A wave of strikes in Chinese factories recently has highlighted the lack of authentic rights for Chinese workers and other inequities in Chinese society. In response, the regime is launching a “Strike-Hard” campaign.
According to China analysts, the recent wave of strikes is a reflection of simmering social discontent and unrest as a result of social inequality, injustice, and rising inflation. Many of the striking workers are not only demanding pay raises, but are also asking for independent unions.
If the strikes escalate they may threaten China's position as the factory of the world, and thus threaten the communist regime’s popular legitimacy and survival. However, experts say that responding to the workers demands with brute force will not work.
On June 13 the Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced that it will launch a seven-month-long “Strike-Hard” campaign to “crack down on violent crimes that seriously affect the public’s sense of security” as China goes through an economic transition and social transformation.
Rising labor rights awareness
Xu Yimin, a migrant workers’ rights activist in Jilin Province, in his blog called for an independent labor union, stating that the string of suicides at Foxconn and the subsequent strikes across the country were mainly due to “workers having no voice, rights, or means of expression.”
New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) said in a June 24 report that last year, migrant rural workers from northeastern Jilin Province applied to authorities to form their own union but were rejected.
Around the same time the state-run All-China Federation of Trade Unions released a report warning that young migrant workers are increasingly willing to make demands from the state, a development construed as “a test for stability in the country.”
Official unions suppress strikes
Labor unions in China are state-controlled and generally side with the management and local communist officials, instead of representing workers. Thus, while on the surface it appears that the regime has allowed the recent strikes to take place, it was actually only in foreign-owned companies that workers were permitted to strike, according to a recent analysis in The Epoch Times.
The report found that, “The greatest benefit [the regime] stands to gain by allowing [the strikes] is a better international face for its political system – protests allowed at multinational enterprises could make it seem to the world that the regime is changing its policies of clamping down on even the most fundamental of people’s rights.”
Among the several-dozen plants where strikes took place in May, two serve as examples of the very different outcomes: the Japanese-owned Honda factory in Foshan, Guangdong Province, and a Chinese-owned and operated cotton mill in Pingdingshan City, Henan Province.
Honda workers eventually claimed victory and received pay raises, while striking workers at the Pingdingshan cotton mill were brutally cracked down on by 2,000 to 3,000 police on June 1.
However, workers in both plants accused the government-backed unions of suppressing the striking workers.
“The union is worse than the mafia,” workers at the Pingdingshan cotton mill told Asia Weekly.
Workers at the Honda plant said the official local union took workers’ money but suppressed the strike with violence. The workers therefore demanded the reorganization of the existing local union and reelection of the union chairmen and relevant personnel.