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Worker fights downsizing at Harbin Railway, and demands a democratic union

Apr 05, 2011

This issue of CLNT features the blogs of Zhu Chunsheng – a worker activist who since late 2010 has been resisting the Harbin Passenger Railway’s efforts to lay-off staff and force remaining employees to sign illegal contracts with worse conditions. He himself has been laid-off. Zhu claims the enterprise union has refused to assist workers, and he is now calling for new union elections for real worker representatives.

The strike at Nanhai Honda in May 2010 generated widespread attention, because it was a rare example of migrant workers demanding democratic union elections. Although it was significant that this demand came from young migrant workers in a foreign-owned enterprise, it is important to note that an unknown number of worker activists have been making similar demands for democratic union elections in state-owned enterprises for a long time. Zhu Chunsheng at Harbin Railway is one of those examples.

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Labor lawyer imprisoned in Xi’an for organizing against corrupt privatization of state enterprises

Jan 10, 2011

Against the backdrop of Liu Xiaobo being awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, this issue of CLNT highlights the case of Zhao Dongmin – a labor lawyer and Maoist who on 25 October 2010 was sentenced to three years in prison for applying to set up a workers’ organisation to monitor the privatization of state enterprises and alert the authorities about cases of corruption.

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Beijing Worker Takes Initiative to Establish Union in Privatized State Enterprise

Oct 22, 2010

In this issue we document how through the effort of one individual worker in Beijing, Liu Rongli, a small workplace union branch was set up successfully against all odds.

This case demonstrates that there is some support within the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) for workers to take the initiative to set up their own union branches, within the parameters of China’s Trade Union Law. Five years have passed since the ACFTU’s highly publicized campaign to set up union branches in Wal-Mart stores and to hold collective “consultation” with management. But the Wal-Mart unions in the end have not actively represented workers after all. By contrast, in this case Liu Rongli set up a union on his own initiative, and the message from the authorities was that his efforts were indeed legitimate.

Yet as far as we are aware, amidst the large number of strikes and labor disputes in China, few other workers have attempted to set up union branches. In 2009, CLNT reported how workers in Ole Wolff, a Danish company in Yantai Shandong with their help of their consultant, Zhang Jun, struggled to set up a union and then fought management for five years to ward off suppression. We are also aware of cases in Guangdong in which workers did try to set up unions in their factories, only to be blocked by management and/or local government, or the election process was corrupted by the local union branch.

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Guangzhou and US unions discuss the politics of global supply chains: is this an example of constructive engagement?

Sep 18, 2010

One big debate in the international trade union movement in the past two decades has been whether to engage with the All-China Federation of Trade Union (ACFTU). As a union under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, one camp has argued for no engagement. The camp that supports engagement argued that in this enormous organization there must be some trade unionists who stood with labor, and they were the ones who might one day initiate change within the ACFTU. There has been hostility between the two camps. With time, more and more unions and labor activists around the world are seeking engagement with the ACFTU, in one fashion or another.

This issue of CLNT carries an article by Century Economic Report covering a second visit by the Guangzhou Municipal Federation of Trade Unions (GZFTU) delegation to the United States. The China Daily also covered the story. While in San Francisco Chen Weiguang was reported to have openly criticized Apple and said that Apple should bear responsibility for the spate of recent workers’ suicides in IT manufacturer Foxconn. He was critical of the way international buyers maximize their profits by squeezing Chinese manufacturers, and said that multinational corporations should negotiate with Chinese capital and labor to distribute wealth more equitably along the global supply chain. He talked about exchanging ideas with American trade unions, though not to the extent of forming an alliance.

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The Nanhai Honda strike and the union

Jul 18, 2010

One of the most interesting dimensions of the recent strikes at three Honda auto components factories in the Pearl River Delta region has been workers’ clearly articulated demand for their enterprise unions to be elected by and accountable to workers. Their demands are unusual, but not unprecedented. Back in 2006, workers at the Ole Wolff electronics factory fought for a workers’ elected union in Yantai. (1) Another distinguishing factor in these disputes was the large wage increases demanded by workers. In most industrial action in the Pearl River Delta region, workers demand little or no more than the minimum wage, or payment of unpaid wages. But striking workers at these Honda plants demanded large wage increases, and what’s more, they also wanted a graduated wage scale, which reflected their aspirations for a career path and job security.

To better understand these strikes, this issue of CLNT will focus in detail on the events that unfolded at the site of the first Honda strike at Nanhai Honda in Foshan. We have translated four documents that give very detailed accounts of how some workers organized themselves to strike, convinced others to join them, how they negotiated, and the role played by trade union leadership at various levels. In two of these articles, journalists convey through interviews with Honda workers, how, as the strike continued, the strikers developed higher consciousness of the importance of setting up a democratic union organization in their factory.

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