs, thus compromising their critical advocacy potential and making the “empowerment” of civil society functional to the neo-liberal game (Ibid:183). But not only is this critical advocacy potential endangered by transnational funds, the whole transformation project carried out by many of these groups my risk to disappear by the negative dynamics within the organizations which some times this external support (together with other factors) trigger.
To summarize: In order to analyze and appreciate the potential of the new efforts of resistance of women workers taking place in periphery countries, efforts that sometimes are part and even gather their strength from transnational networks, we have to take into account several factors. If these efforts are a reaction to problems linked to global restructuring possibly in relation to free trade schemes we have to analyze the position of the countries involved within the global system, the position of these groups within their own countries, their contradictions with other sectors/groups/classes, the different interests, experiences and asymmetries among the movements/groups involved, their short, middle and long term aims and consequentially the potentialities or contradictions of the transnational advocacy networks they can build. In the case of women workers transnational networking we also have to look at the triggering effect of this networking regarding class and gender contradictions. We have to see if transnational organizing can overcome the heterogeneity of the organizations involved (exemplified in the case of NGO-trade union collaboration) and if it has the potential of questioning traditional gender hierarchies. We also have to explore the potential of these struggles to advance in the construction of a “new global civil society” that goes beyond the class
and territorial origins of the liberal citizenship concept.
Our project and its results
In order to test the above mentioned concepts we looked for concrete examples of transnational networking among women workers linked directly or indirectly to the process of global restructuring. We based these examples on the case of Mexico and the transnational networking within the NAFTA area. Our cases-studies involved both NGOs focused on women workers‟
issues and trade unionist networks. Among the NGOs we studied the experience of four of them: CJM-Coalition for Justice in the maquiladoras; CFO-Comité Fronterizo de Obreras; SEDEPAC-
Servicio, Paz y Desarrollo, A.C and Factor X, that have their activities in the Northern border of Mexico and are actively engaged in trans-border activism. Regarding the women trade union networks we selected the women group within FAT (Frente Autentico del Trabajo) and the RMSM (Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas de México) engaging women belonging to non-
6 To corporative trade unions, generally positioned to the left of official/corporative trade unions.complement the whole we also studied the case of transnational women activists networks against free trade initiatives, in particular those organized around the HAS, Hemispheric Social Alliance gathering all kinds of social organizations against the FTAA Free Trade for the Americas project (the results of which are not included here).
This project has meant the implementation of several field work observations and about 35 semi-structured deep interviews from 204 to 2007. We have also studied their materials and publications and the few studies already made on some of them. Our participant observations have not always been free from obstacles or restrictions. As committed researchers we have struggled to maintain a balance between showing our sympathy and solidarity with these organizations while at the same time trying to be critical aware of their shortcomings and failures. This has not been easy and some of them have reacted in a cautious manner towards us. This has to do with the fact that in spite of their facing common enemies and experiencing similar problems in some cases they mistrust each other as they compete for the same resources and
6 Corporative trade unions are the ones created by the Mexican government during the 1930s in order to control most of the working class. These trade unions were grouped in large coalitions which were incorporated to the official party‟s structure. The members of these trade unions got in general certain privileges regarding salaries and working conditions but hade no possibility whatsoever to protest or criticize their leadership or the government‟s
policies. These practices led to an enormous corrupted and authoritarian system that lasted as long as the official party itself, up to the year 2000. Trade unions outside the system were continuously harassed and repressed but some of them, like the FAT survived. Other trade unions representing new service sectors (like telecommunication, electricity and airlines) left the corporative structures already during the 1980s but their profile mixed characteristics of the corporative style with some moderate oppositional positioning. It is to the latter that RMSM belonged.
disagree in the tactics or strategies to be used. In spite of these obstacles we have been able to gather valuable materials that have already been analyzed and presented in several conferences in the form of papers in progress. Some of these papers have been transformed into articles or book chapters a list of which is attached at the end of this paper. Our aim is to gather the whole material in the form of a book to be published in Spanish in Mexico and afterwards, depending on the available resources in English.
We consider this to be a valuable and successful project not only because of the findings which we are about to present but also because it has been able to gain access to the history and experiences of very different organizations that have never been put together in this way. Moreover, its value is enhanced by first hand sources through interviews at the different levels of the organizations. In this way we have been able to advance in the understanding of the internal dynamics of each organization, in their weaknesses and strengths, vital pre-conditions for their alliances and relationship with transnational support.
In this text I will try to give an overview of the general results in order to arrive at some conclusions.
Some of our results
Having started with the hypothesis that transnational solidarity was empowering and focusing on strategies favoring this kind of support we came to the conclusion that local realities and local actors (perhaps in combination with the ones at the regional and national level) played a much more important role than what we had imagined from the beginning.
Moreover, we had to examine more carefully what kind of external support we were speaking about (trade unions, religious groups, other kind of grassroots organizations‟ support), the
reasons for this support and its effects regarding tactics, strategies, the unity of the struggle and most important its legitimization and de-legitimization of the struggles carried out by local groups. We had to recognize that such transnational solidarity may also affect the identity formation of the local groups not only regarding national/regional/local loyalties but also the character of the original project and its grassroots accountability. As mentioned before “critical
advocacy potential may be endangered by transnational funds, the whole transformation project