Sunday, 23 September 2012

Fight silently: Worker resistance in China


The new academic year is upon us, and a fresh MA labour & TU studies group is just about to start at Ruskin - when I have a pic of the new cohort I'll post it here.

In thinking through how best to frame for the new group what besets and promotes the opportunities for organised labout globally I am struck by an article by Ju Li (Binghampton Univ) in the September edition of that fantastic free resource the Global Labour Journal (

In this piece Li presents a a snapshot, fousing on workers in state-owned enterprises in China, of the rise in official labour protests and worker resistance. As Li outlines there has been a fascinating increase in the proportion and type of disputes across China.

Whilst Li suggests that workers in state-owned businesses are not amongst the most militant, they are part of a worrying trend for the Communist Party, and one that I have followed closely for over a couple of years.

Li writes:

Labor unrest, whether in the form of collective confrontations or law suits, has increased dramatically in contemporary China. Recent statistics from the Supreme People’s Court showed that the number of participants in industrial disputes in China has grown from around 10,000 in 1993 to 317,000 in 2009, with the total number of participants increasing from 0.7 million to over 5.4 million
(China News 11 March 2010). This means that in 2009, approximately one fourth of China’s 21.7 million industrial workers (China Statistic Yearbook 2009) were involved in some form of labor dispute. Similarly, according to one scholar’s estimation (Yu 2010), in that same year, there were around 90,000 mass incidents throughout China, one third of which were labor-related. This puts the number of strikes and collective worker protests in 2009 at around 30,000.

The article goes on to document the myriad ways in which labour protest manifests itself, and what the fundamental implications of this trend are. Li is not optimistic that labour protests in the state sector will be at the forefront of any trend towards the development of independent labour organisations. They are indeed however, part of a very interesting picture emerging from an economy vital to global capitalism.

If independent labour movements spring up here, the opportunities to challenge the worst excesses of capital in China are worth thinking about now.

You can read the full article here and you can investigate China using different links from this blog including the China Labour Bulletin:

Any thoughts/comments in reply are very welcome.

In Solidarity


PS There have been several new books published recently on labour protest in China, email me and I can send details.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Pakistan: Make Textile Factories Safe


I am writing to ask for your support for the joint IndustriALL/LabourStart campaign based on the recent, shocking death of 300 Pakistani textile workers in Lahore.

The campaign seeks compensation from the government for the families of the dead workers, the arrest of the factory owner and action against ineffective governmental departments.

The text below is taken from the text given on the Act Now pages of LabourStart's campaign site, and there is a link below to support the campaign.

Over 300 workers were killed in devastating factory fires on 11 September at a garment factory in Karachi and a shoe factory in Lahore, Pakistan.

Various reports indicate that workers could not escape the fire because the factory buildings lacked basic fire safety standards and emergency exits.

The fire at Ali Enterprises, the garment factory located in Hub river road, Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) in Karachi killed more than 289 workers.

Many of them died of suffocation as they were trapped in the basement. A large number of workers suffered grievous injuries as they jumped from the building to safety.

It is reported that the factory was illegally established and identifying the dead is extremely difficult as the workers were not registered with government authorities nor received written contracts.

In another fire accident at the four-story shoe manufacturing unit at Lahore about 25 workers were killed.

IndustriALL Global Union joins with unions in Pakistan to demand the government pay compensation of five million rupees (53,000 USD) to the families of the workers who were killed, and two million rupees (21,000 USD) to injured workers and that the workers continue to receive their salary.

Unions are also demanding the government arrest the employer and charge him with murder and take action against the labour department and government authorities that failed to ensure the safety and health of these workers.

Send your message in support of these demands to the Pakistan Prime Minister today.

In Solidarity


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Morrocan Workers: Lessons for us All


My first post of the new academic year and written with an expression of solidarity with Moroccan workers following a great holiday there in August. By sheer coincidence I happened across the offices of the Union Marocaine du Travail (Union of Moroccan Workers - whilst on a trip to Marrakech. Sadly though the offices were closed, so I had no opportunity of meeting with sister and brother trade unionists and expressing my support for their work.
The ITUC’s 2012 Survey of Violation of Trade Union Rights presents Morocco in the bleak, customary picture of labour movement repression across North Africa and the Middle East, underlining heavily that these two regions represent the worst violators of both limited national labour rights and ILO core labour standards.

If you examine the Survey detail for Morocco it does though reveal a degree of tenacity and resilience on the part of the Morrocan labour movement. What is particularly interesting is that, despite the ability of the royalist regime to avoid a popular uprising during the wave of the Arab spring, it has not diminished an increase in strike action across the country, nor attempts by workers to unionise. Read the Survey here:

As with many other North African nationals Moroccan workers are historic migrants and I have written before on the exploited state of Moroccan workers in Gibraltar who have been denied basic civil and human rights for over 40 years. In 2010 the UK-based International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR), backed by UNITE, undertook an extensive survey of the treatment of Morrocan workers employed in Gibraltar.

The detail of this work is linked here: I am proud to record that this activity was also supported by Denis Gregory long-standing trade union tutor at Ruskin College and Rupert Griffin, who at the time was a BA labour studies student at Ruskin, and who now works for IDS Research Services.

The ICTUR report, written by the respected labour rights scholar Keith Ewing, documents the tragic circumstances of the lives of Morrocan workers. You can read the report ("Britain's dirty little secret") via the link above but this passage is taken from it:
"Moroccans pay full taxes and in all the time they have been there they have contributed considerably to the growth and economy of Gibraltar. However, despite an extensive campaign by our union, the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) and campaigning groups such as the Moroccan Community Association in Gibraltar and the Moroccan Workers Association, they are still treated as 2nd class citizens. Very few Moroccans have been given citizenship rights; they have little access to public housing; they are denied the right to vote in the European elections; they have problems with travelling to visit family in Morocco and restrictions on family visiting them in Gibraltar and they are still denied access to some public services."

These workers are of course part of the global story of exploited migrant workers, denied citizenship and full civil and political recognition for their contribution to, for example, the re-building of economies in the post-war era. The respected Marxist writers on migration Castles and Kosack have written extensively of this phenomenon and in particular of the impact on the indigenous working class of migrant workers.
They acknowledge that, whilst migrant workers typically join the ranks of the working class, the come to form a sub-culture differentiated on the basis of employment status, housing etc. This historical theoretical and practical understanding of the exploited status of migrant workers is a critical factor naturally in the reason why established, national labour movements have sought to organise migrant workers – but with differing levels of success.
Thus the plight of Moroccan workers, both at home and internationally, is emblematic of those challenges facing organised labour globally. Progress is not however, beyond our grasp, and despite the embattled position of the Moroccan labour movement, its obstinacy is not just celebrated but analysed and understood.

In this spirit I’ll leave you with a passage from the debut novel by Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds) which draws on his experience as a US solider in Iraq, and which defiantly declares that little in the world is the way it is because it should be, and that something better is always realisable.

"The rest is history, they say. Bullshit, I say. It's imagination or it's nothing, and must be, because what is created in this world, or made, can be undone, unmade; the threads of a rope can be unwoven. And if that rope is needed as a guideline for a ferry to a farther shore then one must invent a way to weave it back, or there will be drownings in the streams that cross our paths. I accept now, though in truth it took some time, that must, must be its own permission."

In Solidarity