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FDI and Labour in China: the actors and possibility of a new working class activism

Chang, Dae-Oup and Wong, Monina (2005) 'FDI and Labour in China: the actors and possibility of a new working class activism.' In: Chang, Dae-Oup and Shepherd, Ed, (eds.), Asian Transnational Corporation Outlook 2004: Asian TNCs, workers and the movement of capital. Asia Monitor Resource Centre, pp. 107-154.

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Abstract

This article aims to explore the nature of the recent transition of labour relations and the labour movement in China, by looking particularly at foreign-invested private enterprises. We will first of all look into the early formation of capitalist labour relations in China and identify the nature of the fast growth of China’s export sector based on the unity between liberalised global capital and unregulated labour practices. Following closely the articulation and reproduction of shop floor industrial relations in enterprises producing garments, footwear, and toys, the second part of our article will try to grasp the nature of the transition of labour relations. The main finding of our studies on the labour management of East Asian original equipment manufacturing (OEM) capital in Guangdong province will show that institutionalised labour relations between capital and collective labour are absent in these sectors. Worse still, traditional forms of protection and representation by the state and trade union attached to the state apparatus do not exist for the workers in this growing private sector. Lacking both protection by the state and institutional arrangements through which workers can protect themselves, the largely unorganised young and predominantly female migrant workers in foreign-invested private enterprises are vulnerable to management’s desire to take maximum advantage of cheap labour. The third part of this article will review the conditions on the basis of which various attempts to improve labour conditions in these sectors can develop further. In particular, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement will be subject to our critical investigation. Initiated by transnational corporations (TNC) in reaction to the consumer campaigns in the west in the 1990s, this movement claims that ‘progress of change’ on shop floor labour conditions has been made. However, according to our experiences from engagement with increasingly popularised CSR initiatives in China, these ‘changes’ are highly fragile if not false, because the ‘ethical’ practices driven by the western buyers did not lead to the development of collective labour relations between capital and organised labour at the supplier level. The possibility of new labour activism on the basis of the space opened by the CSR initiative is also subject to the contesting social relations between the state, official trade unions, and the ‘new working class’ in China. Our conclusion will suggest that an effective challenge to the transition at the expense of millions of Chinese workers will be made possible only when different attempts actually contribute to empowering workers and negotiating for space for worker-organising at the workplace.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: FDI, Chinese development, Chinese labour relations
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > Department of Development Studies
ISBN: 962714522X
Copyright Statement: Copyright Asia Monitor Resource Centre
Depositing User: Dae-Oup Chang
Date Deposited: 18 Mar 2009 10:29
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/6762

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