The Gender and Racial Construction of the Working Class: Temporary Mobility of Mexican Women Workers to the US and Canada

Abstract

Labour precariousness, notably manifested in the loss of formal jobs, stagnation of wages and labour uncertainty, has increased on a global scale. Previous explanations for precariousness have focused on flexible models of production, yet this approach has tended to overlook the fact that precariousness forms a part of modern colonial capitalism and gender identity. Based on the results of an empirical, ground-breaking ethnographic research, this paper analyses the stratification of productive tasks on a global scale, from the system of gender hierarchies, racialization and stratification leading to the exploitation and precariousness of workers. The arguments put forward are endorsed through the experiences of Mexican women who travel to the United States and Canada, to work temporarily in the hotel, restaurant and agriculture sectors. This analysis reveals how women workers in particular are constructed and instituted as a racialized surplus, allowing employers to legitimate labour exploitation and perpetuate social hierarchies.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The concepts "North" and "South", express the existence of two parallel and differentiated worlds in the social, economic, political, cultural, scientific and technological spheres. In this paper, the intertwining of these two territorial and symbolic spaces are connected with employment, in the essential need to observe how the racial exploitation and hierarchy operate.

  2. 2.

    For Harvey [13], neoliberalism is a political ideology that defends the domination of finances over the different facets of the economy, the state apparatus and everyday life. The turn towards neoliberalism of governments, like Thatcher's, depended not only on the adoption of monetarism but also on the deployment of government policies in many other areas.

  3. 3.

    Precarious work is understood here as the work that does not rely on a stable contract nor does it provide protection, such as against unfair dismissal, freedom of association and collective bargaining, or a minimum wage that allows the attainment of a dignified life.

  4. 4.

    The term post-Fordist describes a process of transformation of work and production that relates to the transition of the factory economic regime, with its social welfare state model and full employment; to the post-Fordist industry regime, contingent on an overproduction business system [8]. It is a regime that prompts a structure of productive relations founded on precariousness on a global scale.

  5. 5.

    Wallerstein dates the origin of the colonial world system to the sixteenth century. For the author, this concept analyses dependencies and neocolonialism.

  6. 6.

    As Wallerstein [29] notes, placing modernity in the 16th century, and not in the 18th, makes visible the period of capitalist expansion, and the enrichment of some nations to the detriment of others.

  7. 7.

    https://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/elg/taw.htm.

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Correspondence to Olga Jubany.

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Jubany, O., Lázaro Castellanos, R. The Gender and Racial Construction of the Working Class: Temporary Mobility of Mexican Women Workers to the US and Canada. Gend. Issues 38, 47–64 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-020-09258-z

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Keywords

  • Precariousness
  • Gender identity
  • Women workers
  • Migrant workers
  • Temporary employment
  • Migration
  • Racialisation
  • Class
  • Origin
  • Labour exploitation
  • Social hierarchies