Hot labor relations in Guangzhou

This 2010 report was deleted by hackers and now reposted.
Hot labor relations in Guangzhou

China 2010 report by Australian unionist Chris White.

I had an opportunity to take part in a labor relations seminar on China in Guangzhou – October 15th to 23rd

In China and the labor relations’ world one focus is on this generation of young workers.

One desperate response to their grossly exploitative work is suicide. Others are winning militant strikes.

In Guangzhou, the campaign is for the Asian Games. Thousands of business leaders are enjoying the huge Canton Import and Export Fair. The movie RED is showing. The reality of a hurricane coming in to hit Hong Kong 30 minutes flight from Guangzhou this coming weekend heads the TV news.

Professor He Gaochao at the School of Government at Sun Yat Sen University is organising the discussion amongst Chinese labor relations researchers and students and NGOs with labor relations researchers, students and unionists from the US, Europe and Australia.

Guangzhou Federation of Trade Unions GZFTU Chairman Chen Weiguang is a guest speaker. We welcome this opportunity to hear his views on labor relations.

We are listening to:

1. The Honda Nanhai ‘wildcat’ strike, with the team of Sun Yat Sen Political Science post-graduate students and faculty who are documenting it and the democratic Trade Union election process and

2. The Foxconn Shenzhen suicides, with research reports from campaigning China labor activists.

Readers of this blog know of these issues and through the links and from China Labor News Translations

1. The Honda Nanhai strike question.

What does the Honda Nanhai strike mean for labor relations?

These ‘wildcat’ young strikers in May and June 2010 won.

2000 young workers out of technical schools at the Nanhai transmission plant, in spite of the union, organised their strike, marched to the slogan of ‘strike to the end’ and negotiated their agreement with Honda, with pay increases, reinstatement of strike leaders and union democracy.

The main lesson is they want higher wages and better conditions. They get more by militant organised strike action and collective bargaining settlement.

The strikers’ use of the Internet for their campaigns’ news is normal. Updates are posted on the web promptly about the strike details, the motives, the progress and the outcome. Strike updates on social websites are posted.

Strike information to the workers and social communities rapidly and freely stimulates stories between the striking workers and the world outside.

Workers use the SMS to communicate to organise the strike. They send Open Letters to authorities.

They seek assistance and receive it. Professor Chang Kai from Beijing University the prominent labor law leader arrived and assisted the strikers.

Honda workers scorn the union as ‘useless’.

The strike is not ‘wildcat’ but organised. It is ‘wild-cat’ from the government or union’s not knowing. They had to move to assist.

Honda had to settle as their ‘just in time’ assembly-dependent factories soon ground to a halt.

This is an offensive response rather than defensive, such as not being paid any entitlements.

As they say – ‘these rich experiences’ are coming out about their strike, the background and their day-by-day organising. I will post up the reports later.

More offensive strikes followed Honda. The strike wave of the last decade is continuing.

The politics out of the Honda Nanhai strike is reverberating at all levels.

We are listening to Chen Weiguang on the latest response to 100 strikes in Guangzhou.

Chen Weiguang supports the Honda workers. Their strike is a manifestation of the capital/labour contradiction.

The union has to speak for the workers. The union is to be standing by the workers’ rights and interests.

The union has to solve all the issues otherwise we have no future. Migrants are to be enrolled in the union.

He supports the new collective bargaining regulations.

He is saying that Vice-Chair Kong Xianghong of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions (who was unable to meet us) is supervising the Honda elections.

This is the post-strike delivery of the strikers’ demand that was won – for the democratic election of their own union representatives for collective bargaining.

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions ACFTU is accepting this ‘democratisation of unions.’

Experienced China watchers say the ACFTU reverts to corporate control of union heads. Regulations for the democratic management of enterprises will have little impact. I report further on this debate below.

Then I report on the hot topic of the right to strike. But next…

2. The Foxconn Shenzhen question.

I never fail to be shocked when hearing in depth about these young workers’ slave working ‘lives’ and about the extent of the corporate repressive control.

I had not heard of Foxconn. It is now my number 1 worst company for 2010.

It is a giant Taiwanese corporate, the world’s largest manufacturer of electronics.

It makes best-selling iPads and smart phones and mouses for the world’s top electronic companies – Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Nokia and a big part HP.

The company has 1 million workers in China. It has one ‘city-factory’ the same population as Canberra where I am living.

Foxconn is under fire over the worst working conditions following a dozen youth intern suicides at its Shenzhen plants this year.

The truth of Foxconn’s slave working conditions is coming out.

I am learning from interviews recorded by student and academic researchers.

I am learning of their command and control policing at the point of production.

These migrant youth from rural areas with only basic schooling as unskilled ‘interns’ are on the Taylorist assembly lines.

These teenagers are forced to stand for 12 hour shifts under assembly by the seconds, no control over pace, no overtime, no talking, no going to the toilet, fined for falling asleep, harassed and beaten by guards, exhausted, sleeping in huge company dormitories, stuck in the company city…with huge turnovers…and more is being revealed.

Foxconn’s denials are corporate ‘spin’.

The details of the suicides – jumping off the top floors – are really tragic.

One young woman lives after jumping off but is still struggling for compensation against the company. Another long service worker after 16 years is suing the company for not paying requirements.

Foxconn says the suicides are due to ‘the personal problems’ of victims. No doubt.

We are hearing the stories of these young teenagers, who do not want to endure the bitterness of their life, unable to aspire to the lives of city youths, who can’t cope with their harsh bosses, who are ashamed to return to parents etc, so…

Apart from putting nets outside the dormitory windows to save the jumping youth, Foxconn management are working overtime on avoiding legal and social responsibilities in those most exploitative of working conditions.

‘Foxconn denies there is problem in its management methodology. Harsh management remains. How can workers communicate and bargain collectively with management in making sustainable improvements?

Labour rights training should be provided to workers and the union should be reformed to be more democratic and accountable to workers,’ says Debby Chan of SACOM from a joint NGO union and press release ‘Foxconn suicides forgotten, back to business as usual?’

We are listening to Professor Pun Ngia from HK Polytechnic. She has with 60 scholars finished a 90-page bombshell Report after two months research into 12 Foxconn factories interviewing these interns and regular workers.

The Report attacks the company for ‘failure to address serious problems with working conditions and other labor issues, misuse of student interns, rampant illegal overtime, and violence against employees.’ See Silicon Sweatshops October 12

This Report was handed to Beijing authorities on October 8th. I do not know their response.

Foxconn categorically rejects this Report.

It goes without saying that the union was useless. The ACFTU are undertaking investigations.

The Foxconn question galvanised the public. What in China is being done and internationally about Foxconn’s ‘management’ and ‘labor relations’ is a challenge.

NGO’s in HK and the west have been organising protests against Apple etc.

On the Guangzhou Municipal Federation of Trade Unions GZFTU delegation to the United States, while in San Francisco Chen Weiguang openly criticized Apple and said that Apple should bear responsibility for the spate of recent workers’ suicides in Foxconn.

He was critical of the way international buyers maximize their profits by squeezing Chinese manufacturers.

Multinational corporations should negotiate with Chinese capital and labor to distribute wealth more equitably along the global supply chain.

Guangzhou and US unions discuss this politics of global supply chains: this is an example of constructive engagement.

Internationally, unions, NGOs, activists, researchers, labour lawyers, reporters and those active on Corporate Social Responsibility have to oppose Foxconn in whatever way to expose them.

We hear of an alert on LabourStart (link on this blog) about Foxconn in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu getting the police to arrest 500 striking workers.

The Australian government can advocate with the Chinese government for the enforcement of labor rights and decent work lives for these Chinese workers.

The Australian government can insist corporates in Australia comply with the China labour laws.

Foxconn is now and will more and more be moving their assembly to new cities into the developing central China.

Meanwhile the world corporates increase profits for even greater capital accumulation. Consumers buy Made in China products.

3. Collective bargaining

Chairman Chen Weiguang is saying to us that union is moving from ‘collective consultation’ to ‘collective bargaining’.

He recounts that what has been happening with collective consultation and agreements was from the workers interests not satisfactory.

The ACFTU is delineating a division where unions are always to stand on the workers’ side and not in the middle. The government promotes the dialogue between worker and employer, and mediates the conflicts.

The ACFTU’s July 26 2010 resolution is in response to the urgent difficulties faced by the enterprise trade unions.

It aims to push the building of grassroots trade unions, to strengthen trade unions’ responsibilities to maintain workers’ rights, and to invest more funds to enterprise trade unions. It states:

‘When collective actions break out, the enterprise trade unions should visit the workers at the first time to gather information, report and express their demands to local and superior Party committee, and try to prevent intensification of conflict. The trade unions should be under the leadership and coordination of the Government and the Party committee to maintain the workers’ rights through the collective negotiation mechanism.’

It is clear this reform is not some Polish Solidarity-type union, feared by some in the CCP.

Chen Guangwei is learning from overseas unions’ collective bargaining practice.

In Australia our ‘Fair’ Work regime is not the strongest collective bargaining model – it is weak, below ILO standards on workers rights.

The Chinese seem interested in the workings of German Works Councils. Union delegates on the visit Wolfgang Schaumberg from General Motors German Opel Works Council and Theo Voelki from the German Porsche Works Council are intervening in the debates warning of the collective bargaining difficulties in Germany.

Chinese collective bargaining is not only on the agenda in the enterprises with China’s unions learning how to, but it is hot at the political level.

We listen to Chen Weiguang on the latest politics as the regional Guangdong government has introduced new draft collective bargaining ‘Regulations on the Democratic Management of Enterprises’.

These included quite reasonably that when a 20% of the workforce wants collective bargaining they get it.

We learn the Chinese employers are strongly opposed to these draft regulations and this week they are winning. The formal vote into law is deferred – a more nuanced Chinese understanding is explained. But this did not involve public comment on drafting, like in the earlier Labor Contract law.

Veteran ANU China specialist Anita Chan replies that it is only ’A threat, on paper The Guangdong labour reform opposed by business owners in Hong Kong is less radical than they fear’ in the South China Morning Post Hong Kong on October 9 2010 (see this blog on China).

What are western unions doing in China? Some are cooperating in practical union training and discussing collective bargaining practice. Wolfgang Schaumberg organises exchange visits of union activists, German Works Council delegates. Labor relations are debated in the context of globalisation and capitalist crisis.

The global financial crisis on had a bad impact on Chinese workers, but this generation of young workers want higher for their families higher living standards and more money for consuming mobile phones, electronics etc.

The CCP wants stability and ‘harmonisation.’

4. Union democracy

A key demand won by the Honda workers is electing in their enterprises their own union representatives responsible to the workforce interests.

The struggle over the last period is against employer interference to determine the union leaders. In the 70% ACFTU unionised enterprises the union head is in management. Is this being overturned?

We are hearing of the processes, the dramas and election outcomes in the Research Report on Nanhai Honda TU Elections.

Chen Weiguang explains how Vice-Chair Kong Xianghong of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions is overseeing the elections – without Honda management interference. This normal trade union role is the justifiable responsibility of any labor relations system.

Is the stage set for worker democracy?

Many are skeptical. The union delays the process and the union Chair election is deferred to allow the term to finish. The outcome of the Honda workers elections are for the incumbents and a key strike leader is not elected.

I gave the ACTU policy on our union campaign for union shop stewards and delegates’ rights and the principles of workers having this voice.

After the GZFTU evening dinner, I hand over a letter from ACTU President Ged Kearney to Chairman Chen Weiguang. I say I urge Australian unions to visit the GZFTU. He welcomes this.

5. Right to strike in China

I was pleased to hear regulating for a right to strike for workers is a hot topic.

This discussion is in response to many ‘wildcat’ strikes.

China has a legal position on strikes being neither unlawful nor lawful.

I was vocal about the right to strike in China in 2007/2008. But I was warned strongly off any further public advocacy.

In 2010 the right to strike is debated in the public arena

I advocate workers have to have the right to strike for collective bargaining counter-veiling power.

I am involved in both international labour law jurisprudence and Australian right to strike law.

I say that lawful industrial action has to have a firewall protection.

That is, a legal firewall against any employer or state victimisation of the worker or the union or organiser – no penalties for striking.

The principle of workers freely withdrawing our labour power in protecting our workplace, social and economic interests is dominant in the drafting.

There are many who contest what I say.

Government officials in more and more instances are trying to resolve the strikes in favour of workers.

Employers are putting up fierce resistance.

Chen Weiguang is describing the Guangzhou draft regulations that allow a legal strike after the workers and union are following the negotiation processes, such as discussing the demands first.

At Honda the strike started with the emergency stoppage button being pressed. After this with much discussion amongst the striking workers their demands were formulated and made during the strike.

The right to strike issue is not only one of principle, but the devil is in the drafting.

I do warn the Chinese do not on any account go down the Australian model – the overregulation and repression of strikes.

Unfortunately, Australia’s Fair Work retaining WorkChoices’s repressive regime against strikes has appeal to some sections of the CCP.

I explain that the Australian model against building and construction unionists to weaken workers bargaining power under Howard and his Building and Construction Act – still retained by the Gillard government – is not to be followed.

But this is like the Chinese political repressiveness to much workers’ resistance.

On one point I do agree with the Chinese that purely political strikes are not to be legal.

I usually exempt strikes from protection if they involve violence or intention to injure people or the destruction of property.

This exempting of violent strikes is I conclude not appropriate for China.

Employers in China and local authorities repeatedly use the strikebreaking tactic of thugs to beat the workers. The ensuring violence is the means for the police to arrest strike leaders. This is a giant loophole.

Peaceful strikes and mass picketing and assemblies and marches to the CCP local offices and strike leaders have to be free from being labeled ‘unlawful’ and penalised. Otherwise there begins too many loopholes against the workers.

Workers actually do not care about illegality.

But they learn from the striking experience that they have some power, essential in bargaining.

From the western unions we warn our so-called ‘right to strike’ regimes are not the best models to follow.

What is changing is the government often favours a crackdown against these worst employers. Workers demands are granted to settle the workplace and social turmoil and to ‘re-establish’ harmonisation.

I stress all are economic strikes.

Battles are in response to the worst treatment and conditions and against employer authoritarianism. Many heroic local workers struggles ripple across regions as copycats.

Are young workers are moving from submission like their parents to resistance against the capitalist slave work regimes?

The company rules are ruthlessly enforced. These struggles go back and forth, winning and losing, but widespread and have historical implications for labor relations.

This huge class conflict swings to the workers. Is this class recomposition?

Next: The International Centre for Joint Labor Research

We are now at an historic development internationally for labor relations.

I am honored to be present at the inaugural opening of the International Centre for Joint Labor Research between the Universities of California and Sun Yat Sen.

Speakers are those leading this development –
Katie Quan from the University of California Berkeley Labor Center and Professor He Gaochao at the Sun Yat Sen University.

Katie Quan is welcoming the joint community of scholars, and exchange between China and the US to overcome mis-information and non-interaction.

He Gaochao welcomes all and looks to the outcome of the research on the hot issues.

Chairman Chen Weiguang is the guest speaker thanking the capitalists for driving us together.

He is giving his account of how the unions are changing.

To them the strikes are astonishing and the Honda win unbelievable.

The strikes are a manifestation of the capital/labour contradiction.

The union is to stand on the side of the workers otherwise we are dead. Wages have to accelerate. More effort is being made to get the young migrant workers in the union.

He is telling us about the democratisation within the union.

He supports the right to strike.

He politely reminds us that international friends do not push too much. He welcomes the new joint labor research.

Next is the comparative labor issues roundtable. Stephanie Luce from CUNY author on the Living wage speaks on ‘Wages and the high road to economic development’ with Guo Weiqing SYU, China.

Elaine Bernard from Harvard Law School speaks on ‘Current trends in organizing and Collective bargaining’ with Huang Qiaoyan from SYU.

David Bensman from Rutgers reports on research on the global economy and the transport industry in China.

Carlos Polenus Special ITUC advisor supports the research.

German union delegates Wolfgang Schaumberg and Theo Voltie explain the German experience from many years in the German Works Councils, not all that a model to follow.

Veteran Australian researcher Anita Chan contests some conclusions. She is thanked for starting it. We make contributions to the debates.

I distribute my Australian labor relations report with the new Gillard government in our hung Parliament.

It is a great launch. I have many photos from a Chinese student. Here are some.

The future of this cooperative labor research depends on strengthening support and participation with whatever resources can be put in.

NGOs in HK and in China

We are listening to NGO pro-labor and anti-sweatshop activists about the evolution and scope of work of their grass-roots labor organizations in the Pearl River Delta.

May Wong is from the Globalization Monitor

We are listening to campaigns such as the battery workers struggle against OHS cadmium poisoning, ‘No choice but to fight.’ She gives their history of supporting HK workers with the HK unions and the mainland workers struggles.

GM has analysis of globalization. One is a ‘Preliminary Report on China’s Going Global Strategy. A Labour, Environment and HK perspective February 2009.’ I read the latest research into the practices of European companies in China and their corporate social responsibility or not.

I would like to see the same research about corporates in Australia.

See also China Labor Net and I interview May Wong on Sunday in HK…see in another report.

Debbie Chan from the Student and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour SACOM is speaking about he Hong Kong-based NGO. Founded in June 2005, SACOM originates from a students’ movement devoted to improving the labour conditions of cleaning workers and security guards under the outsourcing policy. The movement had success and created an opportunity for students to engage in local and global labour issues. SACOM aims at bringing concerned students, scholars, labour activists, and consumers together to monitor corporate behaviour and to advocate for workers’ interests. See

They were also active on the Honda stories and Foxconn – story of a worker dying from exhaustion.

Choi Yuk Yuk gave a powerful account of NGO China activism from Workers Empowerment
They are working very hard to assist disadvantaged migrant workers. They are debating the collective bargaining regulations. I hear of their advocacy and rights’ training.

I meet Australian activist Dianne Beaumont translating with Anita Chan for China Labor News Translations and assisting NGOs in China.

See also MakeITFair co-funded by the EU and participating organisations
SOMO, Germanwatch, Finnwatch, Swedwatch, Fair Trade Center, DanWatch,
Pro Fair Trade Finland, Association of Conscious Consumers (Hungary), CSRSC
(South Africa), WAC (Philippines), ACIDH (Congo) and Cividep (India).
More NGO information at;
GoodElectronics Network;
Bread for All

Chinese regional and national responses to these NGO campaigners are less repressive – evidence of opening up ‘political space’ for organising.

I agree with an enduring alliance with these China NGOs and the unions and university labor researchers. There is much discussion.

Next we are discussing these hot labor issues with the Trade Union cadre of the Guangzhou and Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions.

Hundreds of students are listening to their lecturers’ reports to us and our questions. Katie Quan describes the crisis in US Labor education, similar in Australia I know. We learn of what the union school does. I note it is located with the management HR school. I will report later.

One interchange may be for Australian unionists to assist in collective bargaining. Western unionists are saying that our regimes are not necessarily to be followed by the Chinese.

OHS training where the Australian model is good is on the agenda.

‘Training the trainers’ programmes at these Union schools are one way for western unions to go.

Next I am participating in discussion of the Sun Yat Sen University Labor Legal Aid Program, regarding the kinds of legal cases, strategies on labor law enforcement of workers’ rights, such as the 2008 Labor Contract Law.

I am at the School of Law Clinical Legal Education with Professor Huang Qiaoyan, Ellen and law students translating.

I am now listening to the very low minimum wage and living wages systems in China. Many obstacles face workers in influencing the regional government’s minimum wage determinations.

Stephanie Luce compares the struggles of the US minimum wages campaigns and discusses the Asian minimum floor.

Usually I say the Australian so-called ‘Fair’ Work Act is more spin than protection. But I am giving the 100 years history of our living wage and minimum wage gained by the ACTU. During the GFC low-paid workers received nothing, but under the Labor government $26 increase is ordered nationally by the Fair Work Australia in June 2010.

I am now learning from Huang Qiaoyan about the compliance difficulties with the Employment Contract clauses.

There is widespread employer avoidance as to their legal obligations. My 2008 reports on this blog need updating to these capital/labor realities. See my follow up on the details later.

The weakness is revealed of the 2008 mediation and arbitration system, struggling to cope with assisting thousands more individual grievances.

More importantly this dispute resolution system is failing, as was predicted, to deal with collective disputes (see my blog on these reforms 2008)

I learn about their students and NGO research and campaigning about poor conditions in Coke Guangzhou.

Next the SOE. We are having a day inside the oldest and most famous heavy machine manufacture State Owned Enterprise SOE in Guangzhou.

We see huge turbines, boilers, generators, and tunnel boring and digging machines.

Their Chief is a SYSU alumni has opened the archives to an extensive research project on internal labor relations over the last 60 years so we listen to a wage
relations history.

Management is recounting their on-the-job training and engineering career paths.

He is describing how the wages work and about a minority of dispatch workers.

He dose not know about the democratic management plans.

The company survived the global financial crisis with forward export contracts.
With new internal contracts they hope to expand after years of downsizing.

Some SOES survive the market ‘reforms’. In some regions, after workers resistance to privatisations, the SOE ‘reform’ is slowing.

Leaving It is time to leave. I thank our university research student translators working hard.

I am discussing with US and German unionists and others their views and wait to read the analysis of visiting university researchers.

Our group discusses expanding labor solidarity with Chinese workers. A glimpse of historic changes? We shall see.

The hurricane is moving up the coast and it’s Saturday so I travel to HK to meet NGO GM.

This was posted on Canberra October 30 2010.
The CCP bans this blog in China!

Chris White is to publish further on China labor relations. References available.


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