Prof. Andreas Bieler and I have been awarded a grant of £275k by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for a project on ‘Globalisation, national transformation and workers’ rights: an analysis of Chinese labour within the global economy’ (RES-062-23-2777; full project proposal). The project starts to run from 1 October 2011. On this blog, I will regularly provide a discussion of empirical findings related to this project.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Re-blog: Super-exploitation and resistance: different forms of workers protests in China

In August 2016, Professor Andreas Bieler and I published an article 'Exploitation and Resistance: A Comparative Analysis of the Chinese cheap labour electronics and high-value added IT sectors' in the journal Globalisation. This article is the result of our observation, to compare IT manufacturing in Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta from 2011 to 2014.  A detailed introduction of our paper can be seen in Prof. Bieler's blog:

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Gangster Nation II

Any popular movie for instance Hunger Games, Star War or famous Harry Potter, has part I, part II and part III.  In the case of this blog, it is not because the receiving rate of the first blog was enormously high so I decided to write it up again. It is, unfortunately because what I wrote on my blog on September 16, 2012 happened again roughly ten days ago in Southern part of China. On December 3, authorities detained 20 labour activists and five are still under criminal charges until now.

Four years ago, grass-root labour organisations in Guangzhou and Shenzhen faced severe suppression. Local labour NGOs’ offices have to be shut down for no reason, unknown persons came to those local labour NGOs’ offices, smashing all the office equipment and also asked staffs at the labour organization to leave the office immediately. Under that difficult circumstance, I raised a question: Whether the state, or the government should be the protector or in fact, is a gangster to bully her own citizen?  

Chinese grass-roots NGOs have always faced difficult challenges. Since the summer of 2012, grass-roots labour NGOs have encountered various obstacles. Some have been asked by their landlords to move out of the offices they rented, with no reasons given. Some have had their offices vandalized by unknown people for unknown reasons. Some organizers have been assaulted by unknown people, again, without obvious reasons. The situation has continued and as we saw, on December 6th of this year, nine labour NGO organizers were arrested; three of them are still detained. The only unchanged factor is, we still don't know the reason for their arrest/detention. One may ask, is it important to know the reason? It is important because a 'legitimate' government as the Chinese government always claims to be, should protect her citizens from 'unknown' harassers and defend their personal safety. We therefore wonder why those labour NGO organizers – whose aim is to help workers better their working conditions, thereby helping the society to have more balanced industrial relations – are suffering such difficulties. As such, I do think the government owes her citizens an explanation for the detention of the labour NGO organizers. The ironic fact is, the labour NGO organizers are the very ones who most need the government's protection (this part of comment is also on red balloon)

I’d like to expand more on my point about whether the Chinese government can provide a justified reason to her citizens. Four years ago, China was under President Hu’s governance, the emphasis was on maintaining stability, therefore from the government’s perspective; those grass-root labour organisations were possible threats to the social stability. However, back then the government failed to explain that why, if the labour NGOs aim to help workers at conflicts of industrial relations, could pose any possible threats to the government. Four years later, as we saw that those grass-root labour NGOs once again, suffered from the severe suppression. At this moment, China is under President Xi’s leadership to realise the ‘China Dream’. A justified explanation is still missing in this action of suppression of those labour NGOs, unless, if we assume that those labour NGOs and the immense number of Chinese workers, whom are the backbone of the society are not in part of ‘China dream’. If that is the case, we must ask, if the ‘China dream’ is selective, which groups could be included in the ‘China dream’?

Finally, I sincerely hope, that I won’t need to repeat what I wrote here anymore, four years is a long time, and one would expect a country to change her strategy to interact with her people and society after such a long period of time. Global academic in the labour studies also launched a joint petition to the Chinese government to release those grass-root labour organisation staffs,

I sincerely hope, in the years to come that China not only to fulfil her global market dream under the ‘one belt-one road’ blueprint, but also to respect her people, to support the bottom of the society, otherwise, the ‘China dream’ will always be only a dream.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

China, World Capitalism and Workers’ Resistance

This is a joint effort to put this blog together by Jenny Chan, Adrian Budd Kincaid and also Camilla Royle from the International Socialism Journal Day school on 28 February 2015. More than 60 people attended the day school and this blog, aims to trace back and also document what have been discussed during the day. Three different themes are covered in the discussion, they are respectively, China’s Political Economy and China in the world; Trade Unions and Class Struggle; Umbrella Protests and New Movement for Democracy. They will be introduced in the following sections.
In the opening discussion about China’s Political Economy and the role of China in the world, Jane Hardy and Adrian Budd argued that the spectacular economic growth of recent decades has transformed China and had a major impact on the rest of the world. Asian capitals in particular have taken advantage of China’s opening as a regional economic centre. But economic transformation has important geo-political consequences and poses strategic questions to China’s immediate neighbours and the US, still the world’s major power. 

They also argued that  mainstream commentators often see a paradox in China’s simultaneous economic rise and emergence as a geopolitical challenge to US power (in the East and South China Seas, Indian Ocean, via the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, etc). But Marxist analysis of imperialism (including Bukharin’s insight into the inter-penetration of internationalised production and economic and political nationalisation) overcomes this apparent paradox and sees the economics and geo-politics of China’s rise as mutually inter-dependent aspects of global capitalism’s competitive dynamic. They conclude that China’s military modernisation and assertiveness, and US regional power and alliances (including Obama’s ‘pivot’ to Asia), reinforce each other. The slaughter that motivated Bukharin’s (and Lenin’s) critique of imperialism is not on the immediate horizon, but competitive rivalries mean the danger of conflict is ever-present, which in turn means that the world’s rulers continue to divert resources towards destructive power and away from welfare and development. Capitalist economics produces an equally destructive capitalist geo-politics.

The second discussion theme is Trade Unions and Class Struggle, covered by Jenny Chan and Tim Pringle.  Jenny Chan highlighted that China’s emergence as a global economic power could not have occurred without the painstaking efforts of the successive generations of production workers. What are the prospects for Chinese labour to strengthen its associational power against the backdrop of privatization of state enterprises and the emergence of rural migrant workers at the centre of a new working class? At the key node of global supply base, workers from Foxconn, Honda, and other giant manufacturers leveraged their power to disrupt continuous work flow in just-in-time production, winning partial victories. Through non-governmental organizations and solidarity ties based on co-worker relationships, gender, locality, and/or pre-existing social ties, aggrieved workers have come together at the dormitory, workshop, or factory level to defend their rights and interests. In response, the Chinese state has been struggling to maintain “social stability” through more direct management and mediation of high-profile, large-scale labour disputes. Local officials have skilfully developed a wide array of “protest absorption” techniques to attempt to mute “rightful resistance.” The immediate result is that, in many cases, workers’ individual grievances are partially addressed and collective actions broken up. As China’s leaders—including trade union officials—make extensive use of their discretionary power to resolve labour conflicts, rather than institutionalizing workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association, it is unclear how long this interventionist strategy will remain viable. What is clear is that as capital moves, contentious labour relations are also shifting from coastal cities to new sites of investment in inland provinces, creating possibilities of stronger resistance and nurturance of community-based labour power in the long run.

The third timely discussion is about Umbrella Protests and New Movement for Democracy, delivered by Vincent Sung and Sally Kincaid. Sally began the final input of the day, by discussing the fact that since 2011 the Chinese state has spent more money on internal security than on defence.  The state attempts to airbrush the resistance and subsequent repression of events of May/June 1989 out of history.  Over 2 million people are employed to censor electronic posts.  The number of blocked Weibo posts peaked on September 28th, as the Chinese state tried to prevent mainlanders discussing the Occupy Hong Kong movement. Over 300 people were arrested in China for posting solidarity messages.  Eventually the Chinese state had to report events in Hong Kong in order to condemn the umbrella movement.

There has been a steady increase in the number of strikes in China, which has accelerated since September. Sally also mentioned that China Labour Bulletin is a useful source for reported strikes but it does not show the go slows or where workers attend work but refuse to work.  Sally indicated the contradiction and tensions within Chinese society are becoming sharper.  This is particularly true in the education sector, where the children of migrant workers, do not have automatic access to the schools in the cities where their parents work, which leaves them limited and expensive choices. There are 61 million “left behind” children who live with either one parent, or grandparents or other members of the family.  Over 20 million children live with their parents in the cities, if they can attend the state run schools they have to pay, but they need to provide 5 different documents, or they have to attend migrant schools which have a very precarious existence, or not attend school at all.
Finally Sally summed up the last session, by reminding people that we should remember the hypocrisy of our own ruling class.  The tear gas used against the students had been manufactured in the UK.  She also emphasized that our job in the west was to not only point out this hypocrisy, and build solidarity for those in struggle, but to remember that China has a rich history of working class struggle, so that we can help Chinese workers re-learn their own history.

Further news, please contact Camilla Royle and Alex Callinicos at International Socialism.
Additional resources:

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The End of Cheap Labour in China?

A guest post by Prof. Andreas Bieler from school of politics and international relations, University of Nottingham on the talk of Dr. Florian Butollo (Jena University in Germany)'s talk at school of contemporary Chinese studies, University of Nottingham.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

What do we know about 'Chinese labour in the global economy'?

This is a guest post by Professor Andreas Bieler at school of politics and international relations, University of Nottingham. By concluding our cooperative project, 'Chinese labour in the global economy', Andreas contributed a list of key findings for our work in the past three years (from 2011-2014). 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Exploited Workers in Hong Kong Went on Strike to Call for Pro-Democracy

Around the world people are pushing for real political participation, and also the public across Britain’s ex-Far East colony want more control over their own lives.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Who are the iSlaves?

On 19 September 2014, Apple launched the iPhone 6 globally. From the long queue in front of Apple’s flagship store in Covent Garden in London, it is obvious that the  attraction of the iPhone still grabs many people, despite rain or wind or whatever the weather. Meanwhile, Sacom also issued a public announcement disclosing the slave like working conditions of Chinese workers labouring to produce iPhone 6’s bigger touch screen, and clearer camera resolution. Looking back, my blog of 1 October 2012, exactly two years ago, already discussed the labour conditions of Apple’s main producer, Foxconn.  The purpose of this blog is not to repeat what Sacom researchers have observed, the conditions of slavery in China that lie behind all the iproducts, but to look at the mentality of consumers. I would argue that the iSlaves are not those workers struggling with poor conditions, but those people waiting in front of the Apple shops every time a new product is released.
It is difficult to avoid using sweatshop products nowadays, because Foxconn (Apple’s biggest subcontractor in China) produces almost all the components for not only Apple, but also Dell and Hewlett-Packard. It seems, therefore, that no matter how hard we try, we will unavoidably use products produced on an assembly line at a sweatshop somewhere in China. However, those people who were waiting in front of the Apple shop for iPhone 6 are not just into the normal technological setting. The ‘Apple fans’ are after every new Apple product: they count the days until the next release, compare the functions of every new product to the old one. They demand bigger touch screens, clearer camera resolution, smarter phone settings.  Would they care about those workers being subject to harsher work pressure, longer working hours, lesser workplace protection? I doubt it, and I think their action proved rather not.

For them, to have an iPhone 6 is important not only because the functionality of iPhone is good, but, as one of my ‘Apple fans’ friend told me: it is like having a licence to be with another group of people, it is an identity of being an information ‘have-more’. You really feel different when you have an iPhone. I am not being critical of my friend’s comment as he is a thorough ‘Apple fan’; however, there are millions of people who think similarly to my friend. They don’t just buy the product. The iPhone is ‘renovated’ all the time: not only iPhone 5, but also iPhone 5s, iPhone 5x, the push for all these changes not only coming from Apple, but also from this enormous group of ‘Apple fans’ demanding quicker, bigger and better. Otherwise, why would one have to change phone frequently if the iPhone is already of very good quality?

More importantly, all Apple’s products are synchronized, as another Apple-fan friend of mine patiently explained to me: This means the data on your Mac can be transferred to iPhone and iPad and your music onto iPod. This is great since we are so busy so if everything can be synchronized together, it is easier to manage our lives. From Bloomberg’s interview with Tim Cook, the ultimate goal is to establish a Apple Payment system, so users will be able to touch the screen of their iPhone or Apple Watch to initiate a payment. Gradually, not only this, but also the whole electronic warehouse will be controlled by iProducts. My friend who patiently explained to me the benefits of all her electronic products being synchronized to the same tune didn’t understand my question:  Why do we want to be synchronized by one system, that is the Apple system? If that is the case, then who are the slaves of these iProducts? I don’t think workers in China’s Foxconn factories will be able to be ‘enslaved’ by those iProducts, simply because they don’t have the financial capacity to purchase the products that they are making, an obvious example of alienation, from a Marxist perspective.  Here my opinion differs from Sacom’s: it is actually not that easy to qualify as an iSlave. One at least has to have the capacity to purchase the whole set of iProducts, regularly purchase new products, and most crucially, willingly to submit control of one’s life to a mega corporate system: Apple!