Time to improve the lot of workers – Zhang Lijia

7 Flares 7 Flares ×

Zhang Lijia

Many signs show that the lives of workers in China are improving, financially and otherwise. About time, writes former rocket-factory worker Zhang Lijia in The Guardian. Time for the former “Masters of the Nation” to gain some benefits. Zhang Lijia:

When I became a worker at a rocket factory back in 1980, aged 16, workers enjoyed cradle-to-grave social welfare and a much higher status. We were hailed as “the masters of the nation”.

During the free-market era, the state-owned factories laid off excess workers. Those who kept their jobs complained about low salaries, rising labour intensity and the lack of job security. But they are generally better off than workers in the private sector, which now employs 70% of the workforce. The employees at Foxconn worked up to 16 hours a day, in silence (talking was forbidden), with only a few minutes for toilet breaks. Socialism’s “masters of the nation” have been reduced to cheap commodities in this cold-hearted capitalism.

Many of the harshest factories – often foreign owned – are staffed by migrant workers. According to some estimates, they make up more than half of the 300-million-strong factory workforce. Although they fuel China’s economic miracle, they do not benefit from it…

In 2010, 500 workers from a Japanese company’s plant staged a strike in the city of Foshan in southern China, demanding not only a pay rise but also their own union. The strikers invited Chang Kai, an expert in labour relations from Renmin University, to participate in the negotiations, which resulted in a 35% pay raise.

“The new generation of workers is more aware of the power of collective bargaining,” says Professor Chang Kai in an interview with me in Beijing. He predicts that the Honda strike signals the end of China’s era of cheap manufacturing.

The young workers also have much higher aspirations when they come to the city. They are not content just to feed their stomachs; they want to build a future. And they are more willing to put up a fight.

More in The Guardian

Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

More on Zhang Lijia and China’s moral crisis at Storify.

Enhanced by Zemanta