In this new political and economic context, the 1982 and 1994 financial crises have contributed to a redefinition of the relations between unions and the state, especially with regard to labour market deregulation, but also regarding capital-labour relations (Zapata 6-10; Delgado 1-19). The direct effect of the new economic and labour context has been to make employment more precarious, with a general reduction in wages. This has been going on for nearly 20 years (Cortes 12-19).
Income levels, already low in 1980, declined even further in the next few years. For example, the minimum wage shows an uninterrupted tendency to fall steadily over the last 20 years, and by 1998 it was worth only 31 per cent of its 1980 value. Average working incomes have also been badly hit and have continued to go down during this period. In the first half of the 1990s there was some improvement in average incomes, but not enough to restore wages to the values they had in the early 1980s. The crisis of December 1994 reduced salaries again, and this state of affairs has continued pretty much up until now (2002). The current value of average working incomes is still about 25 per cent less than it was at the start of the 1980s (see Figure 1).
In addition, the number of people earning less than the minimum wage has increased, from 27.7 per cent of the working population in 1990 to 32.5 per cent in 1995 and 37.5 per cent in 1997. The proportion of those receiving between twice and five times the minimum wage has remained stable over the decade.
Those who earn more than five minimum wages are in the curious position of having increased in number in 1995 only to go back to representing the same proportion of the workforce as in 1990 (see Table 1).
In spite of this, the most important fact to emerge from the figures is that for the entire 1990s a third of the working population earned less than the minimum wage established by law, which is itself very meagre and insufficient to cover even basic needs. Furthermore, an additional 30 per cent of the working population earned between 1 and 2 minimum wages. This means that two-thirds of the workforce have been exposed to a precarious and vulnerable situation in which the movement of their wages has been, in fact, downwards.
The persistence of this pattern of income inequity and insecurity for more than 20 years has made migration a real alternative for many. International migration (and remittances) has become a more attractive option than working in new industrial zones or in cities in Mexico, although job opportunities in urban areas are far superior to the limited chances in the Mexican countryside. As Figure 2 shows, the average amount sent back in remittances to Mexico by each migrant worker from 1995 onwards is 2.4 times the official minimum wage, which is two-thirds of the average working income in Mexico. In other words, migrant workers were able to bring to the family income as much money as