China – Strike Capital of the World

China’s workers seem set to get the right to strike.

For the last 30 years haven’t had this right as apparently in China they had “eradicated problems between the proletariat and enterprise owners”. The breakneck industrialization of the last twenty years has certainly changed that.

Han Dongfang

Chinese rapid industrial growth has been based on making itself the workshop of the world producing cheap goods with cheap labour. Just as 200 years ago the industrial revolution Britain made this country the first “workshop of the world” it also produced a turbulent working class and the the first trade union movement; a labour movement that also had to fight long and hard for its legal existence. First outlawed by the Combination Acts and then harassed by other forms of legal, and illegal repression.

China is no different. there are no special chinese characteristics or Confucian ethic at work which make the Chinese working class more servile than anywhere else. Despite intense repression the Chinese working class is finding its voice.

According to a report on Global Labor Strategies there were some 96,000 recorded “major public disturbances” in China last year, many connected to industrial disputes.

In a report about the proposed labour reforms Han Dongfang claims that in the Pearl River industrial region (around Canton) there are workers protests nearly every day.

Han Dongfang set up the first fee trade union in China, the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation, during the Tiananmen protests of 1989. Though crushed in the subsequent repression it made him one of he most wanted men in China. He was imprisoned but released and eventually ended up in Hong Kong from where he now runs the China Labour Bulletin, an organization which campaigns for workers’ rights in China.

Read an interview with Han in the New Left Review.

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