While the Chinese government has invested as much as $58 billions to stage the Shanghai Expo, Chinese workers at Foxconn Technology, a Taiwanese-owned electronic manufacturer which assembles products for corporates such as Apple, Dell, HP, Motorola, and Nokia are jumping out of their sweatshop factories. Foxconn employees nearly 600,000 workers all over China, and its total network is worth 54 million dollars. The boss, Terry Guo, is the richest man in Taiwan, but the workers are only paid $132 a month, which is the legal minimum wage in China, and work over time to boost the salary. There have been 12 suicides in the Shenzhen factory this year alone and most of them were 18 -24 year old second generation farmers who migrated to the urban factories from the South because there were simply no work opportunities back at home. They sign off their rights to the labor laws and work as much as 36 hour over time to compensate for the high living cost in the city. The Foxconn workplace is extremely oppressive—military like security control (also because companies such as Apple demanded so), crowded dormitories and long work hours. To prevent workers from the same hometowns to mobilize, they are separated into different sectors of the factory as well different dormitories. While the Foxconn workers clearly face severe workplace alienation, the Shenzhen government expressed that they haven’t found any direct relationships between the suicides and the workplace issues, but purely personal “psychological stress.”
The following essay by Aufheben appeared in Aufheben #16 (2008). We are reposting it as a long, but important contribution to thinking about the central position of the Chinese working classes not only in global capitalism. Today, for the American working classes as a whole, there is no longer any place to hide from global capitalism. Now national conditions can be nothing but a reflection of international problems pressing in at all sides. The fate of Chinese and American workers are tied together.
Class conflicts in the transformation of China
As we previously argued in issue 14,1 the immense economic transformation that is occurring in China has not been driven by China’s move to a market economy, as neo-liberal ideologues insist, but by the success of the Chinese state in attracting and tying down international capital on its own terms. When Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy in the early 1990s, after four decades of autarchic development, foreign capital was permitted entry only to the extent that it assumed the form of real productive capital. In joint ventures with the Chinese state, foreign capital was required to provide both the plant, machinery and technology necessary to raise the productivity of Chinese labour and access to Western markets. In return the Chinese state provided investment in infrastructure (i.e. transport, communications, electric power and other utilities) necessary for the accumulation of capital, social peace and, most importantly, an almost inexhaustible supply of cheap and compliant labour-power.
China’s integration into the world economy over the past decade or so has not only led to rapid and sustained economic growth in China, but to a rejuvenation of both world capitalism and American economic hegemony. Firstly, as we have previously pointed out, China’s integration into the world economy has been based on specialising in the mass production of cheap manufactured commodities, which the West, and the US in particular, either gave up producing during the restructuring of the 1970s and ’80s, such as clothes and toys, or which was were not produced before, such as DVDs and mobile phones. As a consequence, China has been able to establish a complementary dynamic of accumulation with the USA. As such, the vast and increasing flood of cheap Chinese commodities into the US economy has, for the most part, not had the effect of displacing American-based capital, and thereby creating unemployment, but has served to reduce inflationary pressures. At the same time, the Chinese state has recycled the growing inflow of US Dollars earnt by its exports by buying up American financial securities, thereby helping to financing America’s trade and government deficits. This has given the US authorities much greater freedom to use monetary and fiscal policy to ensure a more rapid and continuous capital accumulation and growth in the American economy.
Read the rest here
By JOMO and BaoYunCheng
Two major incidents in China have grabbed international headlines recently. First are the workers protests, occupations and strikes against the privatization that took place in Jilin and Anyang. Second, are the inter-ethnic rebellions in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, also known by some as East Turkestan. The authoritarian measures taken by the Chinese state further fanned the discontent and violence. That both of these actions have been sparked off by incidents taking place in factories, initiated by workers, is worth noting. It raises some questions to be asked about the challenges that lie ahead of building a working class movement in China.
In an effort to increase profitability, the Chinese state has started to privatize and sell off many state-owned enterprises, and its impact on workers is glaring.The guarantee of jobs and benefits to state employees had, for many years, prevented the state from realizing its maximum profitability. As global consumption and demand for Chinese products have declined with the recession, the drags of paying out benefits and protecting jobs have only been exacerbated. Thus, more and more state-owned enterprises have fallen into the ownership of private companies. Concretely, privatization has led to massive firings of long-time workers, while those remaining have experienced increased workloads, work speed-ups, decreased wages, and the elimination of benefits. For those reasons, China has seen a rapid increase of working class resistance against privatization.
On July 24, 2009, some 30,000 workers and retired employees at the state-owned enterprise of Tonghua Steel as well as their families staged a massive strike to protest against the decision of the provincial government of Jilin to sell Tonghua Steel to the private firm Jianlong Steel Group. The owner of Jianlong Steel, Zhang Zhixiang, has been acquiring large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises at low prices and then expanding and developing them. In the process, he has been amassing incredible wealth (his own personal wealth estimated to be over 20 billion RMB), soaring to become the country’s tenth richest man. Tonghua Steel was for a time, managed by Jianlong in 2005 but later resold in March 2009 following successful worker demonstrations and unprofitability. During Jianlong’s ownership (and in contrast to Zhang Zhixiang’s personal wealth), experienced workers with more than 20 or 30 years of work saw their monthly salary decrease to around 300 RMB, whereas new management was constantly hired from the outside and awarded with high salaries. The CEO of Jianlong, Chen Guojong, had an annual income over 3 million RMB. Thus, when in June 2009 Tonghua Steel began yielding profits again (specifically 60 million RMB in revenue that month), Jianlong began talks to reacquire Tonghua Steel. It is in this context that the massive turnout to the July 24th strike must be understood. By the afternoon, workers had violently clashed with armed police and fought with managers, ultimately capturing the CEO Chen Guojong and beating him to his death. By 10:00pm, the 30,000 strong contingent of workers had occupied the factory zones and refused to retreat. Because of this immense pressure, the local government, which had given Jianlong the consent to reacquire Tonghua in the first place, reneged on this consent and declared through the media that Jianlong had decided to quit from Tonghua Steel.
Continue reading A Summer of Workers’ Revolts and Ethnic Divisions in China