The times they are a changing in China.

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The times they are a changing in China.

Post  JoeC (McGruff) on Tue Jun 08, 2010 3:57 pm

Attention WalMart shoppers: Your cheap Chinese made good may be rising in price soon, not because of Unions organizing in this country unfortunately, but because of some long overdue Union activity in China.

Some stories that received little coverage here in the U.S are showing a shift in the mentality of migrant Chinese workers. Workers are no longer accepting Nazi cbg style of bullying coupled with low wages, and substandard working conditions, has led to a spark of concerted activity.

There is a huge difference in the way Unions work is China compared to the U.S. Chinese Unions are run by the Government and government interest take priority over workers rights. Chinas national policy is to attract capitol from abroad and keep more capital in China. They do this in several ways one is by keeping their currency under valued; you may remember the Bush administration frustration with getting the Chinese to set a realistic figure on the value of their currency. The other is by ensuring wages stay low to attract foreign manufactures to set up plants in China. And set up manufacturing plants they do! A good deal of the U.S manufacturing base has been exported to China, costing thousands of U.S jobs.

This race to the bottom for wages was seen here in the U.S as large manufactures in the northern states headed to the southern “right to work states” after Taft-Hartley. Cigar chomping crackers in the south quickly took advantage of the ignorant work force successfully keeping Unions out by associating Unions with communists, and pointing out that black employees would have equal rights, and if the unions had their way Black employees with more seniority would be working and white employees with less seniority would stay when lay offs come around.

Sadly these Southern non-union plants were the first ones head to communist China; so in the end because of their ignorance and prejudges the southern manufacturing plants that had went south to avoid Unions, now pulled up stakes and headed east, thereby giving these jobs to non-whites and bank rolling the Chinese communists, a sad irony and a hard lesson.

What we see in China now is workforce more educated than their predecessors because of the internet (all though with many state controls) and the society becoming more open (all though certainly not enough). China’s new generation of migrant workers most of them born in the 1990s — are better educated and more conscious of their rights. And their ambivalence about factory life coincides with a demographic shift that has resulted in a decline in the number of young people entering the work force. The rural Southern states in the U.S by comparison over 60 years ago did not have this advantage.

In a country with over one billon people; southern China the country’s industrial heartland, there is now a labor shortage, as more, and more of rural migrants who formerly journeyed thousands of miles from the interior provinces are now choosing other options. Many seek positions in the service sector, or jobs closer to home. Tsinghua University in Beijing, says of the young migrant workers moving into southern China. “They have a different expectation. And once people’s attitudes about being in a factory change, other things will change.”

In this back drop Chinese workers have broke from the ranks of the government unions, and launched their first partially successful strike against Honda. Honda mainly hired recent graduates of high schools or vocational schools. And so, most are in their late teens or early 20s, representing this new generation of employees, many of whom had not been born when the Chinese authorities suppressed protests by students and workers in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Surprisingly the Chinese government let the media in on this, and the media ran with it. The Chinese media may also have found it a little easier, politically, to cover this strike because Honda is a Japanese company, and anti-Japanese sentiment still simmers in China as a legacy of World War II. Certainly, the strike is hitting Honda hard, as the resulting shortage of transmissions and other engine parts has forced the company to halt production at all four of its assembly plants in China.

In fact the official China Daily newspaper ran a lead editorial that cited the Honda strike as evidence that government inaction on wages might be fueling tensions between workers and employers. The editorial was critical of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security for not moving faster to draft a promised amendment to current wage regulations because of what the newspaper described as opposition from employers. Unfortunately the coverage was short lived however, as the government, imposed without explanation a blanket ban on domestic media coverage of the strike.

This strike and some other event are leading the Chinese ruling class in a shift in their national goals is now supporting wage increases as a way to stimulate domestic consumption and make the country less dependent on low-priced exports. The government hopes the move will force some export-oriented companies to invest in more innovative or higher-value goods which was always a national goal. Chinese policy makers also favor higher wages because they could help ease a widening income gap between the rich and the poor as well. Big manufacturers now have no choice but to raise wages because of the labor shortage.

It’s difficult to say if the strike is watershed event or a significant development in China’s labor/management relations, or if the strike will force China’s labor union system to change, but there are optimistic voices coming from the country. Zheng Qiao, the associate director of the department of employment relations at the China Institute of Industrial Relations in Beijing, said
the strike was a significant development in China’s labor relations history and that “such a large-scale, organized strike will force China’s labor union system to change, to adapt to the market economy.”

The time for the receiving end of the cheap Chinese goods is long overdue as well; Walmart employee's should follow the brave Chinese workers example. All though the labor law reform is long overdue in the U.S the law still makes organizing substantially simpler than in China.
JoeC (McGruff)
JoeC (McGruff)

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