. .

The Chinese Trade Union’s Big Rush to Set Up Unions in Fortune 500 Companies

Two years after the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) accomplished a breakthrough to set up workplace unions in Wal-Mart stores, on 11 June this year, after holding a meeting in Beijing, it announced that it would immediately launch a campaign to set up unions in at least 80 percent of the Fortune 500 company headquarters and branches. Up until now only some 50 percent of these companies have unions. This means that, including unions in these company’s branches, more than 10,000 workplaces have to have new unions. This ‘100-day focused action’ as the ACFTU calls it, will be in high gear until the end of September. The announcement was made with a sense of urgency and determination. Local unions were also instructed to take legal action against any companies that refuse to accept having a union. 1

It would have been a tall order had this union federation edict been issued in a country where there is freedom of association, especially in a place like the United States where unionization is met with stiff resistance and where labor laws and unionization procedures make setting up workplace unions extremely difficult – if not impossible. But using the establishment of the 100 Wal-Mart trade unions as a template, this is a feasible mission. After initially using the secretive method of setting up unions at about a dozen Wal-Mart stores (see http://www.clntranslations.org/article/4/wal-mart), the ACFTU abandoned this new organizing method and reverted to using the ‘consultative’ method, that includes management in the setting up of the union preparatory committee and the subsequent election process. The new grassroots unionization method used for the first dozen Wal-Mart stores is time consuming and may end up with elected trade union executive committees and chairpersons making demands on the company. The ACFTU has always been using the ‘above-ground’ method which, in their view, has stood the test of time. In light of the ACFTU’s goal to set up more than 10,000 workplace unions within three months, it can be safely predicted that these unions will be heavily dominated by management.

To illustrate what these new Fortune 500 trade unions will probably be like, CLNT has chosen to translate a report form the Suzhou Daily, 8 July 2008, which is a transcript of a round-table discussion by 10 workplace trade union staff members from some Fortune 500 companies that have already had trade unions. They talked about their experiences and offered their own opinions on what ideal trade unions chairpersons should be. There was a consensus that the union is to be a channel of communication between workers and management, that the trade union chair should have the ability to use a common language to talk to both parties, that the union is the agent for a win-win situation for the company, the union is the common wealth of labor and capital, etc., while not a reference was made of collective bargaining.

Download the translated article here:
A trade union is common wealth for both labor and capital

While our reading of the situation is that the new trade unions will be very similar to these Suzhou unions, there is a chance that things in Guangzhou City may develop in a different direction. On 16 July 2008, an eye-catching headline appeared in Southern Metropolitan Daily, ‘Organizing a One-hundred People’s Task Force to Set up Trade Unions by Infiltrating Enterprises’ (although the article did not put into context that a nation-wide ACFTU campaign has been supposedly in place for a whole month). The Chairman of the Guangzhou Federation of Trade Unions (GZFTU), Chen Weiguang announced that setting up unions need not require the approval of investors. Thus far only 54 percent of the Fortune 500 companies in the city have unions. By the end of September 90 percent of them should have unions. What is also unusual is that the task force would be composed not only of trade union cadres, but also ‘actively committed trade union advocates from society’. They are called ‘organizers,’ a new expression in Chinese trade union language with a new connotation. Also unusual was the instruction that the membership application name-list need not be released to management holding a hostile position. Corporate “refusniks” would be exposed and taken to court. To get a better sense of Chen Weiguang’s unprecedented initiative, CLNT has translated the report from New Express in Guangzhou.

Download the translated article here:
Fortune 500 companies that refuse to set up unions with be exposed by next month

This GZFTU policy to set up unions is reminiscent of the way the first batch of Wal-Mart store trade unions set up in 2006 before Wal-Mart capitulated to the ACFTU. Indeed based on our research some of these democratically and secretly elected unions have been acting like real trade unions (see http://www.clntranslations.org/article/30/draft ). In his speech Chen assumed that there would be strong resistance from the companies. This would necessitate the method of infiltration. But what if there is no resistance? What if these companies have learned from Wal-Mart’s experience, and surrender in order to be able to enjoy the chance of cooperating with the union and nominate candidates to the union preparatory committee? This is a very likely scenario. In that case, will this 100-people task force mobilized in Guangzhou still use the laborious method of infiltration? At this point it is too early to tell. It is only hoped that after having made an investigation tour of the United States a few months earlier in May, during which Chen met with quite a number of American trade unions and observed some collective bargaining sessions, that he is convinced that top-down management-approved organizing will not result in unions that represent workers’ interests.

Download PDF Version of this introduction


1. Workers’ Daily, 全国工会推进世界500强等跨国公司集中建会行动启动” (The nation’s trade unions setting in motion the task of fostering establishing unions in Fortune 500 transnational corporations), 12 June 2008; Available at: http://www.grrb.com.cn/template/10002/file.jsp?cid=0&aid=310796

China Labor News Translations uses a modified version of the BlueSky theme by Andreas Hecht. Powered by Textpattern. Site construction by modernthings.org.