On the 21st anniversary of the crushing of the Tienanmen Revolt of 1989, the Financial Times has taken official notice of what we have been following at Global Labor/King Harvest for several years: a virtually hidden uprising of Chinese workers.
In response to their editorial and an opinion piece by David Pilling that appeared yesterday, I sent in the following letter:
Independent and widely respected Chinese labour activist Han Dong Fang is surely correct, as a tactical matter, that it is important to take politics out of the new labour movement that you now recognize is emerging in China (David Pilling “Chinese labour is licensed to stake its claim”). The “race to the bottom” has now hit bottom and Chinese industrial workers are taking matters into their own hands to correct the years of growing inequality in an economy built on their backs.
However, that does not mean as you concluded in your leader today (“Chinese workers are now in revolt”) which appears, perhaps coincidentally, on the anniversary date of the crushing of the Tiananmen Revolt of 1989, that “fundamental reform” is simply a matter of economic restructuring to rebalance the Chinese economy. Fundamentally, economic policy shifts will only be an outcome of political processes.
That is the reason that we in the West should reaffirm support for freedom of association, the most basic of human and labor rights, in China. Only if Chinese workers, rural and urban, are free to organize independently of the government can the democratic institutions emerge that will insure that new economic policy indeed is fair and balanced.
Stephen F. Diamond
Also of interest is a letter that workers at the Honda plant forced the local ACFTU to send in defense of striking workers who were set upon by thugs, apparently dispatched by the ACFTU to break the strike. The strike was a success resulting in a big jump in wages, relatively speaking.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Steve Jobs has spoken in defense of Apple subcontractor Foxconn where a rash of suicides has led to global outrage and an attempt to boycott Apple. Jobs claims Foxconn is not in fact a sweatshop (“they have a swimming pool”) and, somewhat lamely, he tried to compare the worker suicides there to a rash of suicides by teenage high school students from Palo Alto’s Gunn High School.
Of course, Palo Alto, where Jobs lives, is one of the world’s wealthiest communities (just count the swimming pools) and while the Gunn suicides are a terrible phenomenon, to suggest that there are therefore no serious problems at Foxconn does not pass the smell test. In fact, Jobs rarely comments on these kinds of issues and that he has in this case makes clear that Apple is very concerned about the impact of the conditions at the subcontractor on its bottom line – as they should be.
Jobs argues that Apple is good at oversight of its factories. But it does not rely on enforceable labor law and legal trade unions which are the two necessary pillars of any safe and healthy workplace. And presumably Foxconn would not have raised its wages by 30% after the tenth worker committed suicide if it did not think it had a problem. Where was Apple’s oversight team before that worker had to give up his life?
In light of the naivete or malfeasance at work in the mindset of Silicon Valley managers I have asked the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was in touch with me recently about testifying, to hold a hearing here in the Valley about labor conditions at its Asian subcontractors.
Meanwhile you can support the Foxconn/Apple campaign here.
FT.com / Comment / Editorial – Chinese workers are now in revolt.