Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap: A Review

 by Paul Garver

Insuregency Trap cover image

Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China is indispensable for anyone trying to understand what is happening with hundreds of millions of internal migrant workers in China today. Postsocialist China has become the world’s largest manufacturing center and exporter to the rest of the world, and the future of Chinese society and of the global economy hinges on whether the new Chinese working class remains excluded from its social and political system.

Some readers may opt to skim through some of the technical sociological language, bearing testimony to the origin of the book as a doctoral thesis. But most of Insurgency Trap is made up of detailed and incisive description and analysis of specific case studies of the dynamics of Chinese “trade unions” in their interactions with workers. The chapter on Chen Weiguang, reformist leader of the Guangzhou Municipal Trade Union Federation is brilliant and revealing. Chen gave Eli Friedman full access to study the concrete results of some of his reform initiatives, and Friedman’s research reveals the limited accomplishments of even the most ambitious efforts at reforming China’s unions. Another superb chapter describes and analyzes the wave of strikes in Honda and Toyota auto parts supply plants that resulted in economic gains for workers, but achieved only very limited changes in the plant unions themselves.

Although I remain hopeful that the worker insurgency in China could leave to democratization of the sclerotic Communist Party and State controlled trade union apparatus, Insurgency Trap demonstrates enormous obstacles to real social advance when all avenues for autonomous political activity by workers remain closed. So long as the Chinese Communist Party remains so fearful of any independent political organization that it forbids any move towards genuine worker-controlled unions, the Chinese state will remain caught in its own “insurgency trap,” unable to advance towards a more inclusive society or make a positive contribution towards creating a more equitable global economy.

Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China by Eli Friedman is available from ILR Press, Ithaca, 2014, in paperback or in an Amazon Kindle edition.


by Briosha Sanders


I’d be lying if I told you that it never occurred to me to question the beauty of the countryside that I loved to explore as a young person of color in the South. Many people, like me, can’t help but admire stretches of crisp green plants that interchange with golden fields and eventually give way to pristine farm homes with freshly trimmed lawns. However, there is a deeply entrenched legacy of injustice and inequality that no amount of romanticizing or denial could remove from the reality of life in the country.  But people like to forget and forgetting is costly.

I’d seen third world poverty before when I worked with a nonprofit organization in Honduras in the summer of 2012, but I still felt shocked when I went out to the camps of the trabajadores with whom FLOC organizers work to build community power. It was shocking, I think, because for the first time I was faced with the harsh realization that there is a widespread human trafficking operation of cheap labor thriving in my back yard.

One of the ugliest things I’ve seen in the fields confronted me this past Tuesday night when my companeros y yo visited a worker camp in North Carolina that was surrounded by barbwire fence. For me, it looked like a prison.  It made me think of a cage where the workers are contained until they are needed to work in the fields. There were approximately 60 people living in 5-6 trailers with worn out mattresses backed into a small space, allowing hardly enough room for people to move around.

I realized that the poverty I witnessed in Honduras and the exploitation that the workers here in North Carolina experience are connected. Although, abstractly, I understood that they stem from the same roots of capitalism, imperialism, and racism, it was another thing altogether to witness the blatant disregard for even the most basic human rights that farmworkers are forced to endure every day. Wage theft, physical and verbal abuse, scorching heat, and denial of water and/or lunch breaks, and on and on.

FLOC is an organization of activists and advocates, some of whom have experienced these very same violations themselves, fighting to expose the ugliness of the conditions that farmworkers often feel they have to “put up with” in order to feed their families and care for their loved ones. The fact is that the plantation was never abolished in the South and there is nothing beautiful or endearing about the struggles that farmworkers are forced to experience for fear of losing their jobs or even being deported. As an intern for FLOC, I am even more motivated by and have an ever growing appreciation for la lucha to unionize and demand the Respect, the Recognition, and the Raises that farmworkers deserve.

Briosha Sanders is working for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC) as an intern.  This post originally appeared on FLOC’s blog, and is reposted here with the permission of FLOC and of Briosha Sanders.




Dan Gallin’s Solidarity: A Review

by Paul Garver

gallinbookcover225Dan Gallin’s career as a socialist and union activist now spans more than six decades.   Child of an exiled Romanian diplomat, he was recruited to “Third Camp” Socialism (Socialist Youth League/International Socialist League) as a college student at the University of Kansas in the early 1950’s.  Forced to leave the USA for his political activities, he rejoined his family in Switzerland where he became a Swiss citizen and a member of the Swiss Socialist Party.  Opting to labor in the international workers’ movement rather than the socialist political movement, he joined the staff of the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), which he served as General Secretary from 1968 to 1997.

Solidarity is a collection of 19 of Dan Gallin’s essays, including  two autobiographical articles, three pieces from the late 1950s and early 1960s, one from his tenure as IUF General Secretary, and the  remainder from the last twelve years.  Dan Gallin’s interview by Eric Lee of LabourStart can serve as an introduction to the book.

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Workers organize in Denver

By Dave Anderson

SuperShuttle drivers

SuperShuttle drivers

In America today, only 11.8 percent of workers are union members. When the labor movement was more powerful, union workers generally had a 20 percent wage advantage and many nonunion firms tended to mimic the wages and benefits of their unionized competitors. If we want to fight economic inequality, we have to bring back the unions.

Today, the United States is perilously behind other countries in protecting workers’ rights, according to a new survey released last May by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The rankings are based upon 97 internationally recognized indicators and standards to evaluate where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.

The nations are rated on a scale from one (the best with merely occasional violations of workers’ rights) to five (with no guarantee of workers’ rights at all). The United States received a mark of four. The ITUC says: “Workers in countries with the rating of four have reported systematic violations. The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.”]

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Support Democratic Left with a Labor Day ad

Labor Day may seem far away when summer just officially started last week.  But it’s not too soon for you to send greetings in the Labor Day issue of Democratic Left.

You can show your support for DSA’s major publication. This is the magazine you put on every DSA table at every event. This is the magazine that introduces new members to the organization. This is the magazine that Michael Harrington founded as an alternative to narrow ideological cant.

You can support it by taking greetings, pooling money with friends and comrades to celebrate an action, to honor people who have made a difference in your life, to publicize a special event or another organization.

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Philadelphia Community Teach-In to Explore Jewish Law & Workers’ Rights

RabbiJillJacobsThe Perelman Teacher-Alumni-Parent Partnership presents “Work & Workers in Jewish Law – A Community Teach-In” with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and author of Conservative Judaism’s Teshuva “Work, Workers and the Jewish Owner.”

The program is Wednesday, June 18, at 7 p.m. at the Ludington Library, 5 South Bryn Mawr Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA. It is open to the public.

Rabbi Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, will explore where Jewish Law (Halakha) stands on the issue of work, workers and union rights. Continue reading

Forced Labour: New ILO Protocol to Ramp Up Action


PhaRELL_ENDSLAVERYBrussels, 12 June 2014 :  A new global protocol to fight forced labour, adopted this week by the International Labour Organisation, will accelerate action against modern slavery.  The private sector is responsible for 90% of the estimated 21 million victims of forced labour, reaping some US$150 billion from some of the most severe forms of exploitation in existence today.  92% of the government, employer and worker delegates at the ILO Conference voted in favour of the protocol, which the ILO describes as bringing one of its longest-standing instruments, Convention 29, “into the modern era”.  Qatar, which is under the spotlight for using forced labour to build the 2022 World Cup infrastructure, abstained from the vote.

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Dan Gallin on the international labor movement

by Stuart Elliott

Dan Gallin’s book Solidarity was officially and fittingly launched at the recent LabourStart “Global Crisis, Global Solidarity” conference. Gallin, now in his eighties, is a legendary figure in the international labor movement, having served for many years as General Secretary of the IUF, the international trade union secretariat of food workers union. Gallin transformed, modernized, and democratized the IUF. Unafraid to break new ground, guided by the values of “third camp socialism” he learned in the American Independent Socialist League, he embraced the organization of domestic and informal workers decades ago. Currently, he is  Chair of the Global Labour Institute (GLI), a labor service organization established in 1997 with a secretariat in Geneva, with affiliates in Moscow and New York . In this video, he is introduced by Eric Lee, founding editor of LabourStart.


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Chinese Labor Movement: Which Way Forward?


LA support for striking workers at Yue Yuen Shoes Factory (photo: SACCOM Hong Kong)

In April, approximately 40,000 workers struck the footwear manufacturing facilities operated by Yue Yuen Industrial, a global supplier of shoes for brands such as Adidas and Nike. Although the sheer size of this walkout drew worldwide attention, in fact, Chinese workers overall are increasingly themselves organizing and taking action to improve their wages and working conditions. In 2014, workers employed at the China operations of IBM, Pepsi, and Wal-Mart – to name just the more prominent brands – walked off their jobs. There are strikes and protests each day as workers, inspired in part by the social media reports of other job actions, assert themselves.

What does this activity mean, for Chinese workers generally, for the role and future of the official, Communist Party led All China Federation of Trade Unions, and the broader society? Join the Albert Shanker Instiute  on June 18 and find out.

Featured Speaker:

Han Dangfang

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New Legal Report: Right to Strike Backed by International Law

by ITUC OnLine

NY garment workers on strike 1913--(wikimedia)

NY garment workers on strike 1913–(wikimedia)

(Brussels, 3 June 2014 ): A new 122-page ITUC legal report, confirming that the right to strike is protected under international law, has been released today as employers try to overturn decades of jurisprudence at the International Labour Organisation.  Employer representatives at the ILO are continuing their efforts to strip back ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, which guarantees workers the right to take strike action, as the UN agency holds its 103rd International Labour Conference in Geneva this month. Continue reading


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