conducted by Ralf Ruckus (June 2016)
During more than two decades of rapid economic growth, China witnessed an increase in labor unrest, first of the working class of state workers, with a peak around the end of the 1990s, and then more rapidly since the mid-2000s, evidencing the composition of a new migrant working class that has accumulated tactical and organizational experience in the confrontation with domestic and foreign capital. The regime of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has reacted to the recent labor challenge with a double strategy of making material concessions while repressing any formal worker organizing across companies, industries, or regions. The economic crisis and slowdown since the late 2000s—in China and globally—has led to tougher confrontations.1
While the workers’ expectations regarding material improvements continue to be high, the space for material concessions by capital has become more restricted, and that has led to increasing frustration and anger on the workers’ side, as well as to a consistently high number of social struggles. The CCP regime fears a further escalation of those struggles and has intensified its repressive measures against labor activists and workers. The following interview is intended to shed light on various aspects of the current state of class conflicts in China. The interviewee is a close observer of social struggles in China and remains anonymous to avoid possible retaliations. Credit is due to all those who helped with the interview and added sources, links, and comments in the notes.
The strike wave in 2010 was a first peak of labor unrest by the migrant working class in China.2 How has the number of strikes developed since?
There are strong reasons to believe that labor unrest has been consistently quite high, and numbers are rising into this year:
* Rough estimates from Chinese scholars cite that, in 2009, workers were responsible for around 30,000 of the “mass incidents”—a catch-all term for unrest used by officials that could include strikes, demonstrations, blocking a road, or other forms of collective action.3 That’s a rate of over 80 per day, across China, in that year. This information, however, gives no sense of the spatial distribution, industrial distribution, or other important qualities of the individual incidents.
* Projects like China Labour Bulletin’s (CLB) strike map4 or Manfred Elfstrom’s “China Strikes” website5 show snapshots of larger trends by collecting reports of individual incidents. CLB’s numbers, for example, begin with a few hundred in 2011 and rose dramatically year-on-year to nearly 3,000 in 2015—but this is just the number of incidents they chose to record.
* If you look at CLB’s primary source, the News Worth Knowing blog that tracks reports of protest in China from social media,6 it shows four to five times more labor incidents than reported by CLB, i.e., over 10,000 incidents of worker strikes and protests in 2015 alone, with reported protests up some 30 percent over 2014.
* A more recent figure from official statistics is just over 11,000 “incidents”—again, worker protests, strikes and demonstrations—by migrant workers alone in just the first nine months of 2015, a 34 percent increase from the previous year.7
While it is impossible to verify the actual scope and scale of these protests collected from Chinese social media, looking at the trends and qualitative features can paint a fairly holistic picture.
Can you identify a standard curve, like trends or yearly struggle seasons?
There are always large waves of unrest in the months leading up to Chinese New Year, centered around the construction industry, in particular the construction of expensive property development projects: high-end apartments, entire housing complexes made by property development companies. Construction workers—still mostly men although the number of women workers is rising—are generally paid in a single lump sum at the end of the year or once the project is completed, which could take a year, or possibly two or three, and live off of a small living allowance for daily expenses. When a project is completed and the large final payment is due, sometimes workers get shortchanged, because, for example, a property developer runs into financial trouble along the way, or a contractor mishandles funds or just simply disappears without paying workers. So construction workers are almost always protesting wage arrears. Most migrant workers go home only once a year at Chinese New Year, and they expect to bring with them large amounts of money back to their home towns in the countryside. As the New Year approaches, workers become concerned about having money to take home with them—when they run into trouble, some are even left without enough money to afford a ticket home. So, in the months leading up to Chinese New Year, countless numbers of construction workers protest to get the wages they are owed. When a boss fails to pay them, workers will block a road, march with banners, and protest at government buildings, demanding payment. Local governments get very nervous around this time of year and are inundated with complaints of wage arrears from workers. Sometimes authorities campaign against wage arrears, or help migrant workers with hotlines or government services, and local governments even maintain funds to pay workers directly some or all of what their owed, but it is never enough to contain massive unrest.8
Some other trends do seem to correspond directly with news of broader political-economic trends. With SOE reform in coal, steel and other industries on the table, there has been an increase in SOE heavy industrial unrest, as companies make cuts, try to get rid of workers and shut down production. Other trends include increases in closures, layoffs and other signs of financial trouble in manufacturing firms, particularly in traditional manufacturing sectors off Pearl and Yangtze river deltas. This has been particularly obvious before, and especially after the Chinese New Year, with a significant number of problems at Hong Kong and Taiwan-owned firms.
At a more basic level, there are certain kinds of actions taken by workers in particular industries, and in their typical demands. For instance, collective actions in manufacturing take the form of a mix of strikes and demonstrations, often over wage arrears, but more increasingly over social benefits. In most cases, they are instigated by employers failing to meet their legal obligations rather than workers demanding more than the legal minimum. Contrary to assumptions that workers generally fight against being overworked and underpaid (which does happen), workers often take action demanding more overtime, or protesting reduction in working hours, especially in today’s slowing economy.
While the economy becomes layered with new, higher-end production—like cellphones as opposed to T-shirts—old industries, like the textile industry, still remain and often encounter business problems, increasing potential for unrest. To break with misconceptions that most unrest is in large foreign-owned, or state-owned firms, it must be said that most collective actions occur in small to medium, Chinese-owned firms. Foreign news outlets in particular latch on to major strikes at state-owned firms, or foreign-owned firms, and while they are sometimes big and spectacular, they are not representative of the general trends in worker unrest.
There are interesting, but rather small, trends as well, like the way unrest unfolds in other industries such as services (restaurants, bars, and hotels with a majority of women workers), education (teachers, again most of them women, from preschool to university level), and even public sector (various government employees in, say, transportation related institutions). Teachers, for instance, strike or demonstrate at government buildings, often over low wages, lack of benefits they legally deserve, or social benefits and the demand to get on government payroll. And taxi drivers have gone one strike and demonstrated at government buildings protesting against competition from illegal cabs and increasingly against taxi ride apps in the past year. Unrest has spread not only among taxi drivers themselves but also the ride app drivers, sometimes leading to violent confrontation between drivers.
You mentioned SOE workers. The peak of their struggles was in the late 1990s/early 2000s. What about the past few years?
First of all, that sort of thing still happens, though not in the consistent, massive numbers from the late 1990s to early 2000s.9 Today, especially in China’s northeast, many large state-owned, or recently state-owned, companies in steel, coal and other traditional industries are in serious trouble, especially in recent months with plummeting commodity prices, and even more with deepening reforms forced upon these heavily indebted enterprises. Lots of coal mines are closing, steel plants shutting down, turning some localities into ghost towns.10 There are some, often large, protests by laid off workers—or “internally retired” workers—over benefits. These workers are somehow cheated out of the benefits, shares or other rights once promised to them by the state system.
In an industrial park in the Huangpu district of Guangzhou recently there was a strike at major SOE steel manufacturer Ansteel over wage reforms attempting to force workers from the job voluntarily without paying them compensation. About one week after those strikes ended, another major strike of 2000 workers broke out just five kilometers away at American-owned car parts manufacturer Delphi. Workers were aware of each other, supported each other in principle, but had no real connections with the workers just a few kilometers away!
Worker unrest erupts in industrial parks all the time, but rarely spreads from factory to factory, or into the view of residents of urban centers. In this case, the mentioned strikes were contained to the factory grounds—actively—by large numbers of police. Workers are subject to much greater risk of repression and arrest if they leave factory grounds during a strike or protest. Effectively, if one didn’t follow the news online, it would have been nearly impossible for anyone in Guangzhou to follow these major events happening in their own neighborhood. The events were not covered by mainstream media (though reporters were turned away from the gate of the Ansteel plant), and the events were only covered by small-scale WeChat and Weibo platforms.
Recently a lot of local WeChat platforms include news of worker unrest if it happens. Spreading shocking news of things that happen in your own neighborhood end up including worker strikes and protests at times and are one of the few consistent conveyor belts of information that pass on information of worker protests to the general, regional population.
Is there a regional pattern of struggles related to the types of workers, industries, professions, company ownership, employment status?
Construction unrest is spread wherever housing development is big, and that is in many large cities all throughout China, so you see lots of unrest in Henan, Sichuan, and even regions further from east coast like Ningxia or Yunnan. Regionally, much of the manufacturing unrest is still focused around the Yangtze and the Pearl River delta regions, but some of it is slowly shifting inland.
There is, actually, evidence that relocation of manufacturing inland has had an effect on worker organizing and unrest in ways that are positive for worker organizing. In the example of Foxconn, locations in Shenzhen went many years without much collective action, as the factory went to great lengths to separate workers from workers who spoke the same local dialect—gave them different dorms, different shifts, different workplaces in the factory. Then, as soon as Foxconn relocated to other parts of the country, like Henan, unrest erupted rather aided by workers speaking the same dialect.11 Moreover, some research suggests that unrest has grown at a much more rapid rate in inland provinces like Sichuan over the past five years than in traditional unrest hubs like Guangdong.
Do you know examples of struggles of temporary agency workers?
Agency workers’ involvement in labor struggles is common, especially in the state-owned sector, the most notorious abuser of agency workers in recent years, and in construction including state-owned construction. There is some small, but notable unrest among student interns that are recruited to work at enterprises.12 Student workers also played a key role in the now famous Foshan Honda strike.13 However, precarity is, in fact, a quite general condition of labor in China. For example, the overwhelming majority of workers in construction work without a contract, despite years of laws and regulations built to address this problem specifically.
How have the organizational patterns of workers changed in the past years? Do you think certain struggles have been “contagious”, i.e., influenced others in their protest behaviors?
First, it should be said that there is a certain common-knowledge repertoire of protest in China that is particular to China. For example, workers know they could go block a road to attract attention. Or demonstrate at a government building for a few hours blocking the front gate. Strikes seem to take a bit more coordination and organization, but there is definitely a common culture of resistance particular to each industry, region, and to China in general, grown, inherited and changing through years of struggle.
In terms of spreading in sudden contagion, it does happen from time to time, most famously in the auto industry in 2010. Smaller, though equally connected events have happened recently—workers connected through a particular company with branches throughout China may hear that workers at one factory got a certain compensation package while they did not, and take action around that issue. Teachers sometimes strike and protest because they get wind of conditions in a neighboring locality, or they may organize among themselves because they are subject to the same bad local government policies or corruption.14
In any case, it is surprising the level of interconnectedness and common knowledge workers have with each other throughout an industry or company, considering the constant repression of worker organization and activism.
In many ways, the knowledge of struggle, and how to struggle in the current paradigm, appears to be absorbed quite naturally by workers through their work-lives. For those of us outside of those workplaces and cultures, it would take serious research of things that may be rather obvious to Chinese workers: Where did you first hear of worker protests? What sorts of strikes had you heard of before you went on strike yourself? How did you feel about employers and their treatment of workers before you started your job, or went on strike? This requires some rather serious, but important, explorations into the real work-life environment of Chinese workers, and those that become involved in struggle.
You mentioned WeChat and Weibo. How do workers learn about struggles, how do they spread the information?
Word of mouth and social media, but it seems that much of it must come from the culture of being Chinese working class person, the education, the stories of friends and family, and work-life experience—talking with colleagues, commiserating, talking about problems etc. Social media has definitely been important in allowing outsiders to get a view inside the workplace, so it’s tempting to overestimate the role it plays in worker organizing. Workers do organize actions using cellphones and co-worker groups, and at times use social media to broadcast their struggles. At the point of production, however, there is still a large role for organizing through day-to-day interaction with coworkers offline, or through occasional use of other means like pamphleteering or writing statements about going on strike.
In terms of its affect on China overall, it must be said that the advent of social media and the internet has increased the Chinese population’s own knowledge of the level of protest in their own communities and in their country as a whole, though one must also take into account the heavy censorship, propaganda, and mass culture in general that goes along with the internet and social media. Workers and others in labor movement are, of course, constantly subject to different levels of surveillance via their mobile devices, which is a very serious concern. It is undoubtedly true that use of social media platforms like WeChat increase the ability for the state security apparatus to monitor and crackdown on activist circles and organizing workers, while at the same time organizing may not take place at the same speed, breadth or depth without it; this all highlights an increased need for strategic awareness and capability among workers to learn to use secure and convenient means of communication, an ongoing battle and important front of struggle for activists worldwide.
What is the role of “leaders,” and who are those “leaders”?
Leaders do exist in some capacity in many struggles, though relying on the term can be misleading. Workers may organize themselves and select representatives to facilitate action, like bringing their demands to the boss. Some workers, especially in the course of long struggles, emerge as centers of large networks of, say, retired workers or those suffering from occupational illness—as the center of a hub. Some workers are organizers and agitators dedicated to labor struggles after years of experience and learning, and put themselves on the front line of organizing. Sometimes workers may have no apparent leader at all, and sometimes, when cops arrive on the scene, they actively try to find the “leaders” whether there are any or not, as it is often part of their practice to say “we’ve captured the responsible parties, and the rest dispersed.” Perhaps there is a certain diverse ecology of “leadership”, though hopefully a more nuanced view takes away some of the raw authority-subservience vibe implied by the term.
Are there any “ideologies” involved, such as Maoism?
While Maoists might disagree with me, looking at the wide spectrum of struggles, those who invoke Mao and Maoism are typically older workers with some memory of Mao-era China. There are definitely young activists who are interested in the idea of communism, workers struggles, that there might be some truth behind all the propaganda they encountered growing up in China, like Marxism or Communism. One worker activist I know is fascinated with early communist party history, when CCP members were “actually labor organizers, just like me!”
What is the role of labor NGOs in the struggles?
Labor NGOs are generally quite small, with no more than a handful of staff, and sometimes incorporating networks of volunteers and associates. They have developed and grown over the years in an extremely difficult environment for organizing of any kind. Every civil society organization is required to register—though some do not—with the authorities and are subject to monitoring, visitation, and potential revocation of their official status. Still there are various important labor-related organizations active in China, each with their own special functions and goals. Some help workers obtain compensation for workplace injuries; some hold reading groups or film viewings where workers can study labor history in China and around the world; some assist workers in collective disputes against their employer. All of these organizations, while small, also help to grow important layers and networks in the contemporary Chinese labor struggles.
The case of the Lide shoe factory was one in which a labor NGOs played a key role,15 and this used against many of the activists arrested in Guangdong recently16 on the grounds that they were “disturbing the public order.” In fact, they were holding elections for worker representatives, including holding new elections when workers were not satisfied with their bargaining reps, and advising workers in bargaining strategies with their employer. These workers sought out the NGO themselves, as many of the NGOs have developed a reputation over the year for helping workers get their basic legal rights fulfilled.
Overall, certain labor NGOs have played a crucial role in labor struggles in China, despite their small number and repression by authorities. They have become hubs for activists and networks for workers and other members of society. They are, generally, dedicated to specific reformist agendas.17 As the recent crackdown proves, even the most modest, liberal reforms—like demands for a democratic system of collective bargaining—are threatening to the authorities. Their nervousness is not unwarranted. What may be a small, programmatic reform could have unwanted, unstated and unforeseen consequences from their perspective. For example, reforms which have been proposed and nearly
passed in Guangdong and included worker elections in factories could produce experiences with the democratic election of co-workers, sustained worker organization in struggle and consistent mutual aid.18 Along with direct action like strikes and factory occupations that could have certain offshoots in domestic activist communities who may formulate more radical demands and perspectives. Similarly, even if such reforms are adopted by local state-union officials as a concessionary experiment, disappointment and frustration with the unions’ engagement (as it is basically a non-entity in workers lives and struggles at this point) could potentially escalate into widespread, organized and open dissatisfaction with the state-run form of worker organizing, and inspire more public, more dangerous efforts for independent organizations. At the same time, there is a risk of demobilization of seasoned activists and workers struggles, and a new round of reformed institutional repression of radical action. This all raises important questions about the current situation and potentials for further development of independent worker culture, publications, dissemination of ideas, news and learning among workers, as a place of mutual learning and experimentation among workers. After all, these politics will ultimately be played out and decided among workers themselves.
Could you describe the role of ACFTU unions in the struggles?
As already mentioned, it is a useless non-entity on an average day, a counterproductive tool of management whenever they take action. Most Chinese workers have no relationship to the union at all, or even know that one exists. Often, workers may not be aware they have a union even if one is nominally established in their workplace. The ACFTU is the only (nominal) trade union organization in China. It is a highly bureaucratic organization, loyal to the leadership of the CCP, and lacking any substantive relationship to the workers it claims to represent—detached from the lives of workers. The ACFTU has its own campaigns and drives, like establishing unions at big foreign firms like Walmart, but these unions have proved to be ineffective. In the case of Walmart, workers have found their own ways to air their grievances. Some activist workers have tried to organize their own campaigns for worker organizing within Walmart, attempting to organize collective bargaining and demanding democratic election of their trade unions, but they have been met with silence from the union and repression from Walmart, who routinely fire worker organizers.
There are exceptionally rare cases of democratically elected trade union leaders, as in the case of the Baimu factory, where the enterprise-level union actually collected the demands of workers and organized strike actions to fight for these demands. At the Baimu plant, there was even a physical confrontation between a manager and the union official.19
Which role do local governments play in the struggles?
In the every day management of labor unrest in China, government officials are no doubt busy. When construction firms go under, workers block a road or protest at government buildings, they are expected to shoulder some of responsibility. As mentioned earlier, many workers seek out government departments, particularly in resolution of the wage arrears, focused in the construction industry. Workers may block a road, demonstrate at government building, or sit-in at government office, and government may respond by paying the workers some or perhaps all of what they are owed—from special funds reserved for this common problem—or the government may attempt to force employers to pay some or all of what workers are owed, or simply turn the workers away. In some cases, police intervene to clear workers from protesting at government buildings.
There are some examples of government intervention in strikes as a mediator, but none too important. In many cases, when the government steps in, they say to a stubborn boss “look, pay them something” or “pay them this but not that,” and at that point the workers really have no choice but to take what they are given. These state organs are no doubt busy but often slow, or ineffective, playing catch up in the aftermath of long-standing problems—company closure, boss disappearing, etc. Workers become impatient and protests in hope of swaying public opinion and/or forcing government to pay attention, play a stronger role.
What about repression? How does it influence the development and outcome of social struggles?
Repression plays a strong role, and it must be known among workers that when they protest they risk police intervention. For example, it is well known that activities limited to factory grounds will remain relatively calm, but should protests move out onto a public street or government building, they will almost certainly attract police response.
Repression certainly affects the ability of workers and other citizens to organize. Meetings to organize a strike committee can be broken up as an “illegal meeting,” lawyer networks are repressed for assisting workers in taking their cases to court, or providing legal assistance, and a great effort is made to keep workers atomized and separate—though their labor is necessarily collective—and collective organizations are either dismantled or efforts are made to bring them under the surveillance and purview of the state.
In the mentioned, recent crackdown on labor NGOs, some of the most experienced organizers in Guangdong continued over many years to promote their own model of conflict resolution, namely collective bargaining and getting involved in labor unrest, something the state union refuses to do. These NGOs faced intermittent repression as they became involved, largely successfully, in a variety of incidents—sanitation workers, factory workers, etc. Local governments and security forces tried a variety of tactics to try to control these organizations—sometimes a strong arm and explicit violence, sometimes offers of cooperation, or demands on information regarding an organization’s internal affairs, coerced or not coerced: break-in vs. requests. By the time of the large crackdown in December 2015, most organizations had a working relationship with local authorities, and who clearly knew the organizations’ programs, funding sources, structure and labor incidents in which they were involved. Still, they were subject to a highly coordinated and thorough crackdown.
What is the role of the labor law in the struggles?
There was a major new set of labor laws in 2007, most notably the Labor Contract Law. At the time, there was a strong national push to inform workers of their legal rights, and many workers did become educated about them. Thereafter, workers did invoke the law often in struggles, and have ever since, even though laws have not been enforced overall.
As Chinese labor law is in many cases quite high in its standards and terribly low in enforcement, workers often use the law and legal standards, to build claims of their just cause in defending their rights. In some cases, workers make demands that are consciously beyond legal standards, like their compensation for layoffs. In many cases, workers find out that the company has been cheating them out of their legal social benefits. For example, the employer may make contributions to their social security at the rate calculated according to the local minimum wage rather than the workers actual wage, which could be much higher. When workers find out that the boss has been cheating them for years, according to their own legal research, they often take action, and the boss may not actually be able to pay, as it may amount to a huge sum of money.20
At a higher or broader level of the state, legal policies are used as a tool of class struggle against workers by the state on behalf of employers and profitability more and more as the economy declines. Recent high-level criticism of the Labor Contract Law21 has made class character of the law increasingly clear, giving major advantages to the employer, and officials (e.g., in Dongguan) called for further reforms as eliminating layoff compensation to ease the burden on employers.22
Do you think the reasons behind social struggles have changed in the past five or six years connected to the ups and downs of boom and recession?
The general economic slowdown is partially an outcome of —a particular mode of capitalist—economic development, but there really does seem to be an increase in unrest in certain sectors, like manufacturing in particular, due to factory closures and financial difficulties after the yuan devaluation and stock market problems in the last few months of last year. There is no sign that the underlying problems in the economy will go away, and the coming years will likely be a very active for labor struggles.23
The construction industry, for example, may become a major problem for the government, as the age of rapid housing development has past its zenith. The government’s investment in all sorts of construction projects after the crisis, and subsequent housing booms in major cities, employed a large amount of the working population, and also caused a lot of unrest in its crisis-ridden growth. There are also certain demographic pressures that are coming to bear on the working population. The growing elderly population—the construction industry, for example, is made up of alarmingly old workers; not many young people want to go into construction—and the shrinking working age population will most likely intensify shortages, and cause pressure on working people to support their parents, and themselves, as they age and cause problems for the social security system.
1 On the economic slowdown and, especially, the decreasing profit rate in China, see: Li Minqi. China and the 21st Century Crisis. London: Pluto Press, 2016, 79–103, and the review of that book and an interview with Li Minqi in: Ralf Ruckus. “Chinese Capitalism in Crisis, Part 2: Li Minqi on the forthcoming collapse of China’s economy and the capitalist world system.” In: Sozial.Geschichte Online, 19, 2016.
2 For a description of the 2010 strike wave in China see, for instance: Florian Butollo and Tobias ten Brink. 2012. “Challenging the Automization of Discontent.” In: Critical Asian Studies, 44, 3, 2012, 419–440.
3 Although the Chinese government no longer publishes comprehensive statistics on the number of mass incidents in the country each year, based on the partial data available, it has been estimated that there were some 90,000 mass incidents throughout China in 2009, the vast majority of which were triggered by specific rights violations. It is further estimated that around one third of those protests were labor-related. This would put the number of strikes and collective worker protests in 2009 at around 30,000, see: http://www.clb.org.hk/sites/default/files/archive/en/share/File/research_reports/unity_is_strength_web.pdf. This ratio of about one third worker protests with regards to mass incidents seems to be a “stable” one. Yu argued that there were 30 percent worker related protests between 1993 and 2005, and Wedemann estimates 36,5 percent for the period 1990–2008: see Yu Jianrong, 2008. “Mass incidents and the construction of a harmonious society.” Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: http://wenku.baidu.com/view/debd1d563c1ec5da50e270b2.html; Andrew Wedeman. 2009. “Enemies of the State: Mass Incidents and Subversion in China,” APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, available at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1451828.
7 See “Labouring in China” blog: http://labouringchina.com/2016/03/03/how-many-labour-protests-in-2015. In the first nine months last year, the number of “incidents” related to wage defaults of migrant workers hit 11,007, up 34 percent from the same period in 2014, data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security showed: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-01/19/c_135021257.htm
8 For a detailed analysis of the life and struggles of construction workers in China see: Pun Ngai and Lu Huilin. 2010. “A Culture of Violence: The Labor Subcontracting System and Collective Action by Construction Workers in Post-Socialist China.” In: The China Journal, 64, 2010, 143–158; for the German translation see http://duepublico.uni-duisburg-essen.de/servlets/DerivateServlet/Derivate-26911/04_Pun_Ngai.pdf.
9 For an account of the resistance of the “old” working class since the 1990s, see: http://www.gongchao.org/2007/12/01/unhappy-urban-workers
11 Checkout this article that talks about Foxconn: http://www.lrchina.org/detail.asp?menu=%E5%B7%A5%E4%BA%BA%E9%9B%86%E4%BD%93%E8%A1%8C%E5%8A%A8&id=359; for more information in Foxconn see the compilation of texts at http://www.gongchao.org/en/islaves-struggles. Regarding the connection of workers through their “dialect”: As a worker who was transferred from Shenzhen back to his Henan hometown explained it, it is not the “provincial” dialect that connects workers. Once he returned to his province, solidarity was based on more localized distinctions. In these inland areas, whole families or groups of old friends are more likely to work together, and hometown gangs are more common. For instance, workers may call on their buddies to meet after work and beat up the line leader who has insulted them. Workers are less disciplined and there is much more of this kind of rowdyish retaliation and resistance than in Shenzhen. Furthermore, in Shenzhen “dialect” as such is not a hindrance to solidarity anymore. Everyone can understand one another, and the bond between laoxiang (老乡, people from the same region) who speak the same dialect is no longer as strong.
12 Two in one day: http://strikemap.clb.org.hk/strikes/en#201508/201602/5878; http://strikemap.clb.org.hk/strikes/en#201508/201602/5877; on the involvement of temporary workers in auto workers’ struggles see, for instance: Zhang Lu. 2015. Inside China’s Automobile Factories: The Politics of Labor and Worker Resistance. New York: Cambridge University Press, and the interview with Zhang Lu in: Ralf Ruckus. 2016. “Chinese Capitalism in Crisis, Part 1: Zhang Lu on exploitation and workers’ struggle in China’s auto industry.” In: Sozial.Geschichte Online, 18, 2016, 119–144.
16 Check out the collection “Solidarity with Chinese Workers” on
Libcom.org for more: https://libcom.org/tags/solidarity-chinese-workers
17 On the stabilizing effect of labor NGOs’ activity in China see, for instance: Eli Friedman and Ching Kwan Lee. 2010. “Remaking the World of Chinese Labour: A 30-Year Retrospective.” In: British Journal of Industrial Relations, 48:3, September 2010, 507–533.
18 These reforms did not go far, in part due to the intervention of employers associations, see: Elaine Hui Sio-ieng and Chris King-chi Chan. 2016. “The Associational Power of Overseas Business in China: A Case Study of the Shenzhen Collective Consultation Ordinance and the Guangdong Regulations on Democratic Management of Enterprises.” In: The China Quarterly, 225, 2016, 145–168: http://www.global-labour-university.org/fileadmin/GLU_conference_2015/papers/Hui_and_Chan.pdf