Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

Learning From China?

What words come to mind when you think of the Chinese working class?  If passive was one of them, think again.

The China Labor Bulletin just released a major report on the state of the Chinese workers’ movement called Going it Alone: The Workers’ Movement in China.  After analyzing collective labor protests during the years 2007 and 2008, the report identifies the following three major trends:

  • Workers took matters into their own hands. Bypassing the largely ineffectual official trade union, they used public protest as a means of forcing local governments to intercede on their behalf. And, in many cases, workers were successful.
  • Strikes ignited other protests in the same region, industry or company subsidiaries. The wave of taxi strikes that swept the county at the end of 2008 exemplified both the spread of industry-wide protests and the willingness of local governments to negotiate with the workers.
  • Workers’ demands became broader and more sophisticated. Previously, disputes were mostly related to clear-cut violations of labor rights, such as the non-payment of wages, overtime and benefits, but in the last two years collective interest-based disputes came to the fore, with workers seeking higher wages and better working conditions, and protesting arbitrary changes in their employment status and pay scales. One of the major causes of discontent was, for example, attempts by managements to circumvent the new Labor Contract Law by forcing employees to relinquish long-term contracts and rejoin the company on short-term contracts or as temporary labor.

How would we measure up if a similar report were done in the US?

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