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


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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Organizing Migrant Workers Key to Union Renewal in China and USA

by Paul Garver

china in revolt flyer_no text

On March 17th Talking Union, the Jacobin Magazine and Labor Notes sponsored a roundtable discussion at the CUNY Murphy Institute on China in Revolt. Over a hundred labor scholars and community and labor activists, including many from both Overseas and Mainland China, met to discuss the latest developments in the Chinese workers’ movement.

Eli Friedman, now teaching at Cornell University, summarized his hypothesis that China’s new working class of internal migrant workers might be developing a more politicized class consciousness as global manufacturers increasingly located their factories closer to their villages of origin deep in the interior provinces of China. Three highly regarded scholar/activists from the Chinese diaspora (Anita Chan, now teaching in Sydney, Chris King-Chi Chan of the City University of Hong Kong, and Elaine Sio-ieng Hui, a doctoral fellow in Kassel, Germany) commented on Eli’s hypothesis, and outlined some of their own extensive recent research findings and analyses of the current Chinese workers’ movement.

As a person with experience in the socialist and international labor movement, I was impressed and thrilled by the high level both of critical thinking and of passionate commitment to workers’ struggles present on the panel and in the room. Marxist critical theory is not only alive, but is actively at work in supporting one of the most important developments of workers’ struggles in global history. I was proud to have played a small role in facilitating this roundtable.

But as a rank amateur on Chinese worker issues who knows little more than what I learn at second hand from folks like Eli, Anita, Chris and Elaine, I want to reflect here on what implications we might draw from China for the American workers’ movement.

This is of course a stretch. Not only are China and the USA opposite poles of capitalist globalization – our political and union institutions are moving in different trajectories. Our industrial working class is shrinking – theirs is still growing. Our union membership is declining – theirs is nominally huge, but their trade union federations are essentially government/party bureaucracies with no input from or control by workers. We have a political party system of which one party is openly hostile to organized labor and the other at best an untrustworthy ally – China has one hegemonial political party nominally committed to working class interests and trade union organization but beholden to capitalist globalization and highly suspicious of and resistant to any autonomous workers’ movement.

Yet there is an analogous source of hope for these divergent labor institutions in the organization of migrant/immigrant workers.

Chinese “migrant” workers for over a generation have migrated from rural villages in China’s interior to work in factories and construction sites in coastal cities, where they make up a large percentage of the relatively unskilled manufacturing and construction workers. In recent years they have increasingly asserted their collective power through unsanctioned strikes and riots. The formal trade union structures had heretofore made little effort to represent their interests, but under pressure from the Party to deal with the growing social unrest and industrial actions of migrant workers, some local and provincial trade union federations are experimenting with reforms designed to open up channels for collective bargaining.

The American labor unions have long had checkered relations with immigrant workers, that at various times in U.S. history have also made up a significant portion of the working class. In recent years recent immigrants, even some without documents, are becoming leaders in local unions. For instance many SEIU locals particularly in the property services sector are being led by recent immigrants recruited through the Justice for Janitors campaign, and a top SEIU officer, Eliseo Medina, is a leader of immigration reform efforts. Even as the AFL-CIO unions are weakened by losses in membership, most of its national union organizations have become much more progressive in including immigrants, including ones without documentation, and the AFL-CIO is solidly backing comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.

Of equal importance, many of the most creative new union organizing efforts in the USA, from port truck drivers through fast food workers, warehouse workers, healthcare domestic and personal care service workers heavily draw upon recent immigrants both as the organizers and as the organized.

It is no accident that the reform agenda of unions both in China and in the USA have to be based on their ability to integrate newer entrants into the working class movement, whether these be internal migrants (China) or documented/undocumented immigrants (USA).

Those of us who advocate and support workers’ struggles and union reforms in both countries have much to learn from each other. Exchanges of experience like the roundtable on China in Revolt are extremely important.

China Worker Roundtable: A Reminder

by Paul Garver

china in revolt flyer_no text

Chinese workers are continuing a wave of strikes for higher wages and, in some cases, for the right to elect their own local union officers.

At the same time, Hewlett-Packard and Apple have claimed that they are requiring their manufacturing suppliers in China, the largest of which is Foxconn, to correct numerous abuses, including excessive forced overtime, the abuse of student interns, and to promise to allow elections for local union committees.

China labor expert Eli Friedman has forcefully argued in The Jacobin that ultimately the liberation of workers in China can only arise from their self activity. He predicts that as manufacturers build new factories deeper in China’s interior, closer to the villages from which most of the new industrial workers are recruited, those workers are likely to demand greater political rights and social benefits. This would advance their industrial action to a new level of working class consciousness.

Three of the most prominent scholars of Chinese labor from around the world will join Eli Friedman in a roundtable discussion at 4:00 PM on Sunday March 17 at the CUNY Murphy Institute, 25 W 43rd St, 18th floor, Manhattan. The roundtable is moderated by Seth Ackerman of  Jacobin Magazine and is co-sponsored by Talking Union and by Labor Notes.

For more details, please click here. The event is free to the public, and all are welcome.

CHINA IN REVOLT: A Labor-Community Roundtable

by Paul Garver


DATE:   Sun. March 17th, 2013

TIME:     4:00 PM – 6: 00 PM

PLACE: Joseph S. Murphy Institute

25 West 43rd Street, 18th floor

New York City

Sponsored by Jacobin Magazine, Labor Notes and Talking Union


·         Eli Friedman, Cornell University

·         Anita Chan, University of Technology-Sydney

·         Chris King-Chi Chan, City University of Hong Kong

·         Elaine Sio-ieng Hui, University of Kassel, and others

Moderated by:

·         Seth Ackerman, Jacobin magazine

 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.  Talking Union has been covering these developments for several years.

This Roundtable will provide an opportunity to learn more about what is happening in China. Professor Eli Friedman will give 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. (See “China in Revolt” – Jacobin Magazine, Summer 2012 for background.)

Commentary will be provided by several leading China labor scholars, all drawing from extensive research. The discussion is intended for activists, academics and practitioners.


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