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, 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!

Monday, 29 September 2014

The new faultline between networks and hierarchies in China: Where is class struggle?

This is a guest post by Andreas Bieler.

As part of the Workshop on Chinese Labour in the Global Economy, Paul Mason, the Economics Editor of Channel4News, gave a highly stimulating and thought provoking public lecture at Nottingham University on 12 September 2014. The focus of his talk ‘Digital rebels, analogue slaves? China’s workforce in the 21st century’ was on the information technology (IT) revolution and its implications for workers’ unrest in China. Provocatively, his main claim was that the main conflict is no longer between capital and labour, but between networks and hierarchies (see also Mason, Comment is free, 14/09/2014). In this blog post, I will critically evaluate this claim.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Chinese working class in SOEs: transformation under marketization

Wang Ting is our workshop's talented translator. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Applied Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong. This is her guest post. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

For Better Enforcement of the Labour Contract Law: Why and How?

Fuk-Yin presented at the activist panel in our September workshop, she was a policy and education officer at Worker Empowerment (WE), a Hong Kong-based labour organisation working on Chinese labour issues, from 2012 to 2014. She was responsible for writing up labour education materials, conducting action researches and supporting policy advocacy campaigns in Guangdong, mainly Shenzhen and Huizhou. Before working at WE, Fuk Ying obtained her bachelor and master’s degrees (in 2006 and 2009 respectively) from the Department of Government and Public Administration, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, She will begin her doctoral studies at Warwick Business School from September 2014.

Following is the gust blog from Fuk-Yin Tse. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Dock workers’ resistance and union reform in China’s global supply chain

We have a first guest post from Dr. Xuebing Cao, Keele University. Dr. Cao is one of presenters at our September workshop Chinese Labour in the Global Economy 

The September 2013 Yantian Dock strike is a prominent event of the recent Chinese labour movement, not only for it being settled with workers’ partial victory, but also due to its exposure of the ACFTU’s failure on workplace union reform. Moreover, the event showed Chinese dock workers’ persistent struggle with transnational capitalism within the global seaport industry.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Boundaries between Activist and Scholar

Opening session of the workshop on Chinese Labour in the Global Economy
A workshop on Chinese Labour in the Global Economy was held on 11 and 12 September 2014 at Nottingham University, co-hosted by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Studies (CSSGJ) and the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Politics (CCCP). The purposes of the workshop were, firstly, to conclude the three-year research project; secondly, to create a platform between labour activists and scholars, between East and West. The purpose of this blog entry therefore is not only to reflect upon what happened during the workshop, but also briefly to summarise my observations of Chinese workers’ and labour studies over the past three years. I particularly focus on the joint efforts of labour scholars and activists, and I will explain the reason why.

As a student of labour affairs, the initiative for me to pay special attention to the role of activists was actually triggered four years ago, even before this project started. I interviewed a director of a Hong Kong labour organisation. She cordially agreed to the interview and gave me a general overview of the condition of Chinese workers. When I wanted to get some further information, she asked me a question: why should we (organisers of labour NGOs) need to give you information, if your job is either to write journal articles or to present conference papers, neither of which will necessarily help our work? On the contrary, your job will only expose our work of helping workers. Back then, I couldn’t answer her question, and indeed, that question has haunted me ever since. However, I think after three years’ work in the field, I have some answers for it.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Chinese workers in the grip of global capitalism: What possibilities for resistance?

This is a special guest post from Prof. Andreas Bieler, the Principle Investigator of our ESRC project. Andreas provides an overview of our final workshop on 11 and 12 September. Andreas' post could be a good starting point to document this workshop and further posts by some of the participants would be very appreciated.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Echo to the Voice of Chinese workers, Yue Yuen strike

If China is the world factory, then on the 16th of April, there was a great noise coming from the core component of the factory. In Dongguan, the manufacturing city in the south of China, around 40,000 workers came out to protest, all from the footwear factory, Yue Yuen. The strike is a phenomenon not only because of its size, but on various grounds.