FW: labor unrest

From Marc Blecher <Marc.Blecher@oberlin.edu>
Date Sun, 07 Nov 2004 16:43:27 -0500
In-reply-to <BDB23559.2D32%marc.blecher@oberlin.edu>
User-agent Microsoft-Entourage/

Dear Marty and all,
It won't happen. Workers, and people in general, take a very dark and almost
ashamed view of their past radicalism (in the CR), aside from occasional
glee at having kicked around a few insufferable managers and shopfloor
cadres. The oldtimers want their kids to get on with prosperity and peace in
the market.
I documented some of this in a recent article in CQ #170. Ching Kwan Lee,
whose work I love, would perhaps take a rather different view. See her
article in Theory and Society.


> Dear Alex and all,
> I find this generational question you raise in your post (below)
> interesting.  In South Korea, for example, many of the radicalized
> workers, who became radical in the context of the late 1980s, early 1990s
> struggles, are complaining that younger workers do not share their history
> or sense of broader political purpose.  They are struggling within the
> KCTU, the radical labor federation, to find ways of passing on that
> history and politics.
> I am wondering how this might happen in China, where the official labor
> federation would have little interest in acknowledging the problem much
> less serving as a means for finding a solution to it.  So, how do workers
> understand their past activism and what channels do they see for
> transmitting it to younger generations.  Any insights into that?
> Marty
> On Fri, 5 Nov 2004, Alex Day wrote:
>> 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 <jjlassen@chinastudygroup.org>
>> 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:
>> http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,7369,1342737,00.html
>>> 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
>>>> <jjlassen@chinastudygroup.org> 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:
>> http://www.chinastudygroup.org/index.php?action=trans&type=view&id=44
>>>>> Cheers,
>>>>> Jonathan
>>>>> Btw, the strike in Shanxi is apparently finally
>>> over after 6 long
>>>>> weeks. The police took over and arrested people,
>>> according to:
>> http://www.rfa.org/mandarin/shenrubaodao/2004/11/01/bagong/
>>>>>   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
Department of Politics
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