Worker Rights and Collective Bargaining Advance in China

by Paul Garver

At the same time that the rights of public sector workers to collective bargaining and effective union representation are under unprecedented attack in the USA, some Chinese workers are beginning to make substantial progress in achieving collective bargaining and worker rights. Even though Chinese politicians and bureaucrats are trying to prevent the democratic revolts in the Arab world from impacting Chinese society, they appear willing to allow modest internal labor reforms that do not directly challenge their authority.  In the USA right-wing movements fueled by the wealth of billionaires and pandered to by ambitious politicians have seized upon the budget effects of the great recession caused by their own financial recklessness and greed to destroy long established rights of public employees.

 

Sometimes workers’ victories are not dramatic.  Confrontational scenes like those recorded in the accompanying June 2010 photo of young workers fighting off yellow-hatted goons sent by the municipal trade union to break their strike did NOT characterize negotiations at the same Honda auto parts plant in Nanhai (Foshan City, Guangdong Province) in March 2011.

On March 1 enterprise union leaders elected by the workers and the provincial trade union federation, accompanied by 40 rank-and-file workers acting as observers, negotiated a new wage agreement for 2011 that raised the monthly wage of production line workers by RMB611 over 2010 levels (about a 30% increase).   The enterprise union had rejected the Japanese management’s earlier two offers, but with a mediating effort by Kong Xianghong, the Deputy Chair of the ACFTU’s provincial union federation, accepted a higher compromise proposal.
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Auto Strikes Open Up Space for Union Reform in China

by Paul Garver

The workers who struck numerous auto parts plants in China have gained substantial wage increases. More significantly their successful struggles mark the emergence of China’s new industrial working class as a major active force in the Chinese economy and society. Some trade union officials are beginning to reposition their organizations as advocates for workers rather than “neutral” intermediaries between workers and management, allocating that mediating role to local governments.
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In Memory of the Foxconn Suicide Victims

by Paul Garver

In Memory

On June 13, as part of an event honoring progressive community and union activists, fifty members and friends of Boston DSA commemorated the suicide victims at Foxconn in Shenzhen, China. After paying tribute to them and to the courageous strikers at China Honda, persons present signed the following statement:

Remembering the suicide victims at Foxconn

We wish to commemorate the ten young workers who committed suicide so far this year at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. We extend our deepest condolences to the victims’ families and friends.

We call for a comprehensive, independent investigation into Foxconn’s management systems to determine their connection to employee suicides.

We welcome the announcement that hourly wages will be increased in Foxconn to reduce the need to work excessive overtime hours to earn a basic living. We call upon the global electronic companies for whom Foxconn supplies products to facilitate that wage increase by paying Foxconn an adequate price.

These global companies are squeezing their suppliers worldwide with no concern for the effects on the people who produce their products. For instance, industry sources suggest that Apple awarded 2009 iPhone orders to Foxconn when Foxconn agreed to sell them parts at “zero profit”.

We call on Apple CEO Steve Jobs, head of one of the world’s most successful technology businesses and a major buyer of Foxconn products, to promptly reform Apple’s purchasing practices to support the enforcement of workers’ rights at its suppliers.

We propose that this reform rest on the building block of workers’ involvement in decisions that concern them. Workers’ participation will build the community resources to reduce suicides. Strengthening the participation of workers in enterprise management will help monitor and improve working conditions .

We stand in solidarity with citizens of the world to fight for decent work in China and other countries.

Signed on June 13, 2010 by members and friends of the Boston Local of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Honda China Workers Strike Two More Parts Plants

by Paul Garver

Honda had barely resumed production at its four assembly plants in China following the end of the victorious workers’ strike in Foshan, when a second Honda parts plant went on strike in the same city. On 7 June twenty workers staged a demonstration at the entrance to the Foshan Fengfu Autoparts plant (producing exhaust systems for Guangqi Honda Automobile), and by evening 250 of the 300 front line production workers had joined the strike. The strikers demanded higher wages, less strenuous working hours, and the right to elect their own trade union chairperson. A tentative agreement has been reached, and the strike has been suspended. The details of the settlement are not yet available.

On 9 June 1700 workers at a plant producing mirrors and other parts for Honda went on strike in Zhongshan, also in Guangdong province. More than half of the strikers are young women, with less vocational training than the Foshan strikers. The strikers are demanding wage hikes similar to those won by the strikes at the Foshan parts plants. They are also demanding pay for the down time when their plant was idled by the transmissions plant strike. In an attempt to defuse the strike, management has offered a modest compensation for the lost wages.  But the strike continues, and the workers defied heavy police presence to stage a brief march on June 11.
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Honda Strikers Victorious in China

by Paul Garver

An extraordinary strike has succeeded! 1800 young workers overcame obstacles that seemed insurmountable to win a two-week-long strike at a Honda transmission plant in Foshan City, Guangdong Province, China. They overcome threats by management, violent attacks by union officials that hospitalized four strikers, the absence of legal protection for strikers, and the fact that the majority of the workers were student “interns” from vocational schools that are unprotected by any labor law. They won a 70% wage increase for interns (who were being paid the minimum wage with no benefits), a 35% increase of the somewhat higher rate for regular workers, and a management commitment not to retaliate against strike leaders or participants.

The strikers’ victory is attracting a great deal of attention in the Chinese media, and could be a breakthrough for a more functional collective bargaining system in China. Much depends on whether the workers can consolidate their victory by creating a real workplace union to represent them in the future. We wish them good fortune! (Background in a previous article on this blog.)

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Honda China: Union Officials Attack Striking Workers

by Paul Garver

Is this picture by Bobby Yip from Reuters worth a thousand words? Perhaps with a bit of commentary, hopefully a few hundred words short of a thousand. Background information is here.

The middle aged guys in the yellow hats are trade union officers sent by the Nanhai district government of Foshan City to the Honda transmission plant in Foshan City to help management resume production.

The young men in the white uniforms are at least 50 Honda workers still on strike for higher wages, reinstatement of their fired strike leaders, and the right to elect their own union chairman and officers.
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Strike at Honda China: Modest Demands, Big Impact

by Paul Garver

I’ve been viewing a video filmed by a striking worker at a Honda transmission plant in Foshan, China, about a hundred miles inland from Hong Kong. You see two buses pulling up to an orderly picket line outside the plant. Several strikers approach the stopped buses, and their young passengers file out. Then the empty buses proceed into the plant.

I believe I may be witnessing a momentous turn in global history.

The 10-day-long strike is not about making a revolution. The workers began by “only” fighting for a wage increase. They were reported to be calm, modest, and ready to end the strike if they win a raise of about $117 a month, which would make their wages comparable to those earned at the four Honda joint venture auto assembly plants in China. Those assembly plants are currently closed down for lack of transmissions.

But then why the alarm in the global financial media?
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