Friday, 4 June 2010

China and workers rights: women strikers detained

Women factory workers in China
One step forward, another step back.

I want China to be a strong nation — look what happened to it when it wasn't. Never again do I want to see it on its knees, wracked by famine, torn apart by civil war, having chunks bitten out of it by every nasty imperial power that wants a bit of the action. Never again do I want to see signs saying, "No Dogs or Chinamen" in its own land, or wars forcing its people to take opium, or beheading contests of its civilians held by fascist invaders. This is a sentiment felt by most Chinese, for many of whom these events exist in living memory.

But China has to be strong in spirit, not just in might. Remember Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. China once held the idea that all its people should share in its good fortune (and, in a spirit of internationalism, hoped that the rest of the world would rise on the same tide). So it is deeply frustrating to learn, following the encouraging news that China is allowing the Honda strike at four plants to take its course unimpeded by the state, that there's another strike where 20 women cotton mill workers in Henan have been detained by police.

The China Labour Bulletin reports:
The strikers have four basic demands: That employees get a fair share of the proceeds from the restructuring of the enterprise and the sale of assets; that holiday pay and bonuses conform with the provisions of the Labour Law: that wages (especially for front line workers) be increased and that workers get paid annual leave; and that elderly and infirm workers be allowed to retire early on a basic subsistence allowance.

Seems a pretty fair group of demands in a country set to be the new superpower and where a tiny stratum of lucky bleeders are rolling in untold riches.

China has lifted 600 million people out of absolute poverty. But every yin has its yang. In this Golden Age, reminiscent of America at the end of the 19th century, there are also (at the last count) 6,000 yuan billionaires, many of whom are the children of the bureaucrats who once ran the state assets now in private hands. Princesses ride around in Lamborghinis decked out in the style of Hello Kitty (yum! Classy!) in futuristic cities that have sprung up overnight, so I think the communists could chuck a bit more wedge the workers' way.

Not that the West can crow. Microsoft have been treating one set of teenagers as slave labour so they can provide amusement for another set of teenagers with production of the Xbox. And it took a damaging barrage of negative press over the spate of suicides at the Foxconn factory that services Apple for Steve Jobs to agree a thirty percent rise in wages, whatever he may say about the factory being "pretty nice".

I've said it before and I'll say it again: capitalism in all forms is destructive. Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, and Communism is the exact opposite. In post-millennial China, they've managed to combine the two.

Meanwhile, it's June 4th ... er, May 35th. I do believe that there is an anniversary today. Jamie on "incident recalled". He also found this fascinating item illustrating the cat and mouse game between authorities and dissidents.

UPDATE: Renegade Eye informs us the Honda workers have returned to work but named today as a deadline for agreement to their demands.

UPDATE 2: Newsweek: " ... Lee Chang-hee, at Beijing's International Labor Office, predicts that unions and collective bargaining are inevitably going to become part of China's landscape, driving up wages." "'We used to think it was some version of the American Dream—liberalize, open up, grow. But then you had your crisis. We can say, it proves we're strong. But where do we go now?'"


airstrikes said...

Interview with Han Dongfang labour rights activist from China Labour Bulletin:

Although I wouldn't agree with some of his points on political trade unionism, it's a facinating interview nonetheless.


Madam Miaow said...

Thanks, Neil, but the video appears to be broken. Not loading despite circle going round for ever.

Looks like an interesting selection of videos but I can't get any of them to play.

I'm puzzled to find them on After all, the FT isn't known for its concerns about workers.

Renegade Eye said...

I have at my blog, a post about the Honda strike.

Madam Miaow said...

Cheers, Renegade. I've added the link to my post.

Mr. Divine said...

'I've said it before and I'll say it again: capitalism in all forms is destructive. Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, and Communism is the exact opposite.'

Interesting. The word 'exploitation' is deemed to be bad. Why? Well you Marxists think 'exploitation' is bad. But why do you think that? To explolit another is to take the value of that labour and place it in your possession.

And then you think that capitalism is bad. Anf you think that capitalism is pure capitalism, or do you think it ha different forms? What do you mean by forms.

To me Marxism and its analysis of society is an inaccurate description of the way economic and social society is. In short the Marxist analysis of society is grossly inaccurate. The whole notion of 'capitalism' is subject to infinite questions. Anyone who thinks Marxism has anything to do with reality needs their fuckin heads tested for any signs of sense. Dickheads the whole fuckin lot of them.

Mr. Divine said...

Yo got that? half clever people. half clever. Don't worry you're supported by other half clever people. and two and two, well that makes a bit more than, ohwhat's two and two, and that makes err.. no .. can't remmenber oh no what am I doin hereon 50th birthdatys . he ehe he eh ehben heeh he

Czarny Kot said...

@Mr. Divine

"Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Communism is the exact opposite."

This old quip is actually a dig at both systems. Read it a bit slower and think about it.

RE: Foxconn- It will be interesting to see if the media hold Apple up to as much scrutiny as they did with the likes of Nike and Adidas in the 90's sweatshop scandals.

For the last decade or so the media have acted as Apple's advertising agency-- compare the number of real, paid for Apple ads with the number of hyperbolic, fawning infomercials masquerading as technology 'news stories' and the by now traditional interview of some idiots who think it is a good idea to spend the night on the pavement in order to be first in line for the latest i-gadget.

Madam Miaow said...

Mr Divine please stop babbling on my blog. You're a disgrace to trolls. Read my moderation rules — I'm deleting your comments in future.

Czarny Kot, I think this episode has blown Apple's reputation as the kind face of capitalism — a shame because I like their products and half wished the hype was true. Now that they've overtaken Microsoft I'm wondering if they'll abandon their efforts and just go for the hard dollar without the dressing.

Richard said...

There never was a sign that said "No dogs or Chinamen allowed." This is a myth that took hold because of it portrayal in a Bruce Lee movie. Just another example of Chinese embracing victimization and feeling sorry for themselves. As a Jew who is well aware of REAL victimization, I say get over it. Yes, the Chinese were indeed the victims of victimization at various points in modern hisory. But by constantly repeating it and clinging to it, especially falsehoods like the sign, you allow yourselves to get drunk on the notion of victimhood and self-martyrdom.

Mellie said...

Well the Chinese were occupied and exploited by imperialism for centuries, Richard, and even if that sign didn't exist (I don't know), racism against Chinese people certainly does, which is the main point.

Never again, say the Chinese, and rightly so.

If it is any consolation, Madam Miaow, since the recession the state has been strengthened at the expense of the capitalist sector.

Madam Miaow said...

Richard. Wow, so it's a competition, now. "My lot suffered more than your lot." Well, that's pretty depraved.

FYI, Huangpu Park in Shanghai was closed to Chinese until 1928. The sign is a poetic compression of the actual sign which stipulated it was for the Foreign Community only, and that dogs were forbidden. You see, Richard? Essentially, "No dogs or Chinese." Shorthand. Easy to understand. Get it?

Madam Miaow said...

Thank you, Mellie. I wasn't aware that was the situation. Hadn't realised the capitalist sector in China had been affected.

H said...

I absolutely detest this, though at the same time realise that wages need to be kept low in order to compete with the rest of the world and maintain China's growth. I believe the double standards lie in Honda being a foreign company; the Chinese have wised up to the "white way" i.e. if something is hassling you, blame the foreigner. Never fails to work, and if they can squeeze better wages from Honda for the workers than all the better.

I also detest the double standards of western protestors, and this case illustrates my point perfectly. They protest on moral grounds, Tibet, human rights and working conditions. But if it means they won't get their lovely iPad on time, or if it has the backing of the Cult of Apple with the Messiah Steve Jobs behind it, then sod the poor slaves sticking bits of electronics together. I WANT MY IPAD.

Then a year later it's "Oh what horrible conditions they live in, I'm boycotting Chinese products until they sort it out".


To be fair though, I don't think very many actually give a shit about the poor Chinese peasants slaving away. Indeed, I was reading the comments on an article in the Times the other day regarding budget cuts - the topic went onto mining - a woman kindly made the point that "I'd rather some Chinaman go in the mines than our own men".

Yep, well put. I'll see you in hell love.