Re: labor unrest

From Marc Blecher <>
Date Fri, 05 Nov 2004 13:21:17 -0500
In-reply-to <>
User-agent Microsoft-Entourage/

Basically fits the interviews I did in Tianjin over the last few years. Not
sure the Maoist influence was "heavy", but it was there among some,
especially former shopfloor cadres.


> Marty, Jonathan and Brian,
>   I met with workers in Zhengzhou and Kaifeng (this
> summer with Bob).  They were very worried that the
> younger generation of workers were not very active.
> Most of the actions they discussed either involved
> state run factories being sold off or shut down or
> involved fights for pensions.  But I think there might
> be regional differences on workers struggles at the
> moment.  I think in places with so many laid off from
> state run industries people seem less likely to fight
> when they are employed in new industries.  Or perhaps
> my impressions are simply due to who we talked to.
>   Amoung the people we talked to Maoism heavily
> influenced the way these workers understood their
> struggles.  Again, I think that might be different
> amoung younger workers.  And I would say there are
> some, tenuous links between workers and leftist
> intellectuals. 
>   Interested to hear more on this subject...
>   best,
>    Alex
> --- Jonathan Lassen <>
> wrote:
>> Marty,
>>> I wonder whether these responses are
>>> a reflection of the building social costs from
>> years of state 
>>> marketization policies?  And if so is there any
>> reason to expect that
>>> there will not be more of them.
>> My spin: rotate the disparate events ever so
>> slightly, and you will see
>> that the majority line up neatly along the line of
>> bureaucratic 
>> capitalism. (this does not apply to the ethnic
>> conflict in Henan as far
>> as I know, but to all other recent actions). People
>> are royally pissed
>> off about what private owners and state
>> functionaries are doing to them.
>> (and note that this has seeped into sports:
>> good to hear the bourg. still know how to throw
>> around the word revolution)
>> I think there's a good deal of hope that policies
>> under Hu-Wen will
>> significantly change, and thus start to defuse
>> tensions, but I very much
>> agree with the old comrades that the government is
>> pretty much unable to
>> deal with the problem on its own, and requires mass
>> mobilization to 
>> really deal with the issue. And that is not on the
>> cards. And as someone
>> posted to me privately (and I very much agree), it's
>> debatable whether
>> the Central Government would be able to make that
>> call even if it wanted to.
>>> Also interesting is the question of how much
>> publicity these strikes and
>>> actions are getting in China.
>> Formal publicity? Absolutely none whatsoever. As far
>> as I know, there's
>> a strict media blackout on all of these events. A
>> baidu (similar to
>> google) search for: {Hanyuan} or {strike} doesn't
>> bring up anything
>> relevant at all. The Xianyang strike, which involved
>> thousands of 
>> workers and lasted 40 days, did not generate a
>> single official news
>> story within China.
>> It's hard to gauge how quickly or deeply news like
>> this travels by 
>> osmosis around the official trunk lines, but between
>> the internet, cell
>> phones, text messaging, taxi rumors, etc., I imagine
>> pretty quickly.
>>> Might they serve as a base for more elite
>>> resistance to market policies, and if so with what
>> alternative vision?
>> I think things would have to heat up considerably
>> for the elite to start
>> feeling that state-imposed capitalist restructuring
>> is not in their 
>> interests.
>> Brian wrote:
>>> I am also curious about Martin's questions.  To
>> what degree is
>>> Neo-Maoism an influence over grass roots protests
>> of workers and
>>> farmers (and if so, exactly what is the content
>> of said ideology)?
>> Neo-maoism is a new term for me, I'm not sure what
>> you're referring to.
>> I've read that Maoist slogans were used in Hanyuan,
>> but reports are 
>> sketchy. Also, it's my understanding that the
>> organizers of protests
>> want protect themselves and the protests by keeping
>> them as (apparently)
>> non-ideological as possible, and so appeal to the
>> laws on the books and
>> accepted ideas of morality (corruption is bad; my
>> livelihood is being
>> taken away, etc.).
>>> Is there any connection between grass roots
>> Neo-Maoist populism and
>>> elite "New Left" intellectuals or party
>> officials?
>> Don't think so.
>> Cheers,
>> Jonathan
>>> Marty
>>> --On Tuesday, November 02, 2004 12:51 AM -0500
>> Jonathan Lassen 
>>> <> wrote:
>>>> Hi Martin,
>>>> I should preface my comments by saying that I'm
>> half a world away
>>>> from all this, and most of my knowledge comes
>> from trying to decipher
>>>> the meaning and veracity of flickering images on
>> my screen, so take
>>>> anything with a grain of salt and please defer to
>> people who know
>>>> more...
>>>> Yes, it does seem that the labor actions are
>> becoming more diverse.
>>>> You still see pensioners protesting (as in
>> Bengbu), but now you also
>>>> have protests like that in Shandong against a
>> sudden drop in wages
>>>> and working conditions after an ownership change
>> (state->private),
>>>> the strike in Shanxi in protest of corruption and
>> collusion, and the
>>>> strike Shenzhen against low wages and harsh
>> working conditions. And
>>>> these are the ones we know about.
>>>> I think it's also important to also look at three
>> other things going
>>>> on right now. First is the Lang Xianping debate.
>> Lang's criticism of
>>>> SOE asset transfer touched off a storm,
>> particularly on the internet,
>>>> and opinion has been almost unanimously in
>> support of his crticisms.
>>>> This has gotten little play in English-language
>> media. Neoliberal
>>>> economists within China have been silent, unable
>> to muster a coherent
>>>> reply, and the charges created (I think) enough
>> of a crisis of
>>>> legitimacy to warrant from SASAC a very very lame
>> defense of the
>>>> policy.
>>>> Second, the unprecedented scale and ferocity of
>> place-based actions
>>>> against perceived governmment injustice (Wanzhou
>> and Hanyuan) seems
>>>> new to me. The sentiment isn't, but I think you
>> can call it a crisis
>>>> when a county seat of 100,000 experiences a
>> general strike (as in
>>>> Hanyuan) and the state has to cut off all
>> communications with the
>>>> city and call in the paramilitary troops.
>>>> Third, the elite are seriously worried. This
>> rough draft of a piece
>>>> by Li Changping gives some idea:
>>>> Cheers,
>>>> Jonathan
>>>> Btw, the strike in Shanxi is apparently finally
>> over after 6 long
>>>> weeks. The police took over and arrested people,
>> according to:
>>>>   Hart-Landsberg wrote:
>>>>> I wanted to ask about people's impressions
>> concerning the growing
>>>>> labor  unrest in China.   Over the last two
>> years it seemed to me
>>>>> that most of  the labor actions involved laid
>> off or retired workers
>>>>> who were  demonstrating for pensions or health
>> care or against the
>>>>> process that  led to their lay offs/retirements.
>>  There was little
>>>>> actual strike  action resulting in production
>> shutdowns.  But this
>>>>> year it seems to me  that there are growing
>> numbers of actual
>>>>> strikes, especially in textiles  and
>> electronics.  Is this an
>>>>> accurate impression and if so how  significant
>> is this change?
>>>>> Thanks in advance,
>>>>> Marty Hart-Landsberg
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Professor Marc Blecher
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