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January 6, 2008 2:36 AM   Subscribe

The China Labour Bulletin reports on the state of the worker's movement in China and sees a potential role for the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions in the light of the new Labour Contract Law that came into effect January 1. CLB director Han Dongfang has previously been less than enthusiastic about the ACFTU's potential as a genuine voice for workers. Some businesses have already moved to preempt what protections the new law offers, and despite a decade of criticism, worker abuse persists in China.
posted by Abiezer (9 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now it appears the problems are widespread and that foreign corporations--including Walmart--may be complicit.

Undermining worker protections is one of the many things Walmart does best. They are world-class innovators in this arena.

See!! Who says American companies can't export things to China?
posted by three blind mice at 4:44 AM on January 6, 2008


Thanks for the update, Abiezer - important issues! There was a good report on China sweatshops in Business Week about a year ago - while a little dated, it's worth a read.

Outsourcing our manufacturing jobs has allowed us to get our goods without the nettlesome burdens of workers comp, unemployment, labor laws and basic worker rights.
It becomes increasingly clear to me that I am complicit with purchase decisions that I make. Trying to "buy locally" just isn't good enough, but it's a daunting task to know how to have an impact. Perhaps one step would be to simply begin asking corporations questions before making a purchase, making them aware that fair labor in the supply chain is an issue that we care about.

Fair labor is one organization in the garment/footwear sector that is working to achieve a level of corporate supply chain transparency and accountability by monitoring for compliance with a code of conduct for basic labor standards. They appear to be making progress - I don't know of any comparable initiatives for technology and other manufacturing sectors but would be interested if others do.

Other resources: Sweat Free Communities; and the AFL-CIO tracks and links to other grassroots anti-sweatshop initiatives.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:13 AM on January 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm showing my glaring ignorance, but isn't a Communist country technically supposed to be looking out for workers rights and unifying the workforce? I'm sure China and the Soviet Union have been poor followers of Marx/Engels philosophy but I'm curious about this disconnect. Is this just the result of the Animal Farm's pigs being obsessed with their luxurious lifestyle and not wanting to hear from the horses and ducks out in the fields?
posted by crapmatic at 7:45 AM on January 6, 2008


I guess I'm showing my glaring ignorance, but isn't a technically Communist country supposed to be looking out for workers rights and unifying the workforce?

If you change the word order it all makes sense. Or as Kafka put it "Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy". Others will chime in on how China has moved away from the communist paradigm, I have to leave soon.
posted by ersatz at 8:35 AM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suspect the loophole was designed quite purposefully to appease China's business partners. China finds itself walking a very fine line between maintaining its Communist pose and becoming a complete corporate paradise.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:10 AM on January 6, 2008


China finds itself walking a very fine line between remaining a country, and 1.5 billion person uprising.

I sometimes suspect the only means to maintain order over a billion-odd people is through Chinese-style rule.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on January 6, 2008


I sometimes suspect the only means to maintain order over a billion-odd people is through Chinese-style rule.

India has a billion+ population and it's had a real Democracy for decades, one that's survived some pretty major traumas, including the partition with Pakistan, violence in Kashmir, etc, etc, etc.

And, the population density is two and a half times as high in India, 343.67 people /km2 (in India) compared to 137 people/km2 (in China).

The argument that such a huge country requires an iron fist ignores the counterexample right next door.
posted by delmoi at 10:35 AM on January 6, 2008


In fairness delmoi, China's density is higher I think if you look at where people live rather than the vast deserts and the Tibetan plateau and the rest. But I agree with you broad point. My experience of emerging civil society here and the labour movement is more how damn reasonable and pragmatic your average Chinese worker and farmer is and how little they are demanding despite putting up with so much shit for so long - mostly not to be outright cheated and exploited and to be allowed to work hard for their and their family's betterment.
The one substantive objection to a viable democratic polity in China I hear is that it would be dominated and manipulated by vested interests. I'm not sure that would have to be so, but if the Party is unwilling to allow an independent civil society or labour movement to emerge whilst giving a much freer hand to capital and kleptocrats, of course they're helping undermine the forces that could prevent that.
crapmatic - the argument did used to go, back in the days of the planned economy, that since the working class and peasantry were now "masters in their own home" (当家作主 - I hinted at it in my title) there was no need for trade unions as the Party represented their interest. Mao did in fact write in favour of keeping the right to strike in the 50s as a way of countering bureaucracy, but he was probably not sincere and it was an isolated response. recent academics have quoted it though while arguing for the right to be restored. As market reforms have deepened, there have been growing calls for an independent union movement (Han Dongfang famously formed such in 89 to his cost), as well as some wildcat militancy. The official union used to perform a largely welfare role and was a jobs-for-the-boys posting for useless bureaucrats by and large, and even if it was willing to genuinely represent workers, largely lacks the skills to do so. There have been noises recently about shifting that role but there's a way to go. I found it interesting that Han sees a possibility for further movement there.
posted by Abiezer at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2008


India has a billion+ population and it's had a real Democracy for decades, one that's survived some pretty major traumas, including the partition with Pakistan, violence in Kashmir, etc, etc, etc.

A most salient point. You're right.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:37 AM on January 6, 2008


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