By John Craig, Mark Skwarek and Lily & Honglei
During the Post-World War Two era, the American economy thrived, as did organized labor, which gave rise to an unprecedented middle class in this country. Big cities and small towns, like Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, boasted manufacturing workforces that were second to none in the world.
In the 1970’s, in an effort to cut cost and boost profits, much of this manufacturing moved south to “right-to-work” states. A “right-to-work” law is a statute that prohibits agreements between labor unions and employers that make membership or payment of union dues a condition of employment.
Unsatisfied with the significant cost savings of the low paid, non-organized labor force of the South, multinational corporations pressed hard for trade agreements which would significantly ease labor restrictions in the unregulated labor markets abroad.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was signed into law on January 1, 1994, giving rise to the Maquiladoras of Northern Mexico. Maquiladoras are manufacturing operations in free trade zones, where factories import material and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly, processing, or manufacturing and then re-export the products, often back to the country of origin.
Like the 19th century “mill girls” from the textile mills of New England, the Maquiladoras attract young women from rural areas, in this case from across Latin America.
Vulnerable and often alone, these conditions gave rise to the Las Muertas de Ciudad Juárez, the violent unsolved rapes and murders of hundreds of women since 1993 in the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, a border city across the Rio Grande from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas.
By the 2000s, Deng Xiaoping’s policies of economic Reform and Opening began an even more unprecedented migration of manufacturing and assembly jobs to China. Supported in part by an aggressive and systematic suppression of the value of the Yuan, China’s currency, most of the electronic consumer good sold in the United States are manufactured or assembled in China today.
The connection from Lewisburg Pennsylvania to the high-tech corporate campuses of Silicon Valley can be traced in the migration of the worlds manufacturing on its never ending quest for the least expensive, least regulated labor force and the trail of economic devastation it leaves in its wake. Viewed through their own mobile device, the “From Lewisburg, PA to Silicon Valley” augmented reality public art project asks the audience to consider their own implications in this global history.