Friday, December 5, 2008

The state of Chinese labor movement

Found this on China Labour Bulletin (based in Hong Kong). 

Given that China is not only the global factory but an important pillar in the world capitalist system, the state of the Chinese labor movement is of importance for workers' movements in all countries. The paper quoted below (link to the full paper at bottom of post) is an informative source of information on the general state of where the Chinese workers stand in relation to capital in a nominally 'communist' country. The paper was presented by China Labour Bulletin (CLB), to an international conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights opened in Paris on 4 December, 2008.

The Case of China:
The Challenge of Labour Unrest in a Communist-run Capitalist Economy

"This year China celebrates the 30th anniversary of the historic "reform and opening" policy. This groundbreaking initiative led China out of political isolation and back into the world community and, among many other things, has helped lift an estimated 400 million of people out of poverty. 

"But despite this impressive macro-economic progress, workers throughout China are still at a fundamental disadvantage. In the burgeoning private sector, in particular, they are routinely required to work illegally long hours, employers frequently withhold wages and fail to provide mandatory labour contracts or social security benefits, and many workplaces are fundamentally unsafe or hazardous to workers' health. 

"China's estimated 150 million migrant workers and their families continue to face widespread social and institutional discrimination. In short, the scale and depth of workers' rights violations across the country continues to be huge. Faced with the enormity of this challenge, it is often assumed by outside observers – and by many Chinese – that since China is not a democracy and independent trade unions are banned there, little can be done to advance labour rights standards for most Chinese workers, and especially for the migrant workers who have largely powered the country's economic miracle over the past decade and more.

"The purpose of this presentation by CLB is, firstly, to suggest that such pessimism is unfounded; and secondly, to show that Chinese workers are steadily acquiring the will and the practical means to accomplish most of the "heavy lifting" in the labour rights' arena by themselves. 

"For outside observers whose main picture of the labour rights situation in China today has come from media reports portraying workers – whether in the country's disaster-prone coal mines, or in the foreign-invested manufacturing sweatshops of Guangdong and elsewhere – as passive and helpless victims of entrepreneurial greed and callousness, this assertion may come as something of a surprise. 

"But the other, less well-known narrative told by workers across the country, who in recent years have been fighting back – both individually and collectively – against unacceptable employment conditions and poor workplace safety standards, clearly bears out such a conclusion. For nowadays, Chinese workers are not passively accepting maltreatment and abuse. They are taking to the streets in protest. They are going on strike. They are collaborating with workers' rights NGOs to publicize and resolve their grievances. And they are seeking, more and more, to defend their rights and interests through domestic legal channels."

Read the complete paper here ...

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