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.

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