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In China, labor unions are starting to emerge, according to international HRM
In China, labor unions are starting to emerge, according to international HRM.
In China, rising labor agitation is beginning to emerge. In mid-2010, activism erupted at Foxconn (see Case 5.2) and Honda Motor factories, involving for the first time groups other than workers, such as the New Labor Art Troup (a performance group with an immigrant cast), legal aid and other support networks at scores of universities, law firms focused on promoting workers’ rights, and a slew of migrant worker aid organizations. The question is whether these organizations can build a workers’ movement with enough structure and strength to take on factory owners across the country. Until a few years ago, the Chinese authorities had a relatively easy time dismantling infrequent labor rallies. The Chinese security apparatus made sure that the leaders of labor protests in Shenzen, Harbin, and other cities did not join forces to establish a nationwide movement.
Today’s young workers, on the other hand, may be more difficult to manage. China currently has 787 million cellphone users and 348 million Internet users, and migrant workers in their twenties (who fill many of the factory jobs in the big industrial cities) are significantly better informed about global events than their parents. Whether in China’s north-eastern Rust Belt or the southern Pearl River Delta, the younger generation monitors labor movements as they develop.
The more assertive workers have also benefited from a massive campaign by China’s state-run media to disseminate information about the 2008 labor contract law. As a result, young workers are aware of what they are owed, whether it is double pay for overtime or better working conditions. They are beginning to demand more in order to put an end to the days of cheap labor and easy mistreatment.
These workers who are self-taught suddenly have new allies. Beijing’s decade-long push to increase the number of students at China’s universities has attracted an increasing number of rural residentsas well as those with relatives and friends who still work in factoriesto Chinese campuses. This has sparked a groundswell of support for migrant labor among college students. Students studying law, politics, and sociology are organizing support groups and even providing legal assistance to employees in unprecedented numbers. “We are not merely working for the rights of 1,800 workers, but for the rights of workers across the country,” the Honda workers proclaimed during their protest. Another Honda facility in China went on strike a week later.
The demand for factory employees for export markets and rising domestic consumer markets continues to rise, while the quantity of accessible, low-wage workers from China’s rural inland decreases, providing China’s labor force additional leverage to demand higher salaries and better working conditions. Strikes and the establishment of unions are examples of collective action that can lead to these rights. This has never been done before, and it offers significant challenges not only for Chinese political leaders, but also for the strategic leadership of the thousands of foreign companies that have never had to worry about labor issues in their Chinese subsidiaries and subcontractors.
Please respond to the following questions:
1. Why are labor unions gaining traction in China’s factories? Is this good or bad for China, in your opinion? Is it beneficial or detrimental to foreign MNEs who subcontract to these factories?
2. Will this tarnish China’s image as a low-cost, welcoming outsourcing destination?
3. How does this affect IHR in the companies involved?