Sunday, June 13, 2010

[olympiaworkers] China: Unrest spreads as Honda workers keep striking Jun 13 2010

Workers stand by a fence during a strike at a Honda Motor vehicle factory.

Strikes at Honda's transmission and exhaust system plants in the southern
Chinese city of Foshan that won significant pay rises, and ongoing
industrial action by Honda Lock workers in Zhongshan, have been followed
by strike action in other parts of the country. Workers are demanding
higher wages, better conditions, and secure jobs in cities including
Shanghai, Zhuhai and Xian, in both foreign- and state-owned enterprises.

The Honda Lock strike, involving 1,700 workers, appears to be
intensifying, with employees yesterday morning rallying outside the
factory before staging a short protest march, in defiance of black-clad
riot police. Police left without clashing with workers. Honda nevertheless
threatened workers over loud speakers that they would face "serious
consequences" unless they accepted the offered 100 yuan pay rise. Many
Honda Lock workers currently earn the local official minimum wage of 900
yuan a month, $US132, for a 42-hour week. They are demanding an additional
800 yuan a month, 89 percent more.

On Thursday, the South China Morning Post reported, workers chanted at a
factory fence: "Are we settling for 200? No way. 300? No! How about 400?
No way." A 32-year-old female worker from Hunan said: "We want the same
wage level as Nanhai Honda workers. Not a single cent less." A 33-year-old
worker from Guangxi told the newspaper why she had joined the strike: "I
am in the paint spraying unit," she explained. "The air quality is
terrible inside. I've been sniffing toxic fumes for four years and only
earn 1,800 yuan a month. The wage level is too low."

The workers are not provided with dormitories, and must live in nearby
apartments that typically cost $44 a month [300 yuan] for rent and

Honda Lock workers have also been provoked by oppressive workplace
conditions. They are forced to stand for eight hours, with pregnant women
allowed to sit only in their last trimester. Workers are not allowed to
speak to one another, have to obtain passes before going to toilet, and
are strictly monitored by management even when getting a drink of water.
The strike was triggered on Wednesday morning when a company security
guard denied a female worker entry to the plant because her ID card was
supposedly improperly attached to her shirt, and then forced her to the
ground after she protested.

Honda Lock employees have elected a council of shop stewards to negotiate
with management. The workers' organisation was formed in opposition to the
state-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), and some
have called for a new independent union. "The [ACFTU] trade union is not
representing our views," one unnamed striker told the New York Times, "we
want our own union that will represent us."

These developments represent a direct challenge to the Chinese Communist
Party's ban on any independent organisation of the working class, which
has been in place since Mao's peasant armies came to power in 1949.

The Financial Times yesterday reported: "At plants where the strikes are
continuing, plain-clothes surveillance of workers and reporters is
increasing." The full extent of the strike wave across China remains
unclear, as some have reportedly been settled or suppressed shortly after
emerging, while other struggles have been deliberately ignored by the
state media.

In Zhuhai, Guangdong province, nearly a thousand workers in a Flextronics
plant struck on Thursday, demanding a pay rise to bring them in line with
the 2,000 yuan received by Foxconn workers. US-owned Flextronics is the
world's second largest outsourcing electronics manufacturer, after
Foxconn, and employs 30,000 workers at its Zhuhai plant. Workers
complained that they are subject to a brutal production regime similar to
Foxconn, but receive just 965 yuan a month. This wage is similar to that
at Foxconn before a series of suicides forced the company to offer pay

In Shanghai, 2,000 workers at TPO Displays, partly owned by electronics
giant Foxconn, went on strike on Wednesday, protesting against rumoured
company plans to relocate the plant to Nanjing. The workers produce LCD
screens for mobile phones and GPS devices.

In Xian, Shaanxi province, Japan's Brother Industries' two sewing machine
plants were shut down by a strike of 900 workers that began on June 3 in
demand of higher pay and better conditions. The ACFTU head of the
factories claimed that workers had agreed to return to work last Thursday,
after the Japanese management made concessions.

In Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, 8,000 workers protested at a
Taiwanese-owned sport equipment factory. Last Saturday, a female worker
not wearing her ID card was blocked from entering the plant, leading to an
argument in which security guards assaulted another worker who tried to
mediate. After rumours circulated that he died had from his injuries, the
pent-up anger at the plant erupted on Monday and workers smashed the
security department, factory gate, equipment and vehicles. The strike
ended when 200 police officers arrived and arrested the security guards
who had attacked the worker. The police remained to ensure that production

In Hubei province's Suizhou city, 400 workers staged an anti-privatisation
protest in front of their state-owned textile factory. The plant had been
sold to a private business owner who was unable to revive production, and
instead plundered workers' pensions and other benefits. The local
authority bought back the enterprise, only to sell it to real estate
developers. Workers began protesting the sale last month and the issue
remains unresolved.

The international financial press continues to watch the emerging workers'
movement in China with great unease.

A comment by Tom Mitchell in Wednesday's Financial Times warned that
disruption to global supply chains caused by industrial action would
likely prove just as damaging to investors as wage concessions. "The
complexity of the global supply chain may be something to marvel at—but it
comes at a price," he noted. "The inherent fragility of a farflung system
with millions of interactions can lead quickly to negative widespread
repercussions for the companies whose futures are bound up with it.

BusinessWeek commented on Thursday that the young generation of Chinese
workers "are far more aware of world developments than their parents",
thanks to widespread Internet and mobile phone use. Frank Jaeger, a German
factory owner in Dongguan complained: "Every worker is a labour lawyer by
himself. They know their rights better than my HR officer." Harley
Seyedin, president of American Chamber of Commerce of South China, said:
"There are Internet cafes everywhere, so the workers can get information.
They are starting to ask for more. The days of cheap labour are gone."

Hong Kong's Economic Daily yesterday warned that strikes may "spread
across the country". It stated that while some large corporations could
afford wage concessions, there were limits. Transnational firms could pull
out of China if higher profit margins were on offer elsewhere, while many
small and medium companies could collapse if forced to issue 20-30 percent
wage rises. The Economic Daily also explained that although it was
important for Beijing to encourage domestic consumption, granting higher
wages carried huge risks: "Given the current sharp social tensions in
China, strikes may mix up with other social grievances, evolving into
demonstrations and even unrest against the [existing] society and even the
government, shaking social stability."

The CCP is well aware of the dangers posed by the growing strike wave.
Currently it is treading a fine line, hesitating to unleash repressive
measures against the striking factory workers for fear of triggering a
broader oppositional movement, while at the same time preparing for
violent confrontation to suppress the working class, as it has done in the

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