Yes! Chinese Workers Are Standing Up

I don’t know if folks elsewhere have been following the Honda and FoxComm labor disputes but, it is huge news!

Foxconn is making big changes in the wake of worker suicides. Over the last few weeks there has been a strike at a Honda production facility here in Guangdong Province. This past weekend, most workers returned to work after Honda agreed to some significant demands (including a substantial pay raise). Now workers at another Honda plant in the area have walked out. Read here for more information:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/09/business/global/09labor.html

These are important and exciting developments. It appears that the Party has recognized that it cannot continue its rapid development without increasing the purchasing power of the Chinese people and, thus, is willing to allow strikes to go on without heavy-handed intervention for the time being. While all this is ultimately going to mean an end to low-cost Chinese labor and export merchandise (get your cheap disposable junk while it lasts, folks), it is an encouraging sign that workers are going to begin demanding better occupational conditions. I am hopeful that environmental protection, social support and all manner of other social changes will follow.

We have some friends who are businesspeople and they are terrified that these recent events are going to mean that they will soon be paying higher wages to their workers. They claim that small Chinese businesses can’t afford it the way that huge multi-nationals like Honda can. True enough – the requirement to pay a living wage and offer better work conditions will not be felt equally by all companies. All the same, there is tremendous (even incomprehensible if you are from the US) inequality here and it will take much more than the wage increases currently in play to topple the wealth of China’s 825,000 millionaires. I think most of them will be just fine.

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