The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

iPhone Workers Protest in China

Dec 5, 2022

Since early October, workers at the world’s largest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, China, have been fighting over unfulfilled contracts and promises over wages and benefits, the danger of COVID spreading in the factory, rigid COVID quarantine enforcements and lockdowns, crammed dormitories, and worry over finding food under the quarantine lockdowns. As the contractor for Apple, Foxconn employs up to 300,000 workers at full production capacity in this factory to manufacture more than half the world’s iPhones.

This compound resembles a vast work prison for the workers. Under a so-called “closed-loop” production system due to the COVID pandemic, Foxconn requires these workers to work and live in the Zhengzhou manufacturing compound, which includes dormitories, shops, and cafeterias. Because of the COVID epidemic, Foxconn forced a lockdown on workers, requiring daily COVID tests and preventing workers from leaving the compound.

When COVID started to spread among the workers and Foxconn imposed lockdowns over them, tens of thousands of Foxconn workers fled the compound in late October, fearing that they would get trapped and die in the compound. Some escaped on foot and walked to their homes, tens of miles away, because the government stopped or restricted public transportation.

Foxconn normally pays $3.30 an hour. To recruit and retain new workers, Foxconn promised $5.00 an hour, or $3,500 for two months of work. Foxconn has also promised allowances, including a retention bonus of up to $1,100 to keep working until March, and a bonus of up to $1,375 to meet production quotas in December. These wages are miserly even at these “jacked-up” levels, considering that the iPhones these workers produce each easily pull in more than $1,000 for Apple.

But Foxconn’s promises did not work. Some workers saw Foxconn cut their allowances. Others doubted that they would ever get these promised bonuses. In the past, Foxconn many times promised to give such allowances, but the workers had to revolt to get them. So, the workers have every reason not to trust Foxconn now.

The Foxconn workers also faced more dire conditions. Foxconn crammed eight people into each dormitory room. And it forced some recruits to share their rooms with known COVID-19 patients. Workers described food shortages and the fear of being at Foxconn’s mercy for necessities, according to the New York Times.

“They changed the contract so that we could not get the subsidy as they had promised. They quarantine us but don’t provide food,” said one Foxconn worker. “Everyone in the dormitory wants to quit,” said another.

Fights broke out between protesting workers and security forces at the factory. The workers kicked down barriers and dismantled COVID testing kiosks. The Chinese government brought an army of cops against the workers, but the workers didn’t stop. To quell the revolt, Foxconn lifted the COVID lockdown and offered up to $1,400 to the workers who chose to leave.

The Foxconn factory needed 100,000 new workers to resume full production capacity. Local government authorities started to recruit People’s Liberation Army veterans, Chinese Communist Party members, and civil servants to “form teams” and join Foxconn’s assembly lines for at least a month. So, the Chinese government effectively acted like a strikebreaker.

Apple is one of the world’s most profitable companies. Apple’s China sales snowballed during the pandemic, and Apple now skims off more profit than the combined income of China’s two biggest tech companies, Alibaba and Tencent, according to the Financial Times. Apple reached this “success” on the backs of Foxconn workers who risk their lives for miserly wages. Workers will get their relief, pay, and benefits only through such revolts.