Nov 22, 2004
At the beginning of October a victorious strike rolled through the huge modern "Special Economic Zone" of Shenzhen, on the southern coast of China. The 3,000 workers of Computime, an electronic components company, were able to force the company to agree to a 170% wage increase.
The workers' anger was focused on their very low wages – 53 yuan a week or $6.39, in a country where the minimum wage is 141 yuan a week or $17. The company takes rent out of this low pay for a bed in the company dormitory and meals in the company's dining hall. The strike also revealed the revolting working conditions the workers suffer under: an 11 hour shift with no days off and fines for every imaginable infraction – for example, staying more than five minutes in the toilet.
Many Computime workers said they suffered injuries from their long working hours at the factory, but had to continue working without proper treatment as the company refused to pay medical insurance for them. "My leg was broken during an industrial accident, but I had to carry on with my work or otherwise I would lose my job," said one worker, showing her injuries.
At the beginning of October the workers organized the strike. They put up notices and handed out leaflets. They demonstrated and blocked one of the biggest streets of the city, causing a gigantic bottleneck. After a day and a half on strike, the workers won their increase, bringing their wage up to 143 yuan a week, slightly higher than the legal minimum. To give an idea what this wage means: a Coke costs five yuan and a pizza at one of the international chains operating in China costs 62 yuan.
In these industrial zones which employ many thousands of migrant workers fleeing the misery of the countryside, young workers seem to have become conscious of the force they represent, especially in the big workplaces. Despite exhaustion and repression by the owners and local authorities, despite the fact that unions independent of the state are prohibited, there are more and more reports of strike movements and demonstrations.