a day in the life
June 20, 2010 5:18 PM   Subscribe

He might've placed a couple of chips into your Mac, Dell or Hewlett-Packard. Meet Yuan Yandong.
posted by flapjax at midnite (24 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Factory work sucks but I have done worse jobs here in the U.S. when I was in school and for several years after graduating. I worked in textile mills and auto parts plants. My wife soldered wires to electric motors on an assembly line. There aren't many of those jobs left. His job just sounds boring and the hours long but he is saving 40% of his income. The bit about having your movements timed is called a time-motion study and my dad used to do those as an industrial engineer. I just wonder if this is all there is to it since he had his supervisor's approval for the interview.
posted by Tashtego at 5:48 PM on June 20, 2010


And what is life like for a cog in China’s labor-intensive factory model? Mr. Yuan, with the approval of his supervisor, described it for The New York Times last week before and after his Thursday shift.
Uh huh.

What's interesting about the Chinese model is that the workers actually live at the factory, dormitory style. That obviously cuts down on living expenses, and therefore the wages you need to pay.

But the argument that if you pay Chinese workers more, they'll have to raise prices is, I think, wrong. I've made this point before, but the labor cost for final assembly is actually fairly low. These people who run around saying stuff like "An iPad would cost $7000 if you paid U.S. wages!" are just being absurd.

China has this huge infrastructure for manufacturing built up. You couldn't just transplant that to a new country and expect immediate results. 20 years ago most electronics were made in Taiwan, or Japan. It was only cheap crap that was made in China, and it's taken a long time to ramp up.

The other thing is increasing automation. As robots get more and more awesome, I think we'll see a gradual move away from having any low level factory workers anywhere. Instead 'factory workers' will be people who know how to fix industrial robots and debug complex mechanical processes.
posted by delmoi at 6:18 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


But the argument that if you pay Chinese workers more, they'll have to raise prices is, I think, wrong. I've made this point before, but the labor cost for final assembly is actually fairly low. These people who run around saying stuff like "An iPad would cost $7000 if you paid U.S. wages!" are just being absurd.
Indeed:

The retail value of the 30-gigabyte video iPod that the authors examined was $299. The most expensive component in it was the hard drive, which was manufactured by Toshiba and costs about $73. The next most costly components were the display module (about $20), the video/multimedia processor chip ($8) and the controller chip ($5). They estimated that the final assembly, done in China, cost only about $4 a unit.
posted by anarch at 6:24 PM on June 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, regarding the suicides:
"Physical intimidation of a Foxconn employee, 25 year-old Sun Danyong, and a possibly-illegal search of his house may have led to suicide after an iPhone prototype in his possession was lost. Foxconn is Apple's long-time manufacturing partner for the iPhone. Entrusted with 16 iPhone prototypes, Danyong discovered that one was missing and searched the factory for it. When it didn't turn up, he reported the incident to his boss, who ordered his apartment searched. There are reports of physical intimidation by Foxconn security personnel. This ended tragically on Thursday at 3 AM, when Danyong jumped from his apartment building to his death."
And:
"Workers at Taiwanese electronic outsourcing manufacturer Foxconn are getting a pay raise after a series of 13 suicides, including three in three consecutive days. According to an article by state-run newspaper China Daily, Apple concluded that the main cause of the suicides is low wages. (The media has also attributed the suicides to a variety of other factors — everything from the semi-military style of management, to long overtime, to China's one-child policy, and Foxconn paying too much compensation to the family of suicide workers, thereby encouraging copycat suicides.) Apple plans to subsidize raises using its own products (Google translation; Chinese original here) — the first one being the iPad. This would raise the outsourcing cost from 2.3% to 3% of the iPad's sales price. The article does not say the amount of the raise per worker, but it is rumored to be about 20%, according to other Chinese news sources."
Oh, and it looks like they're shutting down:
"Foxconn, the manufacturer whose clients include Apple, Dell, and HP, is on the verge of pulling out of China after a spate of suicides. The CEO has accused workers of killing themselves for financial compensation, and the company has stopped suicide payments to suicide victims' families. Foxconn's CEO also told investors that it is considering moving its production operations to Taiwan, and automating many parts of its business, a move which could see 800,000 workers lose their jobs."
(via Slashdot)
posted by anarch at 6:30 PM on June 20, 2010


The CEO has accused workers of killing themselves for financial compensation

I may be dead but at least I'm rich, right?
posted by kenko at 6:34 PM on June 20, 2010


The bit about having your movements timed is called a time-motion study and my dad used to do those as an industrial engineer.

It's not less dehumanizing just because your dad used to do it.
posted by kenko at 6:35 PM on June 20, 2010


How long can China be the world’s workshop sweatshop?
posted by bpm140 at 7:17 PM on June 20, 2010


"The bit about having your movements timed is called a time-motion study and my dad used to do those as an industrial engineer."

I used to work in a crappy little factory, bad but not near as bad as this.
One of the managers would do time studies with a stopwatch and after he lost his job I got a hold of the stopwatch and kept it as a prized trophy, like a severed head, in my workstations toolbox.
posted by Iron Rat at 7:25 PM on June 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


What's interesting about the Chinese model is that the workers actually live at the factory, dormitory style. That obviously cuts down on living expenses, and therefore the wages you need to pay.
They should do that over here. I'd like a little single with a bed, workstation, entertainment system. Maybe laundry and cleaning service. An enclosed tunnel to the office or whatever.
posted by planet at 7:29 PM on June 20, 2010


I got an ultracheap Compaq laptop four months ago. I've since come to feel bad about the labor conditions at the place it was made. But then I was in serious need of a new machine, and I could not afford to pay more. I absolutely would have if I could.
posted by JHarris at 7:31 PM on June 20, 2010


They should do that over here. I'd like a little single with a bed, workstation, entertainment system. Maybe laundry and cleaning service. An enclosed tunnel to the office or whatever.

Yeah, and the company could stock a store with all the stuff you might want so you don't need to go far to make purchases.
posted by kenko at 7:40 PM on June 20, 2010


It doesn't matter how much you pay for your laptop, the labor come from the same places.
posted by mikepaco at 7:43 PM on June 20, 2010


It's not less dehumanizing just because your dad used to do it.

That's not what I was suggesting though if you didn't do something of the sort how would you know where the bottlenecks in production are? This sort of work is dehumanizing by nature and most jobs that can be made regimented are. I think my year or so in a call center was actually more dehumanizing than any factory work I have ever done. What I was saying is that the work itself, which probably seems alien to many people in our postindustrial economy, is not very different from what was common in America not so long ago. From the comments above, it seems that what makes it worse is the excessive overtime and how little separation there is between work and private life. That's pretty different from my experiences with factory work, where when the day was done, I didn't have to think about work till my next shift and where overtime was something workers sought and bosses avoided. That changed when I got more "professional" jobs. The issue here is that without representative government or the ability to form independent unions Chinese workers will never be able to change their situation. The interests of the ruling elite in government and those of corporations are one in market-Leninism. I believe there is a slightly older term that describes this philosophy too.
posted by Tashtego at 7:59 PM on June 20, 2010


I just wanted to point out that Hon Hai (the parent company) has said that the rumors that it will be pulling out of China are false. Terry Gou said at the June 8 investors conference that they were actually considering expanding their operations in China.

As an aside, it's been interesting to watch the press coverage on this. My interns have been monitoring all the news regarding this story on a daily basis. They determined that there was only one English-language source that said Hon Hai was pulling out of China. That story then spread online - at first it was sourced back to the one story, then it seemed to reach critical mass when someone at AFP included this "fact" in a story, which then gave it legitimacy and it started to spread widely.
posted by gemmy at 8:47 PM on June 20, 2010


"After due deliberation, Major Hitchcock, the Works Committee has called a stoppage in response to our members wishes. The members feel that the agreement negotiated with respect to time and motion study is being contraveyuned."

Peter Sellers in "I'm all right Jack." Time and motion studies are a major part of this film, one of my favorites.
posted by zippy at 11:01 PM on June 20, 2010


For a good picture of what's going on in China's manufacturing industry, I liked Andy Xie's recent Op-Ed in Caixin (Hu Shuli's current magazine after nearly everyone resigned from Caijing).

What I find most interesting about this whole thing is that people are finally understanding what everyone that's been to China already knows, that the foundation for the China success story are Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It's those three countries that are really driving up the level of expertise in Chinese manufacturing. Replicating China's economic success requires a nearby industrialized country with ex-pats that speak the same language.

The article also, more importantly, gives a good picture on the massive generation gap between young and old Chinese.
posted by amuseDetachment at 11:55 PM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


mikepaco wrote: "It doesn't matter how much you pay for your laptop, the labor come from the same places."

Mostly. If you buy a "real" Thinkpad, part of what you're paying extra for is the US-based workers who design them. Still manufactured in China, though. Lots of the cheaper stuff is designed by Chinese or whomever, and to be blunt, does not have the same amount of care put into it.

Same with an Apple laptop. It costs more, again partly because of the US workers who design them.

This is (not so) slowly changing as prices get driven down even further.
posted by wierdo at 12:09 AM on June 21, 2010


What's interesting about the Chinese model is that the workers actually live at the factory, dormitory style. That obviously cuts down on living expenses, and therefore the wages you need to pay.

They should do that over here. I'd like a little single with a bed, workstation, entertainment system. Maybe laundry and cleaning service. An enclosed tunnel to the office or whatever.


Habitrail for humans!
posted by jrochest at 2:15 AM on June 21, 2010


So, realistically, what would it take to pay US workers a living wage to do the same work? There's no argument or snark in that question, I'm serious.
posted by TomMelee at 5:47 AM on June 21, 2010


You can apparently buy laptops and PCs made with all-union labor and "where possible, using components made in the U.S. to assemble PCs, from scratch, right here on [American] soil." [pdf] I configured one of their laptops to match the specs of a low-end comparable Dell model and got $499 for the Dell vs. $1290 for the equivalent union-made PC.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 7:14 AM on June 21, 2010


"where possible, using components made in the U.S."

Out of curiosity, what CPU, Motherboard, Memory, or Hard Drive is made in the US?
posted by schmod at 8:51 AM on June 21, 2010


RCA makes a damn fine motherboard in the good ol' US of A, but replacing the vacuum tubes on it can be a bitch.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:18 AM on June 21, 2010


Intel has fabs in AZ, CO, CA, NM, MA, and OR but that same article also lists overseas test and assembly sites which probably means that the only part actually manufactured here is the raw wafer/die, not the completed product.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:12 PM on June 21, 2010


Smart, Young, and Broke: White-collar workers are China’s newest underclass.

Photographer Mark Leong's look at the country's white-collar underclass
posted by homunculus at 9:14 AM on June 23, 2010


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