Class struggle in China

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Anonymous
Jul 5 2010 00:26
Class struggle in China

Is anyone else finding this very exciting?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/04/workers-china-power-strike-communist

http://libcom.org/tags/china

Sophie Ziv
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Jul 5 2010 16:59

Yes! It's interesting that the organisers are unable to step up and represent because of repercussions - it seems that the company is, strangely, forcing them not to mediate the struggle. The total non-presence of trade unions makes this exciting as well. Although it was weird to read that most workers didn't know the strike was coming until the day of, it is startling and significant that they all supported it. Really good solidarity. Sad to see that other mass firings have scared workers at the other plant off of action; hopefully this strike will give them courage. The staying within the factory, too, is exciting, that they didn't just leave, but instead walked around. Must have really freaked the managers out. I would have loved to see that. Such a large group of people; I hope their success helps them realise how powerful they are.

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JoeMaguire
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Jul 5 2010 19:03

Sounds really inspiring and with labour deals almost being set by the CP we should hope to see this spread a little, just the small matter of confidence which came through clearly in the piece.

Though I would have thought the opposite of this was true,

Quote:
There are hopes that a newly aspirational class of migrant workers might drive the economy away from cheap labour and production, so that China could finally leave behind its reliance on low-cost, high-polluting manufacturing.

China as excess labour, so much so that its able to secure big projects in Congo, Angola and Zambia as part of the clause for 'development loans'. There is argued to be a projection of 2-3 million chinese in the african states within the next 5-10 years. Migrant labour also enjoys being able to dodge the one child policy, meaning its very much subject to neo-liberal policies being applied to wages in the labour market.

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Ed
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Jul 8 2010 23:00

Yeah, I find this well interesting as well..

One thing that I was thinking about is how growing struggle in China will affect class struggle globally. When China and India (and I think we've seen an increase in struggles there too) came into the world labour market, they added over a billion (possibly more?) workers to the international workforce and were used basically to discipline workers in the 1st world (either by threatening to move or actually moving their jobs abroad)..

Anyway, to my mind, if workers in China and India are able to increase their wages then it fucks the whole 'spatial fix' of moving industry there for cheap labour. So should workers in China and India (and workers in other places like Bangladesh, Vietnam etc where we've also seen massive strike waves) succeed, this should strengthen the hand of the working class globally..

So what do others think? Is it fair to say that capital is running out of places to fly to? Will successful workers struggle in China and India have a positive affect on the strength of the working class globally? Or am I getting over-excited?

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 8 2010 23:44

A couple of articles from the FT:

Chinese pay disputes mirrored across region

Chinese labour unrest is being replicated in south-east Asia where factories that compete with China to supply low-cost goods face walkouts as employees demand better pay and benefits.

In Cambodia, workers are poised to stage a three-day strike this month in a dispute over the minimum wage while in Vietnam, thousands of workers at a Taiwanese-owned shoe factory staged a strike demanding higher salaries.

The disputes match similar action in China, where growing worker dissatisfaction has led to industrial unrest and higher wages. As a result, foreign factory owners are increasingly moving production from southern and eastern China – long seen as the “workshop of the world” – to the interior and other Asian developing nations. Chengdu in western China has already attracted IT giants such as Intel, Microsoft and IBM while Vietnam has become a manufacturing base for companies such as Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronic manufacturer, Intel and Canon.

Labour costs in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos remain a fraction of those in China. But, while their governments have been jostling to attract foreign manufacturers, unions are keen to protect their members and industrial action is on the rise, together with minimum wages across the region.

The average garment worker in Cambodia, where the minimum wage is one of the lowest in the world, earns $50 (€40, £33) per month plus a $6 living allowance bonus. The government has proposed a $5 increase but the Free Trade Union, which represents more than 80,000 labourers, intends to go ahead with the strike unless minimum pay is increased to $70.

The union represents more than 80,000 workers in factories across the country. Hundreds of international companies, including PCCS Garments, a Malaysian company which supplies goods to Adidas, Puma and Nike, and Korean manufacturer Yakjin, whose clients include Walmart and Gap, may have operations disrupted if the argument is not resolved.

The Vietnamese government increased the minimum wage for workers at foreign-owned companies to 1m dong ($52.50) this year. In Laos, the minimum wage was rose last year from 290,000 kip ($35) to 348,000 kip ($42) per month.

Cambodia has a relatively high number of active unions and most garment factories are represented, says John Ritchotte, of the International Labour Organisation. However, he points out that industrial unrest is not uncommon across the region.

“Even in those countries without independent unions, such as Vietnam and Laos, disputes occur, particularly during periods of high inflation,” he says. “The number of disputes has grown substantially over the past five years.”

At the same time, Cambodia’s open business environment, in which companies can be 100 per cent foreign owned, is expected to attract increasing foreign investment. According to figures from the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, 290 new foreign companies registered in the country in the first quarter of 2010, an increase of 56 per cent on the same period last year. The World Bank estimates foreign direct investment in Cambodia will grow to $725m in 2010, up from $515m in 2009, partly as a result of an increase in Chinese investment.

While Vietnam is relatively well established as a manufacturing base, the number of multinational companies operating in Cambodia and Laos remains small. Poor infrastructure, high energy costs and corruption all act as obstacles to investment for global groups. However, predictions of economic growth in both countries and government plans for stock exchanges have attracted increased attention. This month representatives of a number of large US firms, including General Electric, Johnson and Johnson and JPMorgan visited Cambodia to discuss the potential for future investment.

and...

US groups wary of China strikes record

US companies could reconsider their investment plans in China because of the recent industrial unrest in the country, says Jeff Joerres, chief executive of Manpower, one of the world’s biggest recruitment companies.

In a video interview with the Financial Times, Mr Joerres said the strikes would make US companies think twice about investing in China. He said capital-intensive companies that typically invest at least $1bn in equipment and look for returns of 20-25 per cent on their investments would be particularly affected.

“Multiply that out four or five years and your labour arbitrage is really not as great as it was before, hence why Vietnam is raising their hand and saying, ‘come on over and visit me’,” he said.

Honda and Toyota’s factories in China have been plagued by industrial unrest over the past month. Although strikes are nothing new for China, the incidents highlighted issues of pay and workers’ rights for foreign investors.

Manpower has 400 offices in China and provides consulting services to the Beijing government on labour and employment issues.

Mr Joerres said he expects the industrial unrest to drag on for up to three years and said it was a “natural” part of China’s economic development. “As you go through this growth that was so embryonic into more of a mature state, you’ve got this tussle and it’s an appropriate tussle,” he said.

“Companies were living off a pure arbitrage strategy from a labour perspective. They don’t want to give any increases,” Mr Joerres added. “Meanwhile the individuals are saying, ‘wait; I want some of what’s out there’.”

The Manpower chief also predicted some US companies that cut staffing too deeply in the economic downturn could suffer when demand returns.

“They [could] have a very difficult time because they’ve really taken the employee engagement and driven it down, and now that demand is coming back, they’re having a very difficult time allocating where should get more resource because all they did was take it right off the top,” Mr Joerres said.

“They’re fooling themselves now because the demand is slow enough ... they can pull [new employees] in at the pace they want ... four, five months from now, you’re going to start to see a spread between those companies that did all right and those companies that did it inappropriately.”

Mr Joerres said private sector job creation had been slow in the US because many companies retained some spare capacity during the downturn.

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Django
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Jul 8 2010 23:58
Ed wrote:
So what do others think? Is it fair to say that capital is running out of places to fly to? Will successful workers struggle in China and India have a positive affect on the strength of the working class globally? Or am I getting over-excited?

Maybe not, Associated Press agree that a more assertive working class is helping put an end to China's role as sweatshop of the world.

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Jul 9 2010 16:14

Reuters did a round-up of labour disputes in China since June..

FACTBOX-China labour strikes developments, July 9

Quote:
Discontent among China's estimated 150 million strong pool of migrant workers, who have helped power the country's growth, threatens to undermine the government's legitimacy and erode the nation's competitiveness as a low-cost factory hub.
Valeriano Orobó...
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Jul 9 2010 18:36

I don't know in the UK. Here we are noticing already a significant increase in chinese cheap products (around 10, 15 %)

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gram negative
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Jul 10 2010 21:55

here's an article from the wsws reporting that the hong kong and chinese press have shown that the wage increases at foxconn and other chinese firms are effectively pr moves; the wage has been increased, but this has been matched by a 'drastic cut' in overtime and and intensification of production or other measures, often lowering the real wage below what it had been previously:

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/jul2010/chin-j10.shtml

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Jul 12 2010 14:02

Naughtonomist, welcome to the boards! I was actually just about to post up that article! Anyway, another interesting bit that I found:

China Daily USA: The two faces of strikes in China

ronan
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Jul 12 2010 22:50
Ed wrote:
Anyway, to my mind, if workers in China and India are able to increase their wages then it fucks the whole 'spatial fix' of moving industry there for cheap labour. So should workers in China and India (and workers in other places like Bangladesh, Vietnam etc where we've also seen massive strike waves) succeed, this should strengthen the hand of the working class globally..

So what do others think? Is it fair to say that capital is running out of places to fly to? Will successful workers struggle in China and India have a positive affect on the strength of the working class globally? Or am I getting over-excited?

I think it's probably the most important thing happening right now. I would not be so optimistic about the 'no place to run, no place to hide' aspect of this. I think the capitalist class will continue to enjoy a comparative advantage from low wages in China for a considerable time to come; even with social democracy, manufacturing continued to be profitable in Western Europe for many years. I would also expect that wage increases will boost domestic demand for Chinese manufactured goods (especially while the yuan remains low) thus leading to some sort of Fordist compromise with high(er) wages fuelling high rates of production.

If and when it becomes unprofitable to produce in China, it is quite conceivable that another country (or several countries) with a disciplined workforce and a sufficiently developed infrastructure will step in to fill the gap. I would guess that this would not be before 10-15 years or so.

When talking about the 'global working class' I think that you also have to bear in mind the relative weakness of the working class in many of the formerly industrialised countries of the West. Capital flight has not just strengthened the hand of Chinese workers, but has also weakened that of Western workers. I am also a little leery of using the term 'global working class' implying that it represents some sort of unified agent, are there sufficient organisational ties between workers in the West and the East to merit this implication?

baboon
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Jul 13 2010 15:42

I think that it's wise to be cautious about some of the economic "victories" achieved by strikes in China (as elsewhere - look at the BT wage negotiation "victory" recently, for example). I also think, as naught says above, that the whole phenomena of "outsourcing" has tended to weaken the working class in many of the capitalist metropoles - as has the blackmail of unemployment, the sabotage and divisions of the trade unions and the sheer enormity of the fight back required. But I do think that it's important to see the working class as global class which comes from its fundamental conditions as a class exploited by capital. There are of course no material, organisational ties between workers in the east and west but the conditions of their existence and the needs of their struggles are exactly the same: solidarity, extension and self-organisation. In this sense, I would say that the struggles of workers in China do represent a potential strengthening of the working class globally as do the struggles breaking out in Bangla-Desh, Vietnam, Cambodia and India, where, recently, there has been large class movements in and around the "disputed" territory of Kashmir.

The question is posed of the need to work towards a workers' international organisation on the basis of the proletariat's unity of interest.

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Red Marriott
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Jul 13 2010 17:59

Like the good state capitalist planners they are, China is looking ahead economically - investing on a large scale across Africa and in south Asia.

Quote:
Why would the Chinese government push some of its labor- and energy-intensive industries to move to special economic zones in Africa, even as the U.S. Congress bans the U.S. Agency for International Development from financing any activities that could relocate the jobs of Americans overseas? Because Chinese planners want industrialists at home to move up the value chain. Polluting industries such as leather tanneries and metal smelters are no longer tolerated in many Chinese cities. And as the world economy recovers from the recent economic recession, wages and benefits will resume rising in China's coastal belt, as they had been before the crisis. Some factories will move further inland, but others will go offshore, closer to both the sources of and the markets for raw materials.

The early stages of industrialization might bring pollution, low wages, and long workdays, especially if the Chinese zones are successful. But like China's resource-backed loans, the planned economic zones promise to provide African countries with some things they very much want: employment opportunities, new technologies, and badly needed infrastructure. This is an opportunity for African states to ride into the global economy on China's shirttails rather than remain natural-resource suppliers to the world.http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65916/deborah-brautigam/africa%E2%80%99s-eastern-promise

In poorer countries across south Asia China is investing in infrastructure - in particular, in port facilities (such as Gwador - see analysis here; http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers22%5Cpaper2127.html) with dual commercial and military use - to extend its naval strength, influence on oil-trade routes and to better open up overland connections to sea-trade.

Wage pressure and workers struggles in the East will presumably bring some level of concessions we've known in the West under social democracy (factory legislation, minimum wage, union recognition, benefits etc) but - even with the decline in that 'social wage' in the West I think ronan is right that it'll be a long time (if ever) before any equilibrium meeting point would be reached.

The more 'classic' conditions for workers struggles in the East - large factories etc, along with weak mediating institutions (unions, legislation etc) means we'll see, I expect, continued struggles there with the ruling class responding by installing mediating structures of unions, legal rights etc. But saying "between workers in the east and west ... the conditions of their existence and the needs of their struggles are exactly the same" is plain wrong in simple material terms. The 'global nature of the working class' is more wishful than actual right now - the often Dickensian Eastern conditions don't generate struggles readily applicable or inspiring to Western conditions. The consequences of restructuring industry to the East has left the Western working class still lacking in new cohesive forms of struggle suitable to this restructuring. Recent struggles such as Visteon, Lindsey and the Posties have been where there remains more traditional industrial unionised workforces - ie, not characteristic of most workers nowadays, so offering limited example or sign of a new generalised form of militancy.

gypsy
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Aug 2 2010 20:57
october_lost wrote:
China as excess labour, so much so that its able to secure big projects in Congo, Angola and Zambia as part of the clause for 'development loans'. There is argued to be a projection of 2-3 million chinese in the african states within the next 5-10 years. Migrant labour also enjoys being able to dodge the one child policy, meaning its very much subject to neo-liberal policies being applied to wages in the labour market.

Chinese workers are also building stadiums in Mozambique for the all-africa games.

ronan
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Aug 12 2010 09:57

The Economist has had a lot of focus on the strikes in China, including a wonderful Maoist front cover with caption 'The Rising Power of China's Workers: Why It's Good For the World'. The basic point is that they're very excited about the strikes, because they raise the possibility of the Chinese working class being able to power economic expansion through their increased levels of consumption. Apparently the AFL-CIO are very pleased about it as well, based on economic forecasts that increased wages for workers in China will lead to increased demand for the products of American manufacturing.

The Economist makes a few more points. The Chinese population is ageing very rapidly. After 2011 the number of Chinese aged 15-29 will fall "quite sharply". This has important effects for internal mobility, those over 30 are less likely to migrate from inland China to the industrial South East coast. Employers will need to offer higher wages in order to lure them.

Furthermore, it is not clear where manufacturers will move next. They suggest Vietnam, but note that Vietnam does not have a deep labour market and its workers are already beginning to assert themselves. They suggest instead inland China as the likely next stop for manufacturers, although this depends on the development of transport infrastructure to move goods to the Eastern seaboard. However, the industrial development of inland China will lead to increased wages in any case as there will be increased demand for fewer workers.

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Entdinglichung
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Aug 12 2010 10:25

somewhere related: http://kasamaproject.org/2010/08/11/10-point-declaration-of-the-maoist-communist-party-of-china/ ... this kind of romantizising a "glorious past" may possibily attract discontented workers and peasants despite all the lunacies of historical Maoism

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Aug 21 2010 23:54

Boo-yah! Chinese working class strike again!

Workers strike Korean factories in China

Quote:
BEIJING, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- More than 200 workers went on strike at four Beijing food plants owned by a South Korean company, Chinese officials said Thursday.

The walkout at the plants operated by the Lotte (China) Food Co. began Monday to back worker demands for higher pay. Lotte is a subsidiary of the Republic of Korea's Lotte Group, Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, said.

About 400 workers at the factories have not had a raise in nearly a year and rejected a pay hike proposed by the company this month as inadequate.

"The company put forward a second plan Wednesday and solicited the opinion of the workers," a spokesman for the administrative committee said.