Striking back in the "world's factory"
Publisher: International Socialism
Date Written: 03/01/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20234
A review of Hao Ren, Eli Friedman and Zhongjin Li (editors), China on Strike: Narratives of Workers' Resistance, which gives a history of labour struggles of Chinese migrant workers.
This level of attention into the mechanics of a strike and insights into how they affect participants is very interesting. The writers of this book do not attempt to gloss over the difficulties workers in China face in terms of organising. Chinese workers face multiple challenges; they are often "unable to form durable organisations". The case studies reflect these obstacles to organising and other challenges, such as police brutality. Although there are examples of workers winning improvements this by no means is always the case.
While the role of the Communist Party is not a major theme of the book, there are references throughout to official union structures and to how the government and local bureaucracies deal with labour unrest. In the section on wage increases it is noted that: "recently, governments have taken efforts to urge official unions to engage in rights protection and become a qualified intermediary" (p186). The authors recognise the "looming threat to the capitalist ruling structure" that workers' struggles represent and also note a shift on the part of the ruling class towards trying to appease workers: "while labour repression is still widely seen, it has become increasingly indispensable for the ruling class to discipline, pacify, restrict and contain this struggle" (p186).