Jul 1, 2010 - Issue 382
Click here to go to the Home Page
is published every Thursday
Est. April 5, 2002
Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Click here to go to a menu of the Contents of this Issue
Click to visit our Google powered search page
Click to visit the Friends of BC page
Click to vist the Cartoons page
Click to visit the Art page
Click to visit the Links page
Click to visit the Advertise With Us page

Stirring of Chinese Workers Bodes Ill for Cheap Imports - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BlackCommentator.com Columnist

Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article

For Share-able Page - Click here

The times are changing - in China.

There have been worker actions and strikes in the recent past in the Peoples Republic of China, but the current strike against a Honda Lock factory in Zhongshan is likely a portent of things to come for transnational corporations, for the ruling Chinese old guard, and for people around the world who have come to expect rock bottom prices for all manner of consumer goods.

A Chinese lawyer, interviewed on television about the strike, probably summed up the situation most concisely. These young workers, he said, are �not like their parents (generation).� He and a young worker, who also was interviewed, declared of younger workers, that they don�t mind working hard, they don�t mind working long hours, but they want to be paid so they can have a life, other than working.

Their parents� generation was willing to take their leadership in virtually all aspects of life from the central committee of the communist party. They still were willing to forbear, even suffer, if that was what was required of them.

In the strange mix of economies in China, there is still deprivation among many, especially the rural people and those who have been forced to the cities to find work and who - with the global economic recession - now are unemployed and homeless, unless they go back to where they came from.

In contrast, there are plenty of millionaires and showy cities, where the accumulation of money is becoming an accepted fact and an honorable goal of life.

When workers, who are being paid about 67 cents an hour and might bring home $27 a week, look at the millionaires and those who might soon be millionaires, it becomes crystal clear what their prospects are for a decent life - slim.

Even in China, $27 a week is not much money. Charlie Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, pointed out this week that the striking workers at Honda Lock are asking for at least a 50 percent increase, $1.34 an hour and $54 a week.

�Cracks are appearing in China�s factory model � which, over the past two decades has consisted of grueling hours, seven-day workweeks, below-subsistence wages, prison-like discipline, primitive living conditions and zero rights,� said Kernaghan. �The All China Federation of Trade Unions is now openly being discussed as a shill for the government. A very knowledgeable activist in China told the National Labor Committee that the strike at Honda is �...an event of historic proportions��

The strike is not just over money. The approximately 500 workers who picketed outside the Honda factory in early June also reject the state-provided union and want to elect their own union leaders - in other words, to have free unions.

The Chinese activist told Kernaghan, �It reflects the fact that the struggle of China�s working class (made up of mostly migrant laborers) has developed to the stage where workers are demanding organization. We are closely monitoring the development and aftermath of this situation. The Honda strike has huge significance for China�s workers. Many Chinese workers are closely following this strike.�

The 1,700 workers who are striking Zhongshan�s Honda factory ship parts to Honda factories in North America, through a warehousing system in Bremen, Georgia. That�s the American connection. Honda, like other manufacturers which have shifted their production to China over the past 20 years or more have depended on a country of pliant workers - they would do what they were told and take whatever slave wages were offered.

Kernaghan pointed out over the years that, the lower the overseas wages, the lower would be the Americans� wages. In the U.S., the United Auto Workers (UAW) has seen its membership melt away over the past two decades, as the American auto industry could not compete with the low wages paid in countries like Korea, then China.

But the UAW could not even compete with the foreign car companies that were making cars in the U.S., itself. Those factories generally were built in southern states, where the hostility to unions was highest and the union-busting wave that swept the country since the early 1980s opened the door to multi-million-dollar �union avoidance� campaigns waged by the foreign companies. They feared no punishment for thwarting their workers� lawful unionization efforts, because everyone was doing it, starting with the biggest U.S. corporations.

The virtual disappearance of strikes in the U.S. over the past two decades indicates that some global corporations have found a rather pliant workforce right here in America. They just have to be careful to put their factories in the right part of the country to get the results they want.

In China, though, the Honda action was just one of five at foreign plants in China, according to the British newspaper, The Guardian, indicating that the workers are on the move there and the successes they have achieved (one company agreed to pay increases of about 23 percent) encourages others to take action to improve their lives.

The situation in the U.S. would seem to indicate that an older union movement that is growing smaller, year by year, is made up of workers who do not expect the realization of their rights and freedom in setting the terms of their employment (as through a union contract), but see freedom in the ability to move from job to job throughout their working lives. With the latter circumstance, it is difficult for workers to provide for their retirement years, but they seem to be willing to give that up for the freedom to move from one computer-oriented or �information technology� job to another.

Young Chinese workers have looked at their circumstance - low pay, long hours, onerous working conditions, lack of a life outside work - and they have decided that they want something better.

They read the papers and they know where the money from their work goes: to giant retail transnational corporations in Japan, the European Union, and the U.S. They would like some of that, since their country seems to be the manufacturing and industrial center (along with India) of the global economy.

The Wal-Marts of the world have based their entire existence in cornering the market in retailing, eliminating the competition, and dictating the price that they pay their supplier contractors in low-wage countries. If the wave of union organizing in China and other places continues, as it seems to be doing, the control of markets by giant retailers might come crashing down, perhaps to be replaced with smaller, local enterprises.

One thing that is clear is that, if union organizing continues in China among young workers, the days of very cheap consumer goods - the stuff that we�re told keeps the American economy running - are numbered. The goods may still be relatively cheap, but the increases in pay and the improved lives of Chinese workers, through their own efforts, will have to be paid for from some pool of money. Right now, the only place that the improved wages and benefits can come from is increased prices at the discount stores or from the profits of the handful of owners of the giant operations.

A good guess would be the retail prices rising and, right up there with the other important aspects of modern labor relations in Corporate America, taking it from the people who work in retail. The most visible mouthpiece of Corporate America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will be weighing in on the side of Chinese corporations and the government.

If there is an equivalent of Chinese working conditions in America, it�s the condition of retail workers, yet they seem to be able to accept those conditions, because those may be the only jobs that are easy to get, if you ignore the drug testing and psychological screening to get them (don�t want to get any workers who lean toward unions to improve their lives).

There will be adjustments made in the prices paid for consumer goods in the U.S. as a result of unionization of workers in China. But workers in America should take a good look at what is happening there. There are lessons to be learned about improving not only their own personal lives and those of their co-workers, but improvements in the lives of their communities and the nation.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.


If you would like to comment on this article, please do so below. There is a 400 character limit. You do not need a FaceBook account. Your comment will be posted here on BC instantly. Thanks.

Entering your email address is not mandatory. You may also choose to enter only your first name and your location.


e-Mail re-print notice
If you send us an emaill message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.




Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble
Road Scholar - the world leader in educational travel for adults. Top ten travel destinations for African-Americans. Fascinating history, welcoming locals, astounding sights, hidden gems, mouth-watering food or all of the above - our list of the world’s top ten "must-see" learning destinations for African-Americans has a little something for everyone.