As President Barack Obama prepares to travel to Mexico Thursday for a meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto economic growth, immigration and security policies top the agenda. Yet one unmentioned theme – Mexico’s dismal labor rights record – has important consequences for all three of these policy areas.
From 2006-2012, the government of Felipe Calderón mounted a full-scale assault on democratic labor unions in Mexico, combining all the mechanisms of labor control built up during 70 years of one-party rule with full-scale military assaults on striking workers. Although the compensation of Mexican workers relative to U.S. workers in manufacturing was lower in 2010 than in 1975, Calderón was determined to drive wages even lower to attract foreign investment.
It is not yet clear whether Peña Nieto intends to continue Calderón’s repressive policies, or whether he will finally respect Mexican workers’ rights. The message that Obama sends could make a crucial difference.