Monday, June 21, 2010


As the British Con-Dem government proceeds with its savagery of the public sector, hell-bent on driving the country into an Indian summer of industrial unrest, daily reports appear of historic strikes in China.

At the beginning of the month, textile workers in Pingdingshan on 65 cents an hour entered their third week of action; workers at Foxxconn, traumatised by the recent wave of suicides, also struck and gained and 30% (and subsequently 70%) increase in pay. Days later, 1,700 Honda workers - mainly women - downed tools and formed their own union to oppose the official state union (which routinely supports the owners of production against labour); workers in Shenzhen, Kunshan and X'ian also walked out en masse. And last week, following a strike by Toyota workers, the Chinese Premier made a rare admission that perhaps China had not been looking after its workers as well as it could. That is a formidable understatement - China's rapid economic growth has depended on paying workers peanuts to produce cheap goods for the global market.

There has always been intermittent industrial unrest in China, but these strikes appear historic for three reasons. Firstly, as Mark Thomas explains, "unlike in previous disputes, the strikers don’t wear masks to avoid retribution." This is open defiance on a huge scale - the very confrontations the CCP has feared would materialise since the beginning of the global credit crunch. Secondly, the strikes are successful - individually they have increased workers' salaries, but collectively they have generated a momentum which the government cannot ignore. Thirdly, and most importantly for a world that has depended on China's export economy, the strikes may lead to a restructuring of China's economy. Conservatively, this will mean a shift towards production for a domestic market, with the requisite increases in standards of living. More radically, it may mean a wholly more confident and militant working class, newly aware of their own power and importance, and increasingly confident at negotiating a fairer deal and a new direction for China.


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