The leading global umbrella body, the International Trade Union Confederation, has decided to begin a “dialogue” with the Chinese government labor organization, the All China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACFTU. This is strange indeed. The ACFTU, as readers of this blog are well aware, is not a union but a government/party arm of the communist regime in China. It does not strike, it does not bargain for workers, it does not represent workers. Its explicit task is to prevent conflict rather than represent workers when they have issues with employers.
What possible gain could there be for global labor in such a relationship? Perhaps the gain will be free trips to China for union officials? But at what price for the credibility of the global union movement? If global unions view the ACFTU as a role model, then it sends a terrible signal about the independence and democracy of all unions.
There is one other aspect of this announcement that is deeply troubling: the American labor federation, the AFL-CIO, apparently abstained from the ITUC vote on the “dialogue” with China. This is a shift in their longstanding opposition to such a relationship. It is an unfortunate development.
Both the ITUC decision and the AFL-CIO abstention come just as a new labor movement is emerging in China: a genuine labor movement of Chinese workers themselves, rural and urban, who are gaining the strength and courage to challenge the authoritarian Chinese regime. This is the moment when unions everywhere – especially those in countries like the US where there are at least minimal democratic rights – should come out foursquare in support of this real labor movement. Instead global labor is moving to shake hands with the very oppressors of that labor movement.