Connecting with Chinese Workers

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Date of publication: June 30, 2009

Source: The Breadwinner

Excerpt from article:

"First, I went on my own to the boss and asked for a reduction in work hours. Then, I came with a few of my workmates and said that I’d bring the whole shop floor into his office next time if things didn’t change. We now work shorter hours."

---Worker in Guangdong, 2006

In the United States, we often discuss labor issues in China in ways that make workers there seem inaccessible. They are reduced to a series of statistics, such as the number of migrants from the countryside who have flooded China’s coastal boomtowns looking for work or the number of mining accidents per year in the country’s interior or the number of toys made and exported from such and such port. We highlight sweatshop abuses, but paint Chinese workers as meek victims, thereby generating sympathy for their plight but risking a subtle disgust at the workers’ supposed unwillingness to stick up for themselves. Alternately, newspapers sometimes imagine a great wave of working class anger in China that will imminently shake the country to its foundations—an epic, abstract vision that leaves little practical room for engagement.

Instead, progressives should focus on what Chinese workers are doing right now to improve their conditions, as well as some of the broader economic, legal and cultural forces at play in Chinese society that serve to amplify or diminish workers’ efforts...