Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Older workers strike in China

The stereotype is that younger, hot headed workers are the ones who go on strike. That's not what is happening in China. How will that change politics? Who will represent the workers if not the Communist Party unions?

Danger zone: A huge strike in southern China shows that migrant workers are starting to demand more than just higher wages
THE Pearl river delta in the southern province of Guangdong is no stranger to strikes, most of them small and quickly resolved. But a walk-out by workers at factories owned by a Taiwanese company, Yue Yuen, the world’s largest maker of branded sports shoes, including big names such as Nike and Reebok, has been remarkable for its scale and duration. It began on April 5th and has grown to involve tens of thousands of employees. On a sprawling industrial estate, angry workers watched by riot police rage about an issue few cared much about until recently: their pensions…

The government has imposed a virtual news blackout on the unrest in the city of Dongguan, a place synonymous with the delta’s manufacturing heft…

The workers accuse Yue Yuen of failing for years to make due contributions to their pensions, which are administered by the local government… Workers fume at the heavy deployment of police, and the beating of some of the thousands of strikers who have been marching through nearby streets, most recently on April 18th.
April 18th demonstration
Many employees say they are now too afraid to march again. Their protest has become a silent one: they clock in each morning, but then leave the factory and do no work, coming back to clock out when their shift is supposed to end…

[A]s they listen to repeated broadcasts of the company’s offer through loudspeakers, strikers respond with howls of derision. They also tear up copies of a letter from the government-backed trade union which is mediating in the dispute. The missive calls on workers to go back to work and acknowledge the company’s “sincerity”. “The unions aren’t like the ones in the West,” says one worker. “Here they just represent the government.”…

Workers at labour-intensive factories like Yue Yuen’s know that times are changing. Production is moving to countries with cheaper labour, such as neighbouring Vietnam. Low-skilled workers entering middle-age are getting increasingly nervous. Without decent pensions, they complain, life back in their villages will be tough…

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