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Living Wage Rights

The idea of a "living wage" suggests that a person working a normal work week (about 40-50 hours) should earn enough money to meet the basic needs of shelter, food, medical care and entertainment with just enough left over to save for vacation, extraordinary and/or emergency expenses. The idea of a living wage is different from the minimum wage which is a standard set in the U.S. by federal law for the work hour and which often does not meet the basic needs of typical workers.  Maquiladora workers hired in Mexico often struggle to secure a living wage from their employers, often American companies that fled the U.S. to avoid paying union (living) wages.  The typical complaint about wages and work hours heard from maquiladora workers is that they work long and hard (50-75 hours pers week) for so little in return (about 50-75 dollars per week) and that the wages only meet the bare necessities, leaving such essentials as school supplies and quality fresh meat and vegetables in the category of luxury items. 


Medea Benjamin, Time for a Living Wage Around the World (Global Exchange).

AFSC Newsletter Women's Ways of Organizing

Raúl Ramírez Baena, "Maquiladora Workers Can't Meet Basic Needs on Plant Wages, reprinted from Frontera Norte-Sur, July 6, 2001


The Living Wage Campaign 

about A.C.O.R.N.

The Living Wage Action Coalition


Saul Landau, Maquilas: A Tale of Two Mexicos (Review)


"CFO Border Trip" by Heather Courtney

In October 1999, a group of Austin residents took a trip to Piedras Negras, Coahuila, to meet a group of women who work in the maquiladoras and who use popular education techniques to empower each other on how to use Mexican labor law and survival strategies for confronting abuse, unfair firings and anti-democratic harassment by corrupt unions.

About the Director

Morristown: In the Air and Sun
  (video clip fromTRAILER)

A documentary look at globalization and outsourcing to Mexico

by filmmaker Anne Lewis  

Independent filmmaker Anne Lewis' Morristown Project has compiled personal narratives about life, work, disappointment and hope on both sides of the border under the effect of unregulated free trade and NAFTA.  An initial part of the project gathered "video letters/video cartas" from workers who had lost jobs in Eastern Tennesee to Workers in Mexico.

Anne Lewis documentaries on globalization can be used for popular education and labor organizing. The common threads in the voices of the factory, maquiladora and farm workers are poverty, migration, landlessness, invisibility, job insecurity and the need to organize against and critique the globalized economy.

For information on obtaining copies contact Anne Lewis through her website at


Other Resources

Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO)
This workers group has volunteers in five cities at the Mexican border and is daily confronting the issue of living wage rights for maquiladora workers.

The Living Wage Action Coalition


Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy (pbk) 0-8070-7509 (2004) (an amazing collection of personal histories of migrant laboring women who leave their homes in Third World countries for jobs as domestic servants, nannies, prostitutes and nursemaids).

William P. Quigley, Ending Poverty As We Know It (2003).

Written by a law professor the book dramatizes the impact of the unregulated global economy.  As we approach the second decate of the 21st century  the nation is having to re-think the policies and values that have supported free trade without regard for workers' rights or that profitability should not lead to huge gaps between the rich and the poor, whether in the U.S.A. or the poorer countries American companies have relocated to.

Howard Zinn and Stephen Pimpare, A People's History of Poverty in America (2008) .

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed or (Not) Getting By in America (2001, 2008).