By Mark L Thomas
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Great leap forward in worker militancy

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Issue 391

One of the biggest strikes in recent Chinese history took place last month when up to 40,000 shoe manufacturing workers at the Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings plant in Dongguan City walked out. They were protesting at underpayments by the company to their social security and housing funds.

The Taiwanese owned multinational is the largest producer of branded footwear in the world. Its three factories in China’s Guangdong province alone employ 60,000 workers (globally it employed a total of 423,000 people in 2012).

Newspaper reports tell of hundreds of Yue Yuen workers blocking a bridge in protest at the underpayments in early April.

In mid-April around 10,000 workers marched through the streets of Dongguan holding banners that read “Pay back the social security and public housing fund! Shame on Yue Yuen’s illegal activities!” Riot police then attacked the protest and arrested workers holding the banners.

The strike comes against a backdrop of a rise in strikes taking place across China. The China Labour Bulletin (CLB) reports, “There has been a noticeable surge in the number of strikes and worker protests in China since the Lunar New Year Holiday in early February. China Labour Bulletin recorded 119 incidents…in March alone. Overall, there were 202 incidents in the first quarter of 2014, up 31 percent compared with same period last year…the workers’ movement continues to be broad-based, with protests in a wide range of industries across the whole of the country.”

The CLB also notes a more aggressive response from the police towards protests and strikes, with police present in 45 percent of all disputes in the first three months of 2014 – for the same period last year it was just 11 percent – and the number of arrests has also risen sharply.

The explosive rise of Chinese capitalism has transformed cities like Dongguan in the region around the Pearl River Delta into global centres of manufacturing. Dongguan alone made an estimated 30 percent of all the toys delivered at Christmas last year around the world.

It also manufactures 20 percent of all sweaters and 10 percent of all running shoes. But China is also running out of cheap migrant labour and is facing growing skill shortages. Workers are increasingly demanding a better deal and are willing to fight for it.


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