China: Young workers lead the fightback

The host of strikes across many regions of China in recent weeks and months have served to once again highlight the brutal working conditions in the country. The “Sweatshop of the World” has seen a litany of strikes take place within the last months in many multinational corporation factories, many of which have been instigated by young migrant workers.

The strikes originated in Honda-affiliated factories in the Guandong city of Foshan, where workers, many only in their teens or early twenties, began a fight back against their barbaric conditions of employment. They demanded vastly improved working hours, pay rises and a restructuring of the state-controlled trade unions. One of the most important demands was the right to replace state-implemented heads of local unionbranches with elected worker representatives. The strike lasted 10 days, which was quite remarkable as management, local government and puppet union officials made many attempts to intimidate the workers into backing down. Workers won pay rises ranging from 24 – 32%, but the threat of further action hangs in the air as the workforce have a further 147 outstanding demands!

The Communist Party bureaucracy were desperate for the strikes to end before the Tiananmen Square anniversary took place as they fear nothing more than a genuine, independent workers’ movement. Despite the efforts of the bureaucracy, the commemorations still recorded their biggest turnout since the atrocity occurred. These strikes occurred against a backdrop of much anger and disillusionment within the working class, especially amongst an increasingly radicalised younger generation. The popular backlash against the multinational Foxconn (supplier of components to Apple, Dell and Sony), only served to ignite the struggles further. Foxconn was recently exposed, as 12 workers have committed suicide in the factory due to the military-style administration and harsh working conditions experienced. Foxconn workers were forced to work 70 hours a week for 50c per hour.

Workers are also finding it more and more challenging to survive as capitalist “reforms” attack their living standards. The share of GDP, for example, that goes to workers has shrunk dramatically from 57% in 1983 to 37% in 2005. This is despite GDP growing as fast as ever, expanding to 11.9% in 2009 alone. The action taken by the Foshan workers has inspired other young factory workers across China to struggle against the exploitation suffered under the hands of other major multinational corporations as we witness a summer of discontent in China.