1 1 Regionalism from the people's perspective: Mexican women's views and experiences of integration and transnational networking". By Edmé Dominguez R. 1 * "...yo creo que las mujeres han logrado establecer vínculos muy fuertes con organizaciones de mujeres del otro lado, Estados Unidos y Canadá, para lograr ir como desentrañando, ir viendo cómo se dan en este proceso de globalización y como está el TLC realmente no, no nos beneficia no? no sólo para las mujeres si no que creo que en conjunto se han logrado como romper, creo que ésta es una ventaja de la globalización, que logró como romper este nivel primario de solidaridad... se ha podido hacer un nivel inicial de solidaridad con mujeres de, del [país] del imperio, digamos no? esa creo que ha sido una ventaja dada por este marco de la globalización no?.." (Cid 18-40a) (I think that women have been able to establish strong links with women organizations on the other side, in the US and Canda to start understanding how does this process of glabalisation is working and to see how this NAFTA is not good for us. I think this is an advantage of globalization, to break this primary level of solidarity to go into another level of solidarity with women of the empire, I think this has been an advantage given by the globalization framework..) I. Introduction Much has been written on the "new regionalism", on NAFTA and its sucesses and failures, mostly at the economic and macroperspective level. The social consequences of this integration process are also being studied. However, very little has been done to record the civil society perspective, their views on the consequences of this regionalization, their activities concerning such a process, their proposals. An even less has been done regarding women's views and actions in relation to regional integration, specially in the case of Mexico. This is what we propose to do in this paper. We want to present several experiences of transnational networking and solidarity actions among trade union women and then to look at individual views among women of the external world, of regional integration and of globalisation. It should be noticed that this paper is a partial result of a larger project of research on women citizen movements in Mexico presently carried out by Ines Castro A. and the author. Most of the material used in the paper has been compiled during a field-work stay of the author during three months (Nov.1998-Jan. 1999) in Mexico. During this period about 39 qualitativeopen interviews where carried out with women participating in different citizens and feminist organizations. We start presenting some reflections on the subject of regionalization, citizenship and transnational networks. We describe then some reactions to regional integration among 1 * Associate professor, lecturer and researcher at the Iberoamerican Institute, University of Göteborgs, and lecturer at the University of Linköping, Sweden.. Part of the material used in this paper was obtained from a research project financed by SIDA-SAREC, the Swedish International development Agency. and
2 2 different organizations in general and in particular those coming from trade union women networks. Finally, we offer some views of women not engaged in the actions described above, but participating in different movements and organizations within what we could call the new civil society in Mexico. II. Some reflections on citizenship and networks at a regional or global level. What has regionalism, even the "new regionalism" to do with citizenship?. According to Björn Hettne the "new regionalism" emerged in the 80s after the decline of the integration theory and praxis in the 1970s and it implies a more comprehensive regionalism, multidimensional but with stronger emphasis on the political dimensions. It is growing from below, in a situation where national economies are outgrowing their national polities. Regions are organized as a response to regionalization in other parts of the world. (B. Hettne: 1999,p. xvi) However, it seems that regional integration in the North American area is mostly a model imposed from above, it is embedded in the ideology of neoliberalism and it is seen as part of the political-economic restructuring process in which Latin American countries have been involved since the outbreak of the debt crisis in It is part of the strategy to ensure the effective accomplishment of SAPS (structural adjustment programs) initiated under the pressure of the international financial community, particularly the IMF and the World Bank. It is the "developmentalist program of the 1990s". (Marchand,1995:48) Such an integration would have very little to do with initiatives from below, as most of these restructuring programs, and specially free trade, are dictated from above. However, this process has also provoked, is provoking, a new phenomenom that was not contemplated by its designers: the reactions of a civil society affected by the process and willing to participate, that is say to exercise its citizenship rights, in order to change that process. And this participation has acquired a new dimension, it is transnational, it is crossing borders, it is demanding rights and assuming responsibilities at the regional no longer at the state level. We thus need a new multilayered conceptualization of citizenship that loosens its bonds with the nation-state and "..is defined over a spectrum which extends from the local to the global, reflecting local and regional pressures for greater political autonomy on the one hand and globalizing tendencies on the other" (Ruth Lister, 1997) This notion of global citizenship would reflect at the international level the rights and responsabilities associated with national citizenship offering as well a tool to counteract citizenship's exclusionary power. This also involves a link between citizenship and human rights. The framework of global citizenship encourages a focus on the responsibilities of the more affluent nation-states towards those that lack the resources to translate human rights into effective citizenship rights This would stress the "global parameters of the responsible citizen's obligations" (Kathleen B. Jones, quoted by Lister 1997) The "importance of feminism of placing citizenship in a global context is underlined by the evidence that women in poorer nations, as managers of poverty and suppliers of 'flexible labour', bear the greater burden of the
3 3 policies of the richer nations and the international economic institutions, such as the IMF that represents those interests." ((Ruth Lister, 1997) Feminism has produced an enormous literature to criticize the liberal and republican notions of citizenship arguing their abstract and exclusionary nature that ignores the tension between the private and the public and the differences in terms of power, sex. class. race, etchnicity. etc. New theoretizations have tried to embrace both individual rights (particularly social and reproductive rights) and political participation and try to analize the relationship between the two. For those adopting this approach citizenship emerges as a dynamic concept in which process and outcome stand in a dialectical relationship. Adopting the concept of human agency citizenship becomes an expression of this agency at the political arena: citizenship as rights enables people to act as agents, individually or in collaboration with others. Rights themselves are reinterpreted as the object of political struggles in order to redefine them, to enrich them. (Ruth Lister, 1998) A transnational civil society is perhaps on its way. But how do these citizens act in order to make their voices heard? in order to influence on levels of decision taking, in order to demand their rights, to modify policies but even to change the rules of the game? The answer is networking through what Keck and Sikkink could call transnational networks. III. Transnational Networks, how they work, who they are. Although there is an increasing literature on the subject perhaps the study that has been more successful in this area is the one produced by Keck and Sikkink. 2 These authors develop the notion of transnational advocacy networks, which are networks of activists distinguishable largely by the centrality of principled ideas and values in motivating their formation. (Keck, Sikkink 1998: p. 1) According to these authors, these kind of networks are affectimg 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. Also these new transnational actors go beyond the aim of policy changes to advocate trascendental changes in the institutional and principled basis of international interactions. (Ibid: p. 2) That is to say, they are contributing to change world politics rules. These networks include those relevant actors working internationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse and dense exchanges of information and services. Also, such networks appear mostly in issue areas characterised by high value content and informational uncertainty. These non-traditional international actors succeed in mobilising information strategically to help create new issues and categories in order to persuade, pressure and gain leverage over much more powerful 2 See: Clyde Mitchell, 1973 Networks, Norms and Institutions in Network Analysis ed, Jeremy Boussevain and J. Clyde Mitchell, the Hague:Mouton. Also: International Social Science Journal, Social and Cultural Aspects of Regional Integration, March 1999.
4 4 international actors as international organisations and governments. There is a double aim in this action: to influence policy outcomes and to transform the terms and nature of the debate. And even if they don t succeed, they are already relevant players in policy debates. These network actors frame issues to reach broader audiences and to fit with favorable institutional values, they bring new ideas, norms and discourses into policy debates and serve as sources of information and testimony. They also promote norm implementation they pressure 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. By these actions they contribute to change the identities and interests of other actors, to change their procedures, policies and behavior. They are also political spaces in which differently situated actors negotiate, the social, cultural and political meanings of their joint enterprises. (Ibid p. 3) Keck and Sikkink import the network concept from sociology and apply it transnationally stressing the fluid and open relation between committed and knowledgeable actors working in specialised issue areas. These actors are suppossed to defend causes or propositions that cannot be easily linked to a rationalist understanding of their interests. They have been particularly important in value-laden debates over human rights, the environment, women, infant health and indigenous people. In these cases large number of individuals situated in different contexts have become acquainted over a long time and developed similar world views. Having some of these individuals proposing strategies for political action around certain issues transforms their potential into a network action. An interesting aspect of this process is that relationships among networks, are similar to domestic activism in social movements. Environmentalists and women s groups have looked at the history of human rights campaigns for model of effective international institutional building. Issues mix with each other in order to get effectiveness: indigenous causes, women or refugee issues get connected with environmental and human rights issues. All of them acquire an NGO community identity. This community shares information and generates it to launch their campaigns. It is their ability to generate information quickly and accurately and deploy it effectively their most important instrument and also central to their identity. For Gustavo Lins Ribeiro the information these networks need is so central to their functioning that they are highly dependent on communications to operate properly. Accostumed to networking in physical space and anxious to find effective means of communications and information much of these network actors found electronic networks to be another powerful and useful milieu for their organisation and political means. Networking in real politics seems to find an ideal mirror in the many possibilities of networking in cyberspace. Coalitions may be
5 5 formed with various actors operating at different levels of agency, transnational communications and alliances can be effective with little or no control by nation-states. 3 Keck and Sikkink ar skeptical to the notion of these networks can be subsumed under notions of transnational social movements or global civil society because these would transform them only into enactors of an increasingly homogeneous culture and political practices. Although I would agree with the notion that these networks are not enactors I think these networks are part of an emergent transnational civil society. They represent the more active and empowered part of the transnational civil movements that is reacting against the processes of economic globalization and their consequences. IV. Civil society and networks in a continental perspective Already from the time of the NAFTA negotiation, several sectors, particularly trade unions, got in touch with each other in order to get an imput in this process. These contacts increased after the treaty was approved and a network of networks and coordinating organizations was created, with RMALC (Red Mexicana de Acción frente al coordinator. 4 Libre Comercio) as the Mexican Besides these regular contacts, several events and conflicts in Mexico have given rise to big solidarity movements both in the US and in Canada but also in many other countries. One example of such solidarity is the one in support of the Zapatista demands in Chiapas. In this latter case it is interesting to notice that such a rebellion went soon beyond its original significance as a struggle for indigeneous rights to become a democratization crusade of the Mexican authoritarian state and then a world crusade against neoliberalism. It would be worth studying how this intercontinental campaign against the economic consequences of neoliberalism has appealed so many young people all over the world. Though their enthusiastic support of the Zapatistas, these young people have been able to organize two world meetings with several thousand participants (Chiapas 1997 and Spain 1998), several continental meetings (in Europe, Australia and South America) and multiple information and advocacy world wide networks that have in fact stopped the Mexican government from crushing this rebellion. 5 Other solidarity movements comprise the support of trade union struggles particularly those to force the Mexican government to comply with the NAFTA parallel agreements on Labor and Environment issues. The cases of the struggles for the right to free trade unions against 3 Gustavo Linz Ribeiro,1998 Cybercultural Politics: Political Activism at a Distance in a Transnational World, in Cultures of Politics, Politics of culture ed. Alvarez Sonia, Dagnino Evelina and Escobar Arturo. Westiview Press, Espejismo y Realidad: el TLCAN...Ibid. p.11 5 I was myself able to attend some of these meetings and witness the energy and enthusiasm of these groups.the crusade against neoliberalism has somehow replaced, among many young anarchistic and leftist oriented circles, what communism and socialism were as projects for the 68 generation.
6 6 Honywell, General Electric, Sony, and the Mexican ministry of the fish industry are only some examples. Even if the outcome of these struggles was not favorable to the workers (something which contributed to consider these parallel agreements as superfluous and irrelevant) the contacts established within the trade unions of the three countries are already a gain. They have helped several Mexican trade unions -mostly those within the independent, non-official sectorto engage in a long term relationship with several positive results as we shall presently see. Environmental solidarity has also developed. One example is the "Tijuana-San Diego Environmental Committee" organized to stop the degradation of the environment that is taking place in this region as a result of the maquiladoras production. Another example is Sierra Blanca. This place, situated at 25 km of the border between Mexico and the US, within Mexican territory had been chosen to build a nuclear waste deposit. A well coordinated campaign organized by an alliance of Mexican and American environmental groups (the Binational Coalition against Nuclear Toxic Deposits, the Bravo River, International Ecological Alliance and the Legal Foundation for the Defence of Sierra Blanca) took the fight against the Texas state and the Mexican national goverment. Scientific arguments, legal claims, a publicity campaign and several civil resistance acts (human chains, trafic blockades) from both sides of the border succeded in stopping a project that seemed already decided by the top levels. 6 A victory of the civil society, of a transnational civil society. In this way, the "regional civil society" is participating, is getting organized and most important of all it is planning common strategies to counteract the negative effects of this free-trade integration process. They are also producing documents with concrete proposals in every area: labour, industrial policies, trade, environment, women conditions, etc. However critical these proposals and views ar by no-means a "going back to protectionism" project. What they propose is a renegotiation of a bad treaty by a more constuctive and fair agreement. 7 They want an integration "from below". Perhaps the most recent example of these positions is the document released by the "Summit of the People of the Americas" gathered in Santiago de Chile in April This event took place as a parallel and protest meeting of Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTA) summit, the project sponsored by the American government. The People summit gathered several thousand participants from diverse movements and NGOs and produced a very critical document of the FTA project. It rejects the neoliberal economical design that is behind this free trade area 6 Mexpaz, Análisis # 195. oct. 23, See "NAFTA" in South Letter, Winter p. 12. Also: interview with Bertha Lujan of the Mexican "Red de Acción" against NAFTA. Apart from the social agenda these groups press for an ecological chapter and supranational bodies to supervise its fulfillment.
7 7 project,, it stresses the negative consequences of neoliberalism for the countries involved. Finally it argues for an agreement that contains a social agenda to harmonize living standards and alleviate social costs of integration. It proposes a continental integration from below that respects a national sustainable development. Among the concrete proposal this document presents one of the most interesting is the one regarding gender issues. 8 An example of a transnational gender initiative At the "Summit of the People of the Americas" another document was also produced: "Hacia una agenda Social Continental con Equidad de Género". ( Towards a Social Continental agenda within a context of Gender Equity ). 9 This was the result of the discussion within the forum dedicated to women issues. More than 200 women representing different organizations within the region (from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brasil, Bolivia, Peru, Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua and border egion between Mexico-US and US-Canada-Quebec) participated in such a forum. Here it is worth to notice that the border regions of North America are identified as single geographical places not as countries. Also, within this transborder region a transnational organization was represented: the Coalition Pro-Justice in the Maquiladoras. This document makes an analysis of the trends and impacts of the development model applied in the region. It identifies certain trends of this model that affect particularly women: an increasing sex segregated labor market, men's massive migration to the US as well as women's migrations to the cities with the difference that women take with them the whole family. To confront this situation the document proposes new alternative economic policies that take into account the impacts of such policies according to gender, ethnical and class factors. It also proposes a democratic participation of all sectors of society in the different commissions that deal with the process of economic integration and the application of international rules of conduct for transnational companies to respect. It demands that the countries asimetric positions within the system should be taken into account, together with compensatory rules and funds. The Mexican group emphasized on the problem of discrimination and equality as well as on the need of special gender approaches to all projects and programs of cooperation from the planning to the evaluation phase. They also emphasized the need to promote women's access to decision-taking organs and to productive resources and investment and the urgency of creating a continental women's network to monitor the effects of the hemispheric integration "Alternativas para las Americas, hacia la construcción de un acuerdo hemisférico de los pueblos". RMALC, Cuadernos de Trabajo. oct Matilde Arteaga, FAT/RMALC "Hacia una agenda Social Continental con Equidad de Género"(Towards a Social Continental agenda within a context of Gender Equity). 10Ibid.
8 8 This is a relevant example of how certain issues and demands travel fast across regions and establish bridges of cooperation. But apart from documents it is perhaps even more relevant to look at concrete experiences of cooperation. How do these work? What problems they confront? What is the balance? This is what we shall try to answer by presenting some examples of such cooperation and networks regarding trade union women. V. Transnational and transborder cooperation among women trade union movements: possibilities and problems. The actions of the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO, Border Committee of women workers) in the maquiladoras at the border area between the US and Mexico, is one such example. 11 This group is an autonomous organization of maquiladora workers that aims to improve workers conditions in the maquiladoras, the defense of basis human rights, specially those of women workers and the protection of their health, life and welfare. 12 They are a workers organisation without being a trade union, given the difficulties for trade unions to work in the maquiladora area. They try to raise consciousness among these workers of their rights and they consider themselves a NGO committed to the principle of social justice working on the principle of grass-roots democracy. 13 If they are a Mexican NGO what makes them a transnational advocay network? A quick answer would be: their geographical area of action; the US-Mexican border. Although their range of action does not extend to cover the rights of the American workers on the other side of the border they have caught the attention and support of many American women and trade union organizations that have adopted their cause. In this sense they have developed contacts and even common strategies with American trade unions, like the United Steelworkers of America, the United, Auto Workers and United Electrical Workers (UE). They have also established strategic alliances with the American Friends Service Committee and with Human Rights Watch to gather information on pregnancy testing in the maquiladoras. As a result of the latter and other campaign denunciations together with pressure on NAFTA officials and committees, some major corporations like Delphi (a General Motors spin off), Lucent Technologies, ALCOA and General Electric have ended the practice of pregnancy screening. 11 Maquiladoras are assembling factories owned by US, European or Asiatic firms that import their raw materials, technology and other components from the US and use Mexican cheap labour. They export directly their products back to the US without paying any import or export taxes. Their production goes from textiles to electronic equipment but also a great deal of chemical products. 12 Report of activities of the CFO ( ), Mimeo One group of the Comite de Obreras from the border areas was invited to the 1994 Women Conference in Pekin by some American women groups. The CO group travelled as part of the American delegation. 13 Report, Ibid.
9 9 In another campaign with the help of mass media, like European TV corporations, the practices of child labor in certain maquiladoras were denounced. As a result, the hiring of girls under the age of 16 was stopped. They have also produced reports on the impact of NAFTA on working conditions and on the lives of the maquiladora workers that have been presented to influential institutions and committees like the Trade Working Group of the US Congress, the US department of Labor, NGO communities in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York. 14 As we have seen above, describing the transnational advocacy networks, the CFO uses well its resources regarding information gathering, strategic alliances with other advocacy groups (like those working on human rights issues) and pressure at various levels in order to attain its aims of improving workers conditions and influencing NAFTA policies. 15 Another transnational or regional network is the one established by the joint project and longterm cooperation between the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Mexican Network of Union Women. These contacts started in 1995 promoted by several Mexican NGOs working with women trade unionists from several key trade unions in Mexico. As a result of these contacts a strategic alliance was established and the Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas de México (Mexican Network of Union Women) was created in March 1997 with 52 members and a coordinating committee from 8 participating unions. 16 This cooperation has been regarded as very fruitful and both the Canadian and the Mexican women refer to it as a very positive experience: "it has been more than funding, with the opportunity for exchange and mutual learning"... "as union women, we feel that the support of the union is important, giving us confidence that we will not have to change our class-based vision as unionists". 17 According to the CAW organisers an important element for this success was "the commitment of the CAW to a longer term relationship with the Red, rather than one-time project funding". Moreover, the exchange developed according to the demands of the Mexican side and in addition to financial support, the CAW staff identified materials and contacts in Canada as well as assisting the Red to access financial resources for unforeseen aspects of the work. Also new opportunities for Mexican union women to participate in union events in Canada and the US opened up. In April 1998 two women from the Red were funded to participate in the people's Summit of the Americas, which was presented above. This experience is not only a successful example of cooperation, it is also an example of empowerment techniques, of a non-paternalist or discriminatory relationship. Unfortunately not all examples of transnational cooperation have been so successful as we shall presently see. 14 Six Years after NAFTA: A view from Inside the Maquiladoras, Ibid. 15 One can even regard the whole wole arrangement of parallel agreements on Labour and Environment issues within NAFTA as a result of American advocay ntworks lobbying for compensatory mechanisms to regional free trade. 16 "La Mitad del Cielo", (Half the Sky), La red de Mujeres Sindicalistas de México, A project study. CAW, Social Justice Fund July "La Mitad del Cielo..., chapt: "Lessons Learned".
10 10 "Yes, I think it is very important with solidarity and contacts, exchanges between trade unions of the three countries but then it is necessary to clarify, from the Mexican side, specially at the border region, which are the priorities, the interests, the needs and the strategies to follow before engaging our neighbours into any actions this side of the border". 18 Matilde Arteaga is one of the persons with knows most in Mexico about transnational civil society contacts, in particular in relation to women and trade unions. She is a 36 year-old tradeunion activist who has been engaged in the formation of the RMALC, Red Mexicana frente al Libre Comercio, since But, most importantly, this leader has been particularly active in the organization of women groups within the FAT (Frente Autentico del Trabajo) and she is currently, since 1993, the main responsible within the FAT for those kind of activities. This has made it possible for her to combine both areas: international contacts and women issues in a very useful way. 19 According to this FAT leader exchanges of information and joint analyses with Canadian and American trade union groups started since the beginning of the 90s when NAFTA became a possibility for Mexico. Different groups in Mexico started to gather around the FAT in order to analyze the possible effects of a free trade agreement for Mexico. These discussions would eventually result in the creation of the RMALC in Canada's experiences where particular useful because they had already started to suffer the consequences a such a treaty with the US, and they were ready to share these experiences with their counterparts in Mexico. "Solidarity is positive" Matilde admits, "but at the right moment". Three years ago, the FAT started to organize trade unions in different border cities. There was a positive experience in Tijuana, with the workers of a Korean factory, who after a long struggle got their FAT-affiliated trade union recognized by the Mexican authorities. However, according to Arteaga, many American advisors, lawyers, NGO's activists, etc, eager to intervene splitted the newly organized trade union provoking confusion and conflicts. The outcome was the usual: the factory owners closed the workplace and the workers lost their job. This is only one example but Arteaga can name many others in which foreign, mostly American "advisors (in general NGOs) adopt very paternalistic and even authoritarian attitudes based on their financial capacity, in their efforts to organize maquiladora workers. This has created enormous confusion and splitting conflicts among different groups of workers. In order to counteract this situation the FAT was promoting a national meeting of maquiladora workers where there would be a discussion of experiences, policies, strategies and priorities. This meeting was to be reserved only for Mexican workers although it admitted the possibility 18Interview with Matilde Arteaga at the FAT's headquarters in Mexico City.December The FAT is one of the few autonomous trade unions that survived the long period of state monopoly on trade union organizations. Nowdays it is one of the most prestigious and strongest independent trade unions in Mexico.