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Promising Wal-Mart Trade Union Chair Resigns Over Collective Contract Negotiations

Disappointing news emerged on 17 September, that Gao Haitao – the only known Wal-Mart trade union leader to have actively stood up for his members’ interests, and the hero of Wal-Mart workers in the nation – has resigned from his position out of frustration over Wal-Mart’s refusal to enter into genuine collective bargaining.

On 14 July this year, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) concluded the first collective union contract with Wal-Mart, in Shenyang city, in the northern province of Liaoning. It soon became clear that Wal-Mart intended to apply this one single collective contract template to all their stores nationwide, without any chance for individual store’s unions to bargain. Many individual store unions were not even given the chance to sign the contract template themselves. Indeed in Shenzhen City, for example, the Buji store has signed a collective contract on behalf of fifteen other outlets in the surrounding areas. It is not clear whether this contract differed at all from the one signed in Shenyang.

The contract signed at Buji is far from ideal. It grants workers a 9 percent pay increase, which falls short of inflation rates of 30 percent for food items in 2007 and 2008, and also short of the average 18 percent increase in national urban wages, according to the State Statistical Bureau (Fenghua Zixun, 29 July 2008. Available at: http://news.ifeng.com/opinion/200807/0729_23_680332.shtml). What’s more, this 9 percent increase will not even come into effect until mid-next year.

Gao Haitao was the union chair of the Bayi store in Nanchang. When he suggested amendments to the contract, regarding overtime conditions, employee benefits etc., Wal-Mart claimed that there was no need to amend what had already been approved by the ACFTU. Instead, Wal-Mart simply bypassed Gao by convening the staff and workers congress and finding a trade union chair from another store to sign the contract in his place! This cynical move by Wal-Mart management was not only unfair to their employees, but it also violates union regulations. As mentioned in the article below by Mr. Zhang Jianguo, ACFTU Director of the Department of Collective Contracts, the content of collective contracts is to be determined by management and the enterprise union. The whole affair has been reported in detail by the Southern Weekend newspaper in Guangzhou.

Download the translated article here:
A Grassroots Union’s Struggle With Wal-Mart

Or access the original Chinese article here:
一个基层工会如何与沃尔玛斗法

The resignation of Gao Haitao is disappointing because, to the best of our knowledge, he is the only Wal-Mart trade union leader who has actively defended his members’ interests. Because of this, he frequently clashed with management over issues such as unfair dismissal of an employee and workers’ holiday benefits, the establishment of a city-level union steering committee and so on. He also proved willing to go right to the top of the ACFTU to seek support from Beijing when the Nanchang city level union sided with Wal-Mart. The ACFTU in Beijing twice had supported him causing the city union to retract their pro-Wal-Mart decision. His proactive stance has earned him broad recognition as the hero of Wal-Mart workers nation-wide. In early 2008, CLNT translated internet discussions in which dozens of bloggers left messages in support Guo Haitao, such as:

“Under your (Gao’s) leadership the union is not just window dressing.”

“If only our trade union chair was half as good as Chairman Gao.”

“Should we recommend him (Gao) to the ACFTU to give him a special award?… Please, trade unions in all the districts, after setting up unions that have consolidated, go and look for more Gao Haitaos.”

Gao Haitao was even contacted by workers from another workplace union of an enterprise in far-away Yantai City for advice about their own two-year protracted trade union struggle in 2008. Click the link below to view previous CLNT translations about Gao Haitao and his struggles against Wal-Mart:
The Emergence of Real Trade Unionism in Wal-Mart Stores
(see Case Four for blog comments in support of Gao Haitao)

The ACFTU has promoted its success at union building in Wal-Mart as a new model for organizing in the face of management hostility. But the experience of Gao Haitao and the farcical top-down collective contract negotiation procedure shows that there is no genuine collective bargaining by workers’ representatives. When a Wal-Mart union did come out to negotiate a good contract, the ACFTU did not tender its support. On the contrary, Wal-Mart actually is gaining the upper hand in this collective bargaining hoopla. The resignation of Gao Haitao is probably considered by the authorities as extremely sensitive since comments to the report are being blocked.

CLNT suggests that any international unions with contacts in the ACFTU voice their concern over the issue, demand that the collective contract negotiation in Wal-Mart process be meaningful, and that Wal-Mart not be allowed to get away with bypassing union representatives like Gao Haitao who actually put forward demands on workers’ behalf.
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Download the PDF version of this introduction

CLNT_Gaohaitao_resigns_INTRO

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