Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chinese Workers On The Brink Of Huge Revolt

Striking workers rally outside the Guangzhou handbag factory
As the days pass, the evidence is mounting that Chinese workers are on the verge of a massive revolt, which has the potential to rock the globalised capitalist system at its foundation - the super-exploitation of labour in the 'sweatshop of the world'.

Wen Jiabao's Communist Party dictatorship was put on the defensive last summer, when a relatively small series of strikes broke out amongst tech-savvy young Chinese workers. A combination of apparent concessions and state repression stamped out the flames of rebellion, but the conditions for a far larger uprising have matured since then, and workers are again coming out in protest at intolerable working lives and unaffordable prices.

Since the Tiananmen Square massacre proved to western capital that the Chinese government could be utterly ruthless in its opposition to progressive grassroots movements, the nation's economy has grown at a furious pace. Prior to the 2008 financial crash, western companies were extremely confident in the Communist Party's ability to force unrestrained capitalism on a growing industrial proletariat. Following the international credit crunch, Jiaboa's regime feared that demand for Chinese manufacturing would collapse, so they introduced various stimulus measures. That money has largely run out, forcing businesses to attack working conditions with increased ferocity.

Last summer's strikes also panicked amongst bankers and politicians
At the same time, China's inflation rate has surged to around five per cent, meaning that millions of young Chinese industrial workers face a struggle to put food on their own table, never mind send money home to their rural relatives. Social tensions have now reached the point where even comparatively small incidents can trigger a huge response.

Migrant workers in the city of Chaozhou rioted over unpaid wages at the start of June. The following weekend, more riots broke out when local government security staff pushed a pregnant woman to the ground in the "jeans capital" of Xintang district. A kilometre-long column of heavily armed police were eventually paraded through the streets, in an attempt to intimidate would-be the general public.

Industrial stoppages have followed hard on the heels of these uprisings. Two thousand workers at the Japanese-owned Citizen Watch factory in Dongguan went on strike for several days, in protest against long hours and low pay. Just last week, four thousand toilers in a South Korean-owned Guangzhou handbag factory struck for higher pay and an end to management abuses.

These strikes failed to win concessions from bosses, and police were sent in to suppress the resistance with violence and arrests. But the underlying tensions remain, and will surely be released over the next weeks and months. If workers are able to link up their individual struggles, the stage could be set for a confrontation that would dwarf the 'Arab Spring' in terms of historical significance.
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