A Women’s Co-op Battles Globalization

Elizabeth Bowman
Center for Global Justice, México
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Many positive effects of neo-liberal globalization are visible to us — foreign restaurants, English-language newspapers, shopping, even donuts. San Miguel is prosperous and cosmopolitan — if you have the money for such items. But for the negative side of globalization see the de-industrialized towns of the US Northeast, and in Mexico just go to the countryside.

On a visit to Cieneguilla, a community 1.5 hours north and east of San Miguel by bus, participants in the Center for Global Justice workshop “Another World is Necessary” saw this other side. The town is full of old people, women, and children; most working-age men have gone to the US to work. Due to flooding of Mexico by NAFTA corn and other agricultural products, even the small amounts of cash needed in village economies by sale of such products are out of reach. A child’s need for glasses or a school uniform suffices to send a family member — usually a brother or father — North to earn the required cash. Proportionately, Guanajuato sends more men to the US than any other state.

“Families want to stay together. Our men do not go out of love for the US but out of need,” explained one of our hosts. Emigration — migrating out of and away from — is even more of a problem in Mexico than immigration — migrating into — is for the US (though no policy is being envisioned for raising up the underclass thereby created). Neo-liberal marketization imposes the need for cash on a village’s largely non-wage communal economy. At the same time, it pits village products against world market commodities – a losing proposition. Not incidentally, such policies allow big agri-business farms to expand cheaply. But so far, rather than sell out to such concerns, emigration to big cities or to the US is the painful solution chosen by many individual families. This further weakens the autonomy of village economies.

Yet there are some positive solutions that are reinvigorating such economies and keeping families intact. Yolanda Millan has helped organize a sellers’ cooperative of 104 women from different villages, mostly Northeast of San Miguel. She seeks out groups of women who make sellable items: women and children’s clothing, nopal soap and shampoo, sweets, baskets and the like. Sometimes she gets training or machines that allow improvement of products. Sometimes she just provides space in her store where they can be sold.

  A highlight of July’s workshop, at Cieneguilla we met a group of 17 women who make baskets for sale at fairs and in the new Mujeres Productoras outlet located at the Center for Global Justice, Calzada de la Luz #42. Basket making has been practiced for generations in Cieneguilla. Simone Bullen, a Center for Global Justice intern who came to study under supervision of professors from Berea College in Kentucky, spent a week of collaborative field research in Cieneguilla. She demonstrated the art of basket-making for us with other more expert women, revealing the high skill involved. Yolanda has brought basket makers from Oaxaca to teach the women new weaving patterns. The women had just returned from a major fair in Acapulco where they sold baskets.

In another malign turn of globalization, Chinese baskets can now be made more cheaply than Mexican ones. The campesino women of Mexico are competing with peasants in China! Yolanda now plans to get training for the women to make furniture from metal and reeds — small tables and chests of drawers. Soon they will be available for purchase at Mujeres Productoras’ outlet.

For more information or to make a reservation, call the Center for Global Justice at 150-0025 or come by the store at Calzada de la Luz #42 (near the corner of Loreto).