Social and Political Analysis

At the dawn of the 21st century, neoliberalism is the predominant political and economic model in the world, and the neoliberal model impacts every level of society. Neoliberalism, which emphasizes the importance of economic growth measured by GNP and the removal of economic decisions from the political sphere, manifests itself through the international capitalist market, which is effectively controlled by transnational corporations that exercise various levels of monopoly influence. A series of political and economic institutions, including the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, manage this World System (as described by Immanuel Wallerstein in World System Theory). These organizations function under a ruling class consensus that transcends borders and nation-states. The process of globalization - defined as the rapid and unprecedented introduction of new communication and transportation technologies that quickly link most parts of the globe - means that the neoliberal model is rapidly reaching every corner of the earth, though not without substantial resistance and struggle. While giving the appearance of a powerful hegemony, the neoliberal model is built on increasingly shaky ground, including shrinking democratic spaces, unsuccessful attempts at cultural hegemony under the guise of "modernization," and a distorted distribution of wealth that has no historic precedent. The majority of the world's people are in a savage "race to the bottom" - poorer today than they were three decades ago - and no amount of neoliberal propaganda can hide this stark reality. For the past four decades, the US-Mexico relationship has been the most important laboratory for the neoliberal model, a sort of proving grounds for corporate-centered globalization. The implications of this experiment will be felt for generations to come, both North and South. The neoliberal era began four decades ago on the US-Mexico border with the Border Industrialization Program, a "free trade zone" that ushered in the era of maquiladoras. Factories that paid decent middle class wages in the US moved south of the border, where wages are typically less than $1 an hour, labor laws are lax, and environmental standards are not enforced. The result is huge profits for transnational corporations, but declining standards of living for the Mexican and the US working classes, and an environmental disaster that affects both sides of the border. The maquiladora/free trade model is now the predominant economic development model throughout Latin America. In 1981, under pressure from the Latin American debt crisis, Mexico signed the first IMF-sponsored Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) in exchange for bailout loans. Today, SAPs are standard fair throughout the South, forcing governments with progressive tendencies to adopt neoliberal economic policies (or providing more conservative elites with political cover to do the same). The North America Free Trade Accord (NAFTA), signed on January 1, 1994, is defining future US economic relations with the rest of Latin America - free flows of capital and goods across international borders but strict control of people. NAFTA has meant a loss of democracy in Mexico and the US, and an economic disaster for workers on both sides of the border. Neoliberal policies, particularly NAFTA, have had a dramatic impact in rural areas throughout Latin America, but particularly in Mexico. Highly subsidized corn exports from the US have destroyed the internal market for corn, placing nearly one-quarter of the Mexican population in dire circumstances. The result is massive migration, either to urban centers or as undocumented workers to the United States. Neoliberal policies are directly responsible for this historically unprecedented migration, yet they barely enter the discussion on immigration policy. The neoliberal model represents a globalization of class alliances. The wealthiest 5 or 10% on both sides of the border, those who control the economies and political systems, have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens, and the resulting neoliberal policies reflect their interests. The elites enjoy increasingly strong institutional links, while the rest of us are left with less democracy, fewer economic options, more repression, increased poverty and less sovereignty. In a world of growing globalization, international grassroots alliances become increasingly important in the struggle for democracy, sovereignty, and economic and political justice. The US-Mexico relationship is central in defining the ties between elites, and it is also central in defining increasingly important grassroots connections within civil society on both sides of the border. Demonstrations in November of 1999 in Seattle against the World Trade Organization made "globalization" a household word and inspired a generation to take to the streets in increasing numbers. Youth are taking the lead in a significant challenge to corporate control of politics and the economy. The movement has excitement, energy and new modes of organizing. But the concept of corporate-centered globalization is poorly understood by most people, and this hinders the construction of genuine alternatives. Mobilizations have been centered on highly visible international meetings, but many people return home wondering how to carry the struggle forward. And reformist NGOs have tried to channel the energies of the movement away from fundamental challenges to power and toward a more "acceptable" political process in a de-energizing and disempowering "beltway politics of the possible." The movement against neoliberalism (misnamed in the US as the "anti-globalization" movement) contains many "new social actors" (as defined by Melucci, Touraine, Alberoni, etc.), mainly alienated college-educated youth with flexible commitments to social change and life alternatives not available to directly affected communities. This is not to say that new social actors are not affected by neoliberalism. Global warming, foreign wars and the glass ceiling are all important social realities. But new social actors are generally not "directly affected communities" in the sense that, for example, undocumented workers or Mexican indigenous communities are directly affected. New social actors have dominated many modern movements for social change, ie, anti-war movements, the feminist movement, and the environmental movement, often through a false process of "democratization" promoted by agencies such as the World Bank in which Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) "represent" the interests if civil society. These new social actors can offer important skills for social change - writing skills, access to resources, media skills, etc. - and new social actors can be important allies in social change movements, but only when directly affected communities lead the struggles. Too often new social actors, often acting through policy or service-oriented NGOs, dis-empower directly affected communities by "representing" those communities rather than offering their skills and knowledge to develop local leadership skills and empower these communities. NGOs that are committed to fundamental social change are characterized by strategies that include consciousness-raising, genuine leadership development in directly affected communities, construction of horizontal power relationships, challenging existing vertical power relationships, and constructing grassroots-led alternatives to the neoliberal model. The Mexico Solidarity Network is a grassroots-based NGO dedicated to fundamental social change that challenges existing power relationships, empowers directly affected communities and builds alternatives. The MSN prioritizes strategic relationships with directly affected communities, including undocumented workers in the US, indigenous communities in Chiapas, ex-Braceros on both sides of the border, and the families of femicide victims in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua. Strategies and work plans are developed in close consultation with these directly affected communities (see the list of partner organizations below) and are built around developing leadership, organization and genuine alternatives within these communities. An important element in the work of the MSN is to bring directly affected communities together with new social actors in effective social change work, where the directly affected communities are in leadership roles. We focus especially on developing effective, strategic relationships between university and high school aged youth, and directly affected communities. These relationships help to move forward the struggles of directly affected communities while politicizing youth, in the hope that their commitment to fundamental social change will be life-long and profound.