Jun 14, 2010
Chinese authorities just raised the minimum wage by 20% (to about $140 a month). This was after workers in the large factories in the south of China won significant wage increases through victorious strikes.
At the beginning of June, there were successful strikes in the Honda factory in Foshan, near Canton, with an increase of 35% in base wages; followed by a significant increase in wages in the Korean plants of Hyundai near Beijing; and then a 10% increase at Zhoshan, a parts supplier to Honda. Despite the limited information available, it appears that the number of workers involved and the size of strikes have increased recently.
These strikes are welcome, given the absolutely horrible conditions. The recent wave of suicides over the past few months in the factories of Foxconn testifies to this. Foxconn is part of an electronics giant from Taiwan that produces for iPhone, Apple, Nokia, Sony, Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Altogether, Foxconn employs some 300,000 workers in Chinese factories. And its parent, Hon Hai, employs more than 800,000 workers all over the world. The global importance of its well-known customers gives weight to these protests.
The peasants who have become workers are known as “mingong”. Their lives are militarized; they live in barracks; work six days out of seven, for 12 hours a day, in horrible conditions. Lodged in dormitories, they have no right to a family life. And their wages are miserable.
The so-called rapid economic growth in China over the last two decades comes at a price. Workers of the cities and of the countryside have been paying for this “miracle.”
According to official Chinese statistics, the share of the national wealth received by workers has declined from 53% to 40% over the last 20 years. The share of national wealth going to factories and their owners has jumped from 21% to 31% in the same period.
These so-called owners, who are often the sons or cousins or nephews of high officials of the army, the party and the state, have privatized half the former public enterprises. And now they pocket the profits. They have used their positions in and ties to the regime to strangle this working class up to now. But this working class that rapidly developed as China became “the workshop of the world” seems to be flexing its muscles today.
More than 200 million mingong make up some 80% of the working class in China. These workers have only a temporary authorization to live in the city where their factory is located, with no right to reside there permanently. The police are always present, intervening to prevent any independent organizing, especially of unions other than the official “union,” the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). ACFTU is a loyal bosses’ union. During the strike at Honda, ACFTU officials verbally attacked the strikers.
In ripping hundreds of millions of workers out of the countryside, capitalist exploitation has brought forth a large and concentrated Chinese working class in the big urban centers – just as once happened in Europe and the United States. Now, some 20 years after the Chinese miracle, this working class may be more conscious of the force it has. Young strikers of Honda declared: “We fight not just for the rights of the 1800 workers (of Honda), but for the rights of all workers in China.”