“The real sleeping dragon—China’s enormous factory proletariat—is wide awake and fighting back on all fronts. Indeed, Here is first-hand evidence that Chairman Xi Jinping may soon confront the largest labor rebellion in history.”
China on Strike
Narratives of Workers’ Resistance
by Eli Friedman, Zhongjin Li, and Hao Ren
Edited by Eli Friedman, Zhongjin Li, and Hao Ren
I was in Chicago at a Union Troublemakers Conference conference. The authors are being toured around the US unions so that US workers learn about Chinese workers’ resistance. It is very interesting. I ask about the right to strike in China and warn against Australia’s repressive anti-strike regime. I try to explain that our Fair Work is not good on the right to strike and ought not to be followed by the Chinese. Kevin Lin, an Australian, is the Chair of the meeting and a lively discussion ensures on the right to strike in China. details available
Read one Review by Charlie Hore
At a strategic level, the current balance of class forces can seem deadlocked—the government can’t break workers’ willingness to fight, while the lack of organization means that strikes don’t move beyond winning individual battles against individual employers.
As this collection makes plain, however, at the shop-floor level there is anything but stasis, and even in the current economic downturn it is workers rather than the government who are setting the pace. The editors are careful not to make rash predictions, but their conclusion nicely balances the reality of workers’ organizational fragmentation with the possibility to transcend that in struggle:
Even if workers have sometimes been successful in particular strikes, Chinese migrant workers still face a rigidly unequal citizenship regime, great precarity in all spheres of life, and an exclusionary and repressive political system.
But if political power will be necessary to successfully counter these trends, as it certainly will, then worker mobilization must serve as the foundation. There is every reason to believe that this will be as true outside China as it is inside.
“Through first person accounts, the book details the growing unrest, destabilization and strikes in factories that are gripping China.
China has been the fastest growing major economy in the world for three decades. It is also home to some of the largest, most incendiary, and most underreported labor struggles of our time. China on Strike, the first English-language book of its kind, provides an intimate and revealing window into the lives of workers organizing in some of China’s most profitable factories, which supply Apple, Nike, Hewlett Packard, and other multinational companies. Drawing on dozens of interviews with Chinese workers, this book documents the processes of migration, changing employment relations, worker culture, and other issues related to China’s explosive growth.”
The China Labour Bulletin reports that the number of strikes has been increasing over the past two decades. At any given time, numerous strikes are taking place, and walkouts and slowdowns over work conditions and pay are a regular and growing occurrence. Workers’ rights NGOs, while operating from a distinct disadvantage, have become increasingly involved and visible.
* Eli Friedman, Cornell University, author of Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China
Recorded in Toronto, 30 October 2016.
“As these vivid case-studies illustrate, the real sleeping dragon—China’s enormous factory proletariat—is wide awake and fighting back on all fronts. Indeed, here is first-hand evidence that Chairman Xi Jinping may soon confront the largest labor rebellion in history.”
—Mike Davis, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Riverside, and author of Planet of Slums
“China on Strike is a much-needed, detailed account of labour struggle in the Pearl River Delta region, China’s manufacturing industrial heartland. It is a story brilliantly told from migrant workers’ own perspectives, about all that keeps this factory of the world moving.”
—Hsiao-Hung Pai, author of Scattered Sand: The Story of China’s Rural Migrants
“China’s rise as a global economic power has been paralleled by a growing militancy among its working class. In this unfolding process, workers are gaining the confidence, experience, and tenacity to strike and to win. Censorship and political repression by the country’s ruling party makes first-hand accounts of these struggles–especially in English–extremely rare. China on Strike fills that gap through eye-opening and compelling narratives of China’s new generation of worker-militants and strike leaders. It’s a must-read.”
—Paul Mason, economics editor for Channel 4 News, author of Postcapitalism and Live Working or Die Fighting
“China on Strike provides the most detailed and vivid accounts of migrant workers’ struggles in the Pearl River Delta, the powerhouse of China’s reform and industrialization. The struggles of these workers shed light on the future of labor movement not only in China, but worldwide. A must-read book for readers concerned with labor activism and international solidarity!”
—Pun Ngai, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, author of Made in China and Migrant Labor in China
“This book breathes authenticity. China on Strike is a collection of oral histories created by a network of workers, students, students become workers, and intellectuals practicing in related fields, whose underlying concern is to make known what is really happening on the ground in China.
The scenes they describe very much resembles the rank-and-file self-organization of workers in the United States in the early 1930s.
Let us hope that as our Chinese comrades become more organized and powerful they are able to retain the wonderful vitality of the early actions described in this remarkable book.”
—Staughton Lynd, labor historian and editor (with Alice Lynd) of Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers
“This book provides an exhaustive and vivid account on migrant workers’ strikes in China. Many authors of this book are young, well-educated and passionate labor activists. Through the eyes and hearts of these organic intellectuals, readers can feel how a new working class is creating itself in struggles. It will inspire imagination about the future of China, globalization and labor movement.”
—Chris King-Chi Chan, City University of Hong Kong
“China is not only the elephant in the room of global capitalism, but the site of one of the world’s greatest on-going labor upheavals. China’s working class in formation has mounted mass strikes against all odds—a one-party dictatorship, ‘unions’ controlled by the Communist Party, waves of internal migration, and, of course, global capital itself. Yet, China’s mostly young workers rebel in growing numbers forcing concessions from the bureaucratic state as well as from giant corporations. China on Strike provides a unique view of the developing consciousness and actions of these daring young people.”
China on Strike https://www.roamagency.com/9781608465224/
Background on this blog
This 2010 report was deleted by hackers and now reposted.
Hot labor relations in Guangzhou
Eli Friedman Behind China’s wild-cat strikes
China in revolt http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/09/china-in-revolt/
The China Union http://chriswhiteonline.org/2008/09/2008-china-labor-laws-part-two-the-union/
China’s workers protest
Organising in China against Wal-Mart http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/world/asia/across-china-walmart-faces-labor-unrest-as-authorities-stand-aside.html