Walmart workers at four stores across China have utilised social media to launch a series of coordinated wildcat strikes against the company’s imposition of a new work schedule that enables management to change work hours at short notice and reduce overtime payments.
Workers at a store in Nanchang walked out around a week ago. Two days later, a second store in Nanchang followed, as did stores on Chengdu, and Harbin. Coordinated action of this kind is unusual in China; with strikes usually confined to one one workplace, or one city.
The strikes were coordinated by a mobile phone app, ‘WeChat’. Workers created the ‘Walmart Chinese Workers Association WeChat Group’ (WCMA) which quickly multiplied to include 20,000 members across 40 different groups. It is estimated that 20% of Walmart’s Chinese workforce are now members of a group.
The workers have no trade union backing from the ‘All-China Federation of Trade Unions’ ACFTU – China’s only recognised trade union body. The ACFTU has an extensive history of backing bosses against the workers. It is nothing more than an undemocratic arm of the state.
One worker claimed that:-
“The ACFTU is just window dressing for Walmart. The union leaders are appointed by management. They just want us to return to our jobs.”
This should come as no surprise as ACFTU bureaucrats had signed an agreement with Walmart in 2006, that allowed them to set-up management controlled trade unions.
ChinaWorker describes the background to the strikes:-
“The trigger for the strikes has been Walmart’s imposition of new work schedules, similar to the ‘just in time’ scheduling system at its non-union stores across America. The new system enables management to change work hours at short notice and void extra payments for overtime work as long as each worker’s total adds up to 174 hours per month. Walmart workers often work 11 or 12-hour shifts to make a living wage, and many workers complain that real wages at the company have stagnated since 2009. Since the start of July, the company has moved swiftly to replace the existing 8-hour day for full-time workers and force workers onto the new contracts.
Walmart entered the Chinese market in 1996 and now has 433 stores nationwide, one-tenth the number of stores it operates in the United States. It is seen as something of a weathervane for workers’ struggles in China, with a history of victimisation and dismissal of workers – more than 100 in the past few years – who have spoken out and attempted to organise against its high-handed methods. In the current struggle, workers accuse Walmart of breaking the law and using threats to coerce them into signing the new contracts. Several reports are surfacing that workers are not being allowed to leave meetings with management until they sign.”
Workers have written an open letter to Walmart and the ACFTU, demanding that the new work schedules are scrapped, that management stops interfering with trade union elections and ceases its harassment of workers,
A spokesperson for the WCMA has said that:-
“We will continue with more strikes until the company backs down over the new work-hours system.”
As labour unrest in China rises, the state are becoming more and more draconian; regularly using the security services to intervene in workplace disputes.
The number of labour disputes in China has more than doubled in the last two years, and is set to rise even further as China begins to lay off around five million workers due to the current economic and industrial downturn.
This unofficial action by Walmart workers shows the benefits of social media in linking workers, coordinating action, and circumventing many of the difficulties in organising that come with operating in a police state.
Solidarity with all Walmart workers in China.