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.

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Why China Has Strikes Without Unions

by Harold Meyerson

 

Han Dongfang in 2011

Han Dongfang in 2011

Han Dongfang believes that China’s workers may one day compel the country’s Communist Party to actually become social-democratic. I’m not sure if that makes Han the most credulous of China’s democracy activists or the canniest strategist now working to democratize that nation. I am sure, however, that he’s had more successes than anyone else in empowering Chinese workers.

Speaking recently to a Washington conclave sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, Han recounted the victories that striking Chinese workers have won over the past four years. In 2010, workers at a huge Honda plant shut off the power and walked off the job to win a living wage. They made clear their intent to stay out—and not to damage the factory. Surprisingly, the local government didn’t send in the police. Eventually, a mediator came in to meet separately with both workers and management, and persuaded Honda to give its employees a 32 percent wage increase. “This was the first collective bargaining in China,” Han said.

The following year, workers at the City Watch factory went on strike, demanding to be compensated for the unpaid hour that managers imposed on them every day. The workers and their attorney sat down with management—another first in Chinese labor relations—and came away with an agreement to pay them for those hours. More remarkably still, state-owned media reported the story.

Since then, there have been prominent strikes, most of them reported by state media outlets, at facilities owned by Nokia, Walmart and Yue-Yen Shoe, where earlier this year more than 40,000 workers struck to receive the benefits for which deductions were taken from their paychecks. Chinese state television not only covered the strike but interviewed the communications director at the China Labour Bulletin, the Hong Kong-based organization that Han founded and leads.

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After the wildcat Adidas factory strike, what next for China?

by Jennifer Cheung

The strike at the Adidas shoe factory, the sheer scale of it and workers’ increasing skills of organising strikes without bona fide union representation have created a renewed round of debate on how the Chinese authorities will handle the increasingly tense industrial relations in China.

Police and workers inside the Yue Yuen complex today. Photo by CLB.

The nearly two week long strike at the Taiwan owned and Hong Kong listed factory Yue Yuen, dubbed as the largest one in China since the 1970s, motivated 40,000 workers to join, and was organised on workers’ QQ groups, a Chinese online instant chatting tool. Both the government and the official union have later acknowledged the Taiwan owned factory’s mal practice of paying less of workers’ social insurance package, an illegal practice adopted by factory bosses rampantly to save labour costs, who usually do so with impunity. Therefore, it is difficult to estimate whether the outburst of workers’ collective discontent at Yue Yuen is the climax of industrial action in recent years, or is just the beginning.

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Welcoming China’s labor federation back into the global union family?

TU vs. workers

by Eric Lee

[Ed. Note: This image shows strikebreakers sent by the local union federation attacking young striking workers at a Honda parts plant in 2010  The local union  was forced to apologize and a higher level federation officer helped negotiate higher wages at the plant.  A wave of strikes at auto parts plants in China followed.  -Paul Garver]

At the end of March, the International Labour Organisation’s Bureau for Workers Activities (known as ILO-ACTRAV) and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) signed a Memorandum of Understanding “to promote Trade unions South-South Cooperation in the Asia- Pacific region”.

The Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, said “we need to find a way which so that the ACFTU can work more closely with other parts of the international trade union movement, sharing common objectives.”

Ryder is a former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which has decided to invite the ACFTU to attend its upcoming World Congress in Berlin in May.

These two events illustrate the fact that the trade union leadership in much of the developed world now seems keen on putting the past behind us and welcoming China’s trade unions back into our “global family”.

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Searching for the Union: The workers’ movement in China 2011-13

China Labour Bulletin

CLB-searchingfor the union
[Editorial Note: For many years the China Labour Bulletin (CLB) has been a reliable source for information on and analysis of the workers' movement in China. Alhough the CLB remains highly critical of the official trade union structures, its editors have documented and encouraged efforts by certain regional union officials to initiate badly needed reforms essential for meeting the workers' rising demands for a genuine voice in the workplace. However, as this excellent new report shows, the real impetus for positive change is coming from the rising consciousness of Chinese workers themselves.--Paul Garver]

China’s workers have emerged over the last few years as a strong, unified and increasingly active collective force. Workers have time and again demonstrated the will and the ability to stand up to abusive and arrogant managements and to demand better pay and working conditions.

However, workers are still hampered by the lack of an effective trade union that can maintain solidarity, bargain directly with managements and protect labour leaders from reprisals.  As a result, workers are turning to labour rights groups that can advise and support their collective actions while, at the same time, demanding more of the official trade union and putting pressure on it to change.

In China labour Bulletin’s new research report on the workers’ movement, published today, we examine this evolving relationship between the workers, the trade union and civil society and look at how the government is struggling to respond to rapid social and economic change. Continue reading

9 Things You Didn’t Know About Our Trade Deficit with China

Photo courtesy bitzcelt

In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). America’s workers have felt the consequences ever since.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute examines the primary result in the United States of China’s entry into the WTO, a massive increase in the trade deficit between the two countries, favoring China. The report’s author, Robert E. Scott, concludes that the trade deficit with China drives down wages and benefits in the United States and eliminates good jobs for U.S. workers.

Here are nine facts from the study you might not know about.

Striking is not a crime – defend imprisoned Chinese labor rights defenders

by IUF

HongKong1Wu Guijun, a migrant worker employed for 9 years making furniture at the Diweixin Product Factory in Shenzhen (southern China), has been detained since May 23 and faces criminal prosecution for defending the rights of his co-workers. Since his arrest Wu has been denied contact with his family.  SEND A MESSAGE TO THE GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES DEMANDING HIS RELEASE!

Workers at the Hong Kong-owned factory sought negotiations earlier this year in response to concerns about production cutbacks and apparent preparations for relocation to another site in the Chinese interior. Seven workers were elected to represent them, including Wu, but the employer refused to disclose any information and rejected negotiations. In response, the workers downed tools on May 7 and petitioned the local government to intervene.  On May 23, 300 workers were besieged by the police while marching to the City Government; more than 20 workers were arrested and detained, including Wu Guijun. All were eventually released except for Wu. According to his lawyer, Wu now faces criminal prosecution for “assembling a crowd to disturb social order”.

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‘Worse than Foxconn’–Apple’s supplier Pegatron Group

logoCLW(July 29, 2013) Today, China Labor Watch (CLW) published an investigative report detailing the labor violations of three factories of Pegatron Group, a major supplier to Apple. In 2013, Apple has increased its orders to these factories, which have benefitted from and relied upon labor violations to increase their competitive edge.

CLW’s investigations revealed at least 86 labor rights violations, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations. The violations fall into 15 categories: dispatch labor abuse, hiring discrimination, women’s rights violations, underage labor, contract violations, insufficient worker training, excessive working hours, insufficient wages, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labor health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management, and environmental pollution.

In short, the Pegatron factories are violating a great number of international and Chinese laws and standards as well as the standards of Apple’s own social responsibility code of conduct. Continue reading

China in Revolt: a Roundtable

by Paul Garver

Over the past few years, millions of Chinese workers have been striking for better pay and working conditions – and many have been winning their demands. This activity – especially against a background of labor defeat in the developed world – is both stunning and largely unexplored. A March 17 Roundtable at the Murphy Institute  co-sponsored by Jacobin magazine, Labor Notes and Talking Union provided an opportunity to learn more about what is happening in China. Cornell Professor Eli Friedman gave depth and detail to the strike wave, with particular attention to the question of contemporary trends that will influence the future of Chinese labor politics. Commentary was provided by several leading China labor scholars, all drawing from extensive research.

  • Anita Chan, University of Technology-Sydney
  • Chris King-Chi Chan, City University of Hong Kong
  • Elaine Sio-ieng Hui, University of Kassel

Full proceedings are in the video provided here.

Hong Kong Dockworkers Strike Attracts Huge Solidarity

HK%20Dockers%20strike-%20web

by Ellen David Friedman

Five hundred dockworkers are facing down the richest man in Hong Kong (and, according to Forbes, eighth-richest in the world) in a strike that has entered its third week and brought transport in the world’s third-busiest port to a virtual halt.

Li Ka-shing, the billionaire behind Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), controls more than 70 percent of Hong Kong’s port container traffic and oversees a vast transnational network of enterprises including the oil and gas giant Husky.

Arrayed against this financial titan often referred to as “Superman” are dockworkers exhausted by 12-hours shifts lacking even toilet breaks, surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities on wages that haven’t risen in 15 years, and now waging a labor battle that observers are calling pivotal.

The confrontation appears to have tapped a vein of indignation against the “greed economy” and its glaring inequalities, bringing the workers broad public support.

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