Feb 2, 2004
Jobs are moving to China, claim media headlines. Some investment is certainly moving there. U.S. firms, which invested about four billion dollars in China ten years ago, invested more than 60 billion dollars in 2003. Of course, the amount of investment says nothing about the number of jobs in the U.S. or in China, but it clearly shows that U.S. corporations expect to make money there.
What convinces companies to invest is the hundreds of millions of low-wage workers in China. Although the vast majority of the Chinese are peasant farmers, conditions on the farms are so close to starvation that between 100 and 200 million move to the cities to find work every year. There workers find poor working conditions, huge slums and growing unemployment.
Under these conditions, local capitalists and foreign ones are able to get away with paying extremely low wages – $60 per month or less – and enforcing working conditions not seen in the industrialized countries since the 18th and 19th centuries. Some factories demand 15 hour days or more; some imprison their work force in dormitories where they must live and sleep. The number of accidents reported is soaring. More than 3500 workers died in a six month period in mining accidents in 2002. And that was only the number known due to reports in the foreign press.
As one Chinese economist put it, "... the poorest part of the Chinese population will pay the worst price in the form of unemployment and social insecurity."
China since the revolutionary period following World War II has suffered under a terrible dictatorship; but state-run enterprises maintained full employment in the cities and provided certain benefits to pacify the population, such as free schooling, low cost housing, guaranteed health care and retirement.
After Mao's death, subsequent Chinese governments claimed they were moving toward capitalism. Yet China was not brought into the World Trade Organization until two years ago, when it finally changed some laws and regulations to aid capitalists wanting to invest there. Finally, world capitalists had enough enticements to increase investments there. The list of U.S. corporations investing in China today includes Ford, Motorola, General Electric, Honeywell, Boeing, United Technologies, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and FedEx. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken thinks it can make money in China – with 1000 restaurants opened there!
Foreign investment grew exactly because social benefits were cut back and wages were kept low, as China was pulled more and more directly into the capitalist world. Nonetheless, it's not a foregone conclusion that these big multi-national monsters can get away with attacking the laboring population in this way.
The Chinese working class has a long tradition of militant strikes and social struggles that forced the imperialist countries to step back. It may seem like a sleeping giant just now. But it's a giant nonetheless.