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4. Chinese migrant workers: factors
constraining the emergence of class
Anita Chan and Kaxton Siu
Labour protests in China, particularly among the so-called ‘new genera-
tions of peasant-workers’ (xinshengdai nongmingong),1 have been increas-
ing during the past decade. Every time an explosive strike breaks out and
receives publicity outside China, it stirs up excitement among labour sym-
pathizers. Great expectations are sometimes placed on the disturbances,
in the belief that it heralds a rising consciousness of collective interests
among workers. Is this indeed the case? These workers are young, fresh
from the countryside, heading straight from the elds into factories that
are usually located in new industrial zones cut o from urban areas.
This does not at rst sight seem a likely group to exhibit any collective
identity. Is this new generation indeed developing a strong working class
Exponents of the thesis that migrant workers are developing class con-
sciousness do not contend that this is yet at a high level. Even scholars
such as Ngai Pun and Huilin Lu (2010, p.512), who optimistically point
to the migrant workers’ potential to mount collective challenges, still
characterize ‘the second generation of peasant-workers’, who are seen
as more conscious than the rst generation, as ‘gradually [our emphasis]
becoming aware of its class position’.2 Indeed, at a conference held at
Vienna in September 2011, Pun in her oral presentation cautioned that
it would be a long time before there would be a massive upheaval. In
this chapter we come to the same conclusion, though arriving at it from
a di erent angle. We hope to put forth a di erent understanding of the
present class consciousness of the millions of Chinese migrant workers in
South China by drawing on Marx, Lenin, and Marxist historians’ views
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80 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
CLASS AND CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS: THEORY
Extant studies of China’s migrant workers tend to be ahistorical in that
they either describe phenomena that took place at one point in time or
within a few short decades. Eli Friedman and Ching Kwan Lee in their
recent article (Friedman and Lee, 2010), and Chris Chan (2010) in his
book on migrant-worker strikes, start with the late 1980s in their depic-
tions of the development of identity and consciousness among this group.
Historically, the formation of class, the emergence of class consciousness,
labour movements and social movements have taken a much longer time
span to take full shape. Fernand Braudel (1982) of the Annales school
and world-system theorist Immanuel Wallerstein (1991) considered even
several decades as too short to understand and predict social change. As
yet, there is no labour historian in Chinese studies, so we shall attempt to
place these last 30 years into a historical perspective by examining the class
formation that occurred during the European Industrial Revolution two
centuries back. We believe that by situating China’s current level of class
and class consciousness development as a historical process we shall arrive
at a more accurate understanding of the current situation and what lies
ahead in the coming several decades.
While a large social group with shared socioeconomic conditions can
structurally and objectively be identi able as a class, subjectively they may
not identify themselves as a class. Marx wrote of the peasantry in 1852, ‘In
so far as there is merely a local interaction among these small peasants,
and the identity of their interests begets no unity, no national union and
no political organization, they do not form a class’ (Marx, 1963, p.124).
This brings us to Marx’s famous distinction between ‘class in itself’ and
‘class for itself’ of industrial workers:
Economic conditions rst transformed the mass of the people of the country
into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common
situation, common interests. The mass is thus already a class as against capital,
but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases,
the mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests
it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a
political struggle. (Marx, 1995, pp.188–9)
Most scholars’ writings on Chinese migrant workers have not argued that
today’s workers have become a ‘class for itself’, but they have not teased
out in depth the level of class consciousness thus far attained by this enor-
mous new-born labouring group. This brings to the fore the necessity of
examining varying levels of class consciousness in the progression from no
consciousness to political consciousness.
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 81
How does a working class transform itself from a ‘class in itself’ to a
‘class for itself’? In Europe, this was a historical process that took many
decades. It was a linear progression interrupted by ts and starts. The
development could be divided into stages and, within each stage, into
phases. Both Lenin (1947) and Marx (1963) wrote about this staged devel-
opment of consciousness. Marx observed that in the beginning workers’
strikes were isolated and were mainly over wage maintenance. After some
time they united across factories in an e ort to counter the strength of the
capitalist employers. Finally, when consciousness was high, workers even
used some of their wages to support workers’ organizations. They had
progressed to be ‘a class for itself’.
Lenin divided class consciousness into three di erent levels: individual
consciousness, trade union consciousness and social democratic (meaning
revolutionary) consciousness. E.P. Thompson theorized the uidity of
class and class consciousness further as a process that became ‘a historical
phenomenon’. ‘I do not see class as “structure”, or even as a “category” ’,
he wrote, ‘but as something which in fact happens (and can be shown to
have happened) in human relationships’ (Thompson, 1966, p.9).
As class and class consciousness are historical phenomena, the time
frame used is important in understanding the level of class consciousness.
In 1845, about 65 years after the emergence of industrial labour, Engels
expected that the English working class would rise up in rebellion, but it did
not. Engels’ too optimistic expectation was based on the biggest workers’
uprising in English history, which took place between 1841 and 1842. In
this two-year period there were many waves of strikes. Royle notes that
about 70 000 miners went on strike in eight Scottish and 14 English coun-
ties, for the most part in the Midlands, Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire,
and the Strathclyde region of Scotland. Many Chartist activists, that is,
activists advocating political change, joined in this strike wave (Royle,
1996, p.30) and the Chartist movement. The maturation of working class
political consciousness owered in this period. After this countrywide
strike, Engels had to wait until 1853 – three-quarters of a century after
the start of the Industrial Revolution – for the next uprising, when 18 000
textile factory workers went on strike in Stockport, Lancashire, Cheshire
and Preston, demanding pay rises to keep up with the high in ation of that
year (Pelling, 1976, pp. 35–6). In Russia, industrial development began
only in the second half of the 1860s, and it was about three decades later
that Lenin argued in What Is To Be Done? that workers’ class conscious-
ness would not rise beyond spontaneity unless given a push by an intellec-
tual vanguard (Lenin, 1947). Thus, Marx, Engels, Lenin and many labour
historians were impatient about how slowly class consciousness matured.
There was an urge to will this historical phenomenon into being and Lenin,
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82 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
impatient, ultimately put his organizational prescription into practice and
tried to create history – as did Mao, following in Lenin’s footsteps.
At what stage and phase of development is the consciousness of the new
Chinese migrant working class? What time frame should be used when
studying the development of its class consciousness? In responding to these
two questions, we will try to survey the development of class consciousness
of Chinese migrant workers in Guangdong Province and contrast such
a development with that in other countries (for example, England and
Russia) in order to locate the current level of class consciousness possessed
by Chinese migrant workers. On top of this, we also use various empirical
cases that have broken out in China to delineate the progression and level
of class consciousness among Chinese migrant workers at various points in
time. Notably, among all the cases presented, we pay particular attention
to the Nanhai Honda strike that broke out in 2010, and evaluate its signi -
cance in terms of the level of class consciousness it suggests, using other
cases as reference points. However, before going further into the details of
our cases, several points have to be emphasized: the main purpose of this
chapter is to re-mobilize Marx and Lenin’s theoretical staged development
of consciousness to objectively measure the level of class consciousness
possessed by the present-day migrant workers in Southern China. There
is no intention to suggest any advocacy plans; nor is there any intention to
demand today’s Chinese migrant workers to raise their consciousness up
to a revolutionary level; nor do we want to use other strike cases to down-
play the role of the Nanhai Honda strike in contemporary Chinese labour
movement history. However, we are sceptical that its impact on workers
has been that great and that the strikers possessed very high class con-
sciousness. Our major argument in this chapter is simply that the major-
ity of present-day Chinese migrant workers are still waging isolated and
uncoordinated rights-based protests and strikes. Only a few strikes have
gone beyond rights-based demands to an interest-based level by requesting
more than what is stipulated in current Chinese labour law. Only very few
Chinese migrant workers are class conscious enough to ask for the setting
up or re-election of workplace trade unions, or to organize strikes beyond
individual factories at regional and country-wide levels.
THE EMBRYONIC STAGE OF CLASS
CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHINESE MIGRANTS IN
Beginning in the mid-1980s the migrant workers in the factories of
Guangdong Province grew from a very small number to reach some 30
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 83
million today. This is probably the fastest-growing and largest rural-to-
urban factory workforce, closely packed into one geographical region,
created in human history. To a great extent the birth of this industrial
workforce resembles the birth of the industrial workforce in England
and other parts of Western Europe at the end of the eighteenth and the
beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Much can be learned by comparing
these two new-born labouring groups that existed 200 years apart. Using
empirical evidence, this section argues that the class consciousness among
the several tens of millions of migrant workers in Guangdong Province
is still at a low level when measured against the workers of the Industrial
Revolution from the turn of the nineteenth century to the 1840s.
Evidence from both periods rests partly on an examination of the types
and levels of protests. These can range from quiet and orderly deliveries of
signed petitions to Luddite behaviour. Among the many forms of protest,
the most signi cant manifestation of collective consciousness is strikes
– workers refusing to sell their labour, resulting in open confrontation
between labour and capital.
What is the evidence for strike actions within China today?
Unfortunately, Chinese provincial governments do not release strike
gures but only gures for ‘labour disputes’, which are statistics on court
cases, and should not be equated to strike gures.3 Unless local authorities
report strikes to the relevant centralized statistics-collecting bureaucracies,
a strike does not become a statistical gure. Chinese local governments
have a tendency to under-report strikes to maintain a facade of social
stability. In addition, there are many mini-strikes or work stoppages that
only last for an hour or half a day and are resolved quickly, unknown to
the local authorities. Thus, the available data on strikes are patchy to the
point of being useless.
However, lack of information has not deterred scholars interested in the
topic. A lot of emphasis gets placed on one or two strike cases4 or even on
one individual worker as evidence of rising class consciousness (Pun and
Lu, 2010). These cases do re ect in some detail the work conditions and
protest actions at the sites in question, but to conclude that consciousness
is rising rapidly and spreading among the broad migrant workforce, or
that there have been strike waves, cannot be backed by evidence.
The most systematic attempt to document the history of strikes in the
Pearl River Delta region is by Chris Chan, who in a chapter of his 2010
book gives a sweeping record of strikes in Shenzhen from 1986 to 2004
(Chan, 2010, pp.18–24). He explains the ebb and ow of strikes based
on the cases he collected, showing workers’ responses to the micro- and
macroeconomic situation of the time. The thrust of his argument is
that strikes increased, but Chris Chan has not taken into account strike
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84 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
density, that is, the proportion of strikes in relation to the size of the work-
force. As the number of foreign-invested factories in China has expanded
from a small number in the county town of Shenzhen to several tens of
thousands of factories crowding the delta in less than three decades, it is
inevitable that the number of strikes has risen. Given the huge rise in the
number of workers, are the recent strikes that large in number? Our com-
parative study of the Ho Chi Minh area of Vietnam and Guangdong in
China strongly suggests that the strike density is much higher in Vietnam
To compensate for the dearth of reliable statistical data, in this
chapter we will use data we have collected on protest and strike cases in
Guangdong Province stretching back for almost two decades since 1993.
The sources for these 100-plus cases are varied. They include unpublished
reports from several labour non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
published reports of several labour NGO websites based outside China,5
internal documentation from a Shenzhen-based labour NGO, discussions
with NGO sta members; our own interviews with workers who have
participated in strikes, reports from Hong Kong newspapers, news articles
from Guangdong newspapers and web-based reports posted by Chinese
labour activists. The level of detail of the information varies: some are
recorded in a few short lines, some comprise several tens of pages of inter-
view notes and some include follow-up reports. In several cases we were
able to meet with some of the strike protagonists.
As far as we know there is no empirical evidence to show that there
have been any large-scale, coordinated and organized labour protests in
Guangdong Province, nor have groups of workers from di erent factories
made any collective demands on the local or central Chinese governments,
nor have workers attempted to set up any independent trade unions at
the workplace or multi-workplace level. The protests and strikes have
almost always been spontaneous and have involved very speci c issues of
discontent within a factory.
PRE-1994: A STAGE OF PRE-CONSCIOUSNESS
Even today, most protests and strikes in Guangdong result from serious
immediate grievances of individual workers or a small group of workers
or, at the most, a sizeable number of workers at one workplace. That was
even more the case two decades ago. In our view the strikes recorded by
Chris Chan, which occurred at the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s,
fall into the category of pre-class consciousness. His ndings are supported
by the evidence recorded in 77 private letters that we have studied. These
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 85
letters were written by migrant workers to the Zhili toy factory re victims
of 1993. They were retrieved from the deceased workers’ dormitory by a
Chinese researcher and were passed onto one of this chapter’s authors.
The writers of the letters represent a random sample of migrant workers
in the Guangdong region. They revealed horrendous working and living
conditions in those early days of industrialization in the region’s export
sector. Some workers wrote to their friends and relatives at Zhili that they
literally did not have enough to eat: that their wages were so low that they
had to cut down on food consumption. In these letters, there was not even
one expressed wish to attempt to do something to improve their plight, not
to mention ideas of taking protest action. These workers accepted their
fate, and the only hope they had was to nd a better job in another factory,
which in the end often turned out to be no better (A. Chan, 2002).
Compared with today, working and living conditions 20 years ago were,
as one worker cited by Chris Chan called it, an ‘invisible prison’ (C. Chan,
2010, p.29). It was very common for factory management to take away
workers’ identity documents and to delay paying them to prevent them
from leaving, reducing them to bonded labour (A. Chan, 2000). The Zhili
letters, written in 1993, pre-date the enactment of China’s Labour Law,
which was passed in 1994. While there were regulations on maximum
work hours and overtime pay before 1994, the authors of the 77 letters
were not aware of these, or of any other safeguards against exploitation.
They had no notion of rights, but only that their immediate individual
circumstances were horrible. The period before 1994 can be considered a
pre-class conscious period. The best that workers in such circumstances
can do to protest their conditions is to nurture seeds of individual hidden
POST-1994: A PHASE OR RIGHTS-BASED PROTESTS
The 1994 Labour Law was the rst labour legislation passed in China
since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The passage
of the law stirred up a debate among government bureaucracies. The All
China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) fought to ensure that the
spirit of the law was advantageous to workers. It was passed not because
workers had been collectively making demands on the government, but
because there was a consensus within the political elite that social stabil-
ity had to be maintained by having a law to regulate industrial relations.
In nineteenth-century England, the introduction of the Reform Act in
1832, the Factory Act in 1833 and the New Poor Law in 1834 were also
for the purpose of maintaining stability. The di erence was that in early
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86 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
nineteenth-century England large-scale labour protests had for several
decades been putting a lot of pressure on capitalists and on the state
to improve working conditions. In the 1990s in China, such conscious
collective demands did not exist.
The 1994 Labour Law did induce a change in workers’ awareness, and
migrant workers in the Guangdong region gradually began to use the law
as an instrument to ‘protect rights’ (weiquan) when their legal rights were
violated. Note that these rights refer to legal rights and not to inalienable
human rights. The Chinese social discourse on ‘rights protection’ is char-
acterized by the acceptance of prevailing laws as the standard by which
work conditions and wages should be set. Weiquan is a hegemonic dis-
course deployed by the political and social elites, and from there it popu-
lates the vocabulary and consciousness of this new working class. Weiquan
is the best tool the dagongzu (‘toiling tribe’) has to ‘defend [its legal] rights’.
This slang term zu, meaning ‘tribe’ or ‘ethnicity’ has been accepted by
the elite to describe what is in reality a ‘class’. In the post-Mao era the
discourse downplays the concept of class, which was an everyday word
used under Maoism, so as to expunge the idea of class from social con-
sciousness. This has played a part in constraining the development of class
consciousness among the migrant workers born in China’s new ‘classless’
The ‘Intellectual Vanguard’ of the Pearl River Delta Region
When Lenin grew impatient that proletarian class consciousness was
developing too slowly to stage a revolution, he proclaimed that the
workers needed a ‘revolutionary vanguard’ drawn from the intelligentsia
to quicken the historical process. China’s revolutionary vanguard was
the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao. Since the economic reforms,
several Hong Kong labour NGOs have come into Guangdong’s Pearl
River Delta to ll the place of the ‘intelligentsia’ of yesteryear, but by no
means are they Lenin’s and Mao’s ‘revolutionaries’.
The Hong Kong labour NGOs, usually sta ed by a few people, began
setting up o ces across the border in the mid-1990s. These NGOs, run
by mostly middle-class, young idealists and hired PRC sta , have played
a signi cant role in popularizing the idea of ‘rights protection’ among
Chinese migrant workers in the Shenzhen region.7 Their programmes
focused on raising awareness of the details of the Labour Law and laws
related to occupational health and safety (OHS) among migrant workers.
They taught migrant workers how to read their pay slips and pointed
out where the payment and work hours fell short of legal requirements.
They helped injured workers seek compensation, which requires an expert
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 87
understanding of how to assess grades of injuries and litigation proce-
dures. This strategy allowed them to establish a foothold among workers’
communities. They were accepted by the Chinese local authorities because
their free services were in tune with the new laws. These activities became
legitimate and were tolerated as China became increasingly legislated.
With time these NGOs became better organized, trained more mainland
sta and ran more train-the-trainer programmes. As sta members split
o to form splinter groups, an increasing number of indigenous labour
NGOs sprang up in the Delta region.
Their persistence paid o within the space of a decade. Most migrant
workers today in this part of China know about the legal maximum over-
time, about the region’s o cial minimum wage and about industrial inju-
ries compensation. Taking bosses to court for underpaying, going to the
authorities to lodge legal claims for back pay and suing for injuries com-
pensation have become commonplace. Litigation is a legitimate form of
protest. These paralegals and lawyers of labour law rms have come to be
known as ‘citizens’ agents’. One well-known citizens’ agent handled 6000
cases in a decade and a half (‘Labour NGOs in Guangdong Province’,
2008). The rise of litigation and of citizens’ agents has catapulted China’s
industrial relations into a new phase. In response, the Guangdong govern-
ment has had to grapple with the question of whether it should co-opt and
incorporate the citizens’ agents and other labour NGOs by taking them
under its wing.
While the NGOs’ legal aid movement has been instrumental in raising
workers’ awareness of their labour rights, the very fact that the movement
is framed by the discourse on ‘rights protection’ individualizes labour
dispute settlements in a reactive, rather than proactive, manner. That is,
only when labour rights are being violated and, speci cally, when minimal
legal rights are being violated, do workers come forth. China is headed in
a direction that is becoming increasingly litigious, interrupted sporadically
by industrial violence. This ‘intellectual vanguard’ of rights protectors
delimits itself to the law-abiding activities of individual litigation. While
not intending to belittle their e orts, we think that they have actually
helped to alleviate social discontent by channelling workers’ grievances
into the legal system, which is exactly why the legal instruments were
created in the rst place.
Rights-based Protests Versus Interest-based Protests
It is instructive to introduce the di erence here between rights-based as
opposed to interest-based protests. Rights-based demands push for legal
compliance when legal rights are being violated. In this sense, the law
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88 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
imposes a maximum on claims – these can be no more than the minimum
standards that the law requires. Interest-based demands go beyond the
minimum standards de ned by law: for example, a demand for a wage rise
above the legal minimum wage. Thus, the issue at stake in interest-based
claims is not one of legality, but of whether management chooses to accept
or resist workers’ demands.
This distinction between the two types of rights can only exist when the
standards set by the labour laws are recognized as a legitimate framework
for regulating labour relations. Thus Chinese migrant workers, in taking
the litigation route, have not questioned the legitimacy of this structure.
They have not reached the level of consciousness at which they could assert
their rights to what is beyond the legal minimum. It can be said that since
the implementation of the Labour Law their level of consciousness has not
progressed very far. In fact, in our comparative study of the labour laws
of China and Vietnam as regulatory regimes, Chinese migrant workers
lag behind their Vietnamese counterparts. The several thousand strikes
that have broken out in Vietnam since 2005 were mostly interest-based
strikes. The law to them is irrelevant: every single one of these Vietnamese
strikes violated the detailed strike procedures laid down in Article 14 of the
Vietnamese Labour Code. In contrast, Chinese migrant workers’ demands
are normally rights-based. This is evidenced by Ching Kwan Lee’s asser-
tion, in Against the Law: Labour Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt,
that she found ‘that migrant workers . . . see the Labour Law as the only
institutional resource protecting their interests vis-à-vis powerful employ-
ers and local o cials’ (Lee, 2007, p.160). Migrant workers in this part of
China work with the law and not against the law.
However, the consciousness of Vietnamese workers is also not high
when compared with European workers of the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. Two hundred years ago in Europe, workers again and
again staged mass protests to spur the enactment of new laws. In other
words, at that time the concept of two types of protest – rights-based
and interest-based – did not exist. Labour laws then were in the making,
pushed into being in part through workers’ actions. In the early nineteenth
century, as workers emerged out of an agrarian society, the concept of a
maximum number of work hours a day for paid labour did not exist. As
Marx’s historical survey on the corvée system reveals, some landlords
forced peasants to work 365 days a year and successfully turned peasants
into a form of chattel (Marx, 1976, p. 348). Only later, when workers
were coerced into labouring beyond the limit of physical tolerance, did
they begin to struggle for shorter work hours. Marx recorded the bitter
history of struggle for shorter work hours in Capital. First, in 1833, it was
a struggle for a 12-hour day, then for a ten-hour day in 1838, and then an
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 89
eight-hour day in 1866 (Marx, 1976, pp.340–411). Each struggle was a
learning process that fed back into a consciousness that the workers, dis-
persed across workplaces, cities and regions, belonged to a socioeconomic
group with shared interests.
But in Marx and Lenin’s conception of class, this was still a class in
itself. The workers’ main concern was still their physical well-being, as
Marx pointed out. The workers’ demands still revolved around narrow,
non-political, immediate issues of whether long working hours would lead
to casualties, or whether dangerous work in dye and bleach industries
were hazardous to workers’ health (Marx, 1976, pp. 340–411). In fact,
in the early days of industrialization those leading the struggle were the
labour aristocracy made up of craftsmen who considered themselves a
cut above the unskilled workers and, later, as the factory system began
to take root, above the factory workers. There were no legal norms to
constrain the development of workers’ consciousness. Factory workers
inherited the experience and tradition of class struggle from the several
decades of struggle staged by the labour aristocracy. In China today, the
migrant factory workers have no accumulated experience to fall back on.
They have to start from zero, and it will take several decades to catch up
with their English counterparts of the years between 1829 and 1834, a
period that historians commonly agree was the period when the English
working class began to be aware of its class identity (Musson, 1972, p.21;
Hobsbawm, 1979, pp.4–68; Morris, 1979). The con ict between employ-
ers and labour was the essential ingredient in shaping this class identity.
This awareness took more than 50 years to develop after the beginning of
the Industrial Revolution.
The labour laws in China today have another type of constraining e ect
on the development of class consciousness. In China, the political elite
pass labour laws that largely are in compliance with international labour
standards (except for the core labour right of freedom of association: that
is, permitting independent unions). The Chinese laws have been shaped
without any input from workers. In that sense, while today’s workers
in the former socialist states have had it easy because they did not have
to struggle for legal maximum overtime and a minimum wage, this has
pre-empted and deprived them of the experience to voice their interests
through collective struggle to press for laws in their favour. The conten-
tion today is whether the bosses have breached the legal standards set for
them. The acceptance of the legitimacy of labour laws and of the standards
set by these laws has thwarted the development of millions of workers’
collective consciousness to question whether the minimum wage is set too
low. Both Chinese and Vietnamese workers for the time being are only
holding employers responsible for their exploitation and have not reached
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90 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
the level of making political demands on the state, which Marx and Engel
de ned as a higher stage of consciousness.
2010: THE BEGINNING OF INTEREST-BASED
The Honda transmission plant in Nanhai, Guangdong, has been consid-
ered by a number of writers to be a watershed in workers’ consciousness,
rising from the phase of rights-based to interest-based agitation. Two
thousand workers downed tools on 17 May 2010 and demanded a raise of
800 RMB a month – an 80 per cent increase. What was more, they insisted
the increase had to be added to their basic wage rather than as a subsidy.
The big increase they demanded was unprecedented, as labour protests
have almost always been over unpaid overtime, wage arrears or other
legal violations. In addition, they wanted a stepped wage structure. Their
demands indicated an aspiration for job security, an incentive system for
promotion and introduction of a seniority system. This is in line with
Pun and Lu’s (2010) analysis that this generation of workers do not want
to return to their home villages or home towns. They want to stay and
become permanent residents of Guangdong Province. The workers at the
Honda parts plant also complained that the salaries of the Japanese sta
were too high and the gap between the Japanese and Chinese employees
too wide. This was also unusual, because for the last decades migrant
workers have accepted the fact that foreign sta are on a much higher
salary scale. Workers might have complained about this in private, but not
as an open grievance. This was a sign that the Honda strike leaders have
developed a sense that there should be a fairer distribution of income. A
last demand worth noting, though by no means unprecedented, was a call
for a new election of the factory’s trade union committee to replace the
existing ine ectual union leadership made up of management sta .
The strike lasted 19 days and ended after the intervention of several
people: the CEO of the Guangzhou Automobile Group, which is the
Chinese partner of the Honda assembly plant,8 the provincial deputy trade
union chairman, and a well-known legal scholar. The workers obtained
the wage rise they demanded and were promised that they would be able
to elect their own trade union committee (Lüthje, 2010; Chan and Hui,
unpublished). The Honda strike and its results were well publicized, espe-
cially through the Internet. Within a two-week period, strikes at two other
Honda auto parts plants in Guangdong Province broke out. These also
ended with workers winning big wage increases. In other parts of China,
about a dozen or so strikes of a similar nature were reported in about the
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 91
same period. It was unclear whether these latter strikes were inspired by
the Nanhai Honda strikes, but this was widely assumed to be the case.
The strikes that broke out in the few other Honda auto part plants were
all peaceful. Within days they were able to force production at several
large Honda assembly plants to grind to a halt. The losses to Honda were
enormous, and this can easily explain why Honda conceded to workers’
demands. In all these cases, the provincial government and Guangdong
provincial trade union intervened as mediators. These strikes attracted
national and international media attention, which characterized them as
signs of the beginning of serious workers’ unrest. In addition, the Chinese
government, the o cial trade union, labour NGOs, labour activists and
academics all indicated that the Nanhai Honda strike elevated China’s
labour movement into a new stage.
The demand for a big wage rise did send alarm bells to Honda, other
companies and the government, that the low-wage era might be over.
That strikes in supplier factories can disrupt production chains, causing
huge loss to capital-intensive industries, was without doubt a serious
cause of concern for the state and capital. These strikes, if allowed to
spread, could have had ripple e ects on the Chinese economy. But when
we examine closely what these strikes, and the one at Nanhai Honda in
particular, mean in terms of workers’ class consciousness, there seems not
to have been any ‘breakthrough’. There are a number of reasons for this
First, based on some inside information we were able to collect, and also
based on what has happened since the strike ended, it can be said that this
strike, though quite long and staged with great solidarity, was spontane-
ous. There was no planning, no organizing of core activists or of a strike
committee. A Chinese labour activist who went to Nanhai and met with
the strike leaders was surprised by the strike leaders’ almost total lack of
knowledge of trade unionism.9 Once satis ed that their economic demands
had been met, they did not press for the immediate election of a new trade
union committee. Thus, when the provincial trade union took several
months to organize the rst round of elections for 30 trade union repre-
sentatives, workers’ enthusiasm and sense of solidarity dissipated, along
with their willingness to struggle for genuine representation. Divide and
rule tactics by management had succeeded in planting dissensions among
di erent groups of workers. The strike leader lost her election in a run-o
vote and is now reportedly taking Japanese classes o ered by the company
to further her own advancement. The 30 newly elected representatives are
mostly management sta , because workers did not know who to vote for.
The election for the new trade union chairperson was postponed to 2011
when the term for the existing union committee expired.10 This e ectively
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92 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
means that the strike has failed to set a precedent to replace an ine ective
workplace union with an e ective elected one. The provincial government
and trade union are intent that there should be no such precedent.11
Second, this strike, like those that preceded it, has not led to workers
pulling together to form a sustained and stable organization through
which to continue the struggle, either within the factory or beyond it.
From the very beginning the strike possessed the ingredients of an ephem-
eral protest action. The two original strike leaders wanted to stir up a
strike after they handed in their resignations to the company. They had
not built up a solid core of workers to lead the strike in the event that
workers responded; there was no long-term plan. Their fellow workers
did respond, and after a few days, when the two leaders were red, they
just left, as they had already planned to do. This much – that they would
leave the plant – was planned. When Ms Li, a 19-year-old, took up the
leadership after their departure, she was too inexperienced to take up the
challenge beyond reacting to immediate circumstances.
Third, the several strikes that took place in June and July had no coor-
dination across workplaces. Workers involved in the strike that broke out
at the Honda Lock plant in Zhongshan County did not contact strikers at
the Nanhai Honda plant before they began to strike.12 Within these two
months, workers who started strikes in other parts of the country might
have been inspired by what they read in the media and on the Internet
on the Honda strikes. However, the small strike wave showed no signs
of coordinated, collective e ort across workplaces, industries or regions.
These activities remained isolated and workers’ consciousness did not rise
beyond immediate economic demands.
In the Nanhai Honda strike there were two important elements: workers
requesting a big wage rise and a demand for re-election of the workplace
trade union. The wage increase demand was unprecedented and was a
clear-cut interest-based action rather than a rights-based action. To put
the Nanhai Honda strike into context, we will present other strike and
protest cases in Guangdong. Each of them has its own features. All of
them qualify as interest-based actions. Some of them are similar to the
Nanhai Honda strike in that workers asked for a substantial pay rise or
for the election of a new union chair; yet some of them di er in terms of
awareness of the importance of international support, scale, organization,
persistence and solidarity.
The rst case is V-tech, a Hong Kong electronics rm of several hundred
employees in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province. The V-tech case was
an exemplary case of workers’ commitment and willingness to up the ante.
The spark that lit the fuse on the protest was that V-tech had been paying
unusually low wages and suddenly laid o a large number of employees
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 93
with little compensation. As early as 2000, 60 employees had signed their
names to an open letter addressed to a New York-based labour NGO,
China Labour Watch, listing their company ID numbers and their tel-
ephone numbers. In an extremely emotive gesture, ve representatives
pressed their bloody thumbprints on a document authorizing them to
be representatives. They asked China Labour Watch to ask American
buyers to intervene on their behalf. Approaching the outside world was
an unusual and risky move to take. It was in fact strategic, because those
were the years when corporate social responsibility (CSR) was a big issue
in the export sector. China Labour Watch’s exposé reports of poor condi-
tions in the supplier factories of popular brands could easily damage the
brands’ human rights record, and those reports became a matter of grave
concern. This was a case in which the workers showed an awareness of the
importance of reaching out for international support.
One of the two most important things that drew so much attention to
the Nanhai Honda strike was the big pay rise for which workers dared
to ask. This was a signi cant interest-based demand. In our research we
have identi ed two cases in which workers demanded pay rises above the
minimum wage. Information on the rst is derived from an unpublished
report written by a labour NGO sta member. The incident happened in
September 2007. Normally each year around July the Shenzhen govern-
ment announces the new minimum wage for the city, but that year the gov-
ernment instead told the press that they could be adjusting the minimum
wage either upward or downward. Workers were already feeling the pinch
of in ation that year. The announcement caused much dissatisfaction
in the workforce. To pacify the workers management promised a wage
adjustment, but the adjustment turned out to be unfairly distributed and
too small to keep up with in ation. Workers went on strike, asking for a
raise from 700 RMB to 800 RMB a month. Management stood rm on
750 RMB, which was then the o cial minimum wage for a 40-hour week.
Workers took to the streets and several hundred police came to drive them
back, and then locked them inside the factory. The (unpublished) NGO
report recorded this interesting observation:
The strike in Dechang is characterized by the consciousness of a new genera-
tion of workers. Unlike workers in other enterprises where demands tend only
to revolve around paying up to the o cial minimum wage standard, Dechang
workers realize that their wage has to keep up with in ation.
In other words, at that time the ability of migrant workers to draw a
relationship between in ation and wage was considered as a new develop-
ment. This NGO sta member had been a production line worker for 15
years before joining the NGO ve years earlier. From experience, he was
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94 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
able to detect this minor but interesting di erence between this strike and
other strikes. The workers were only asking for a 14 per cent raise, and
between their request and the company’s o er, the contentious gure was
a mere 7 per cent. Yet over this small amount, which translated to a dif-
ference of one or two American cents per hour, the workers faced great
resistance and had to struggle harder than the Nanhai Honda workers.
Though the increase asked for was pitifully little compared to the Honda
workers, it is still an interest-based protest.
The second example of an interest-based strike was that staged by
crane operators and truck drivers of a huge Shenzhen container port in
November 2007. Both the Hong Kong and Chinese media covered the
story (Zhang and Chen, 2007). The interest-based nature of the protest
was obvious. Dock workers were making a comparatively high wage of
approximately 4000 RMB a month (admittedly after putting in a lot of
overtime and for heavy work). The demand was for a raise of 25 to 50
per cent. Although they already enjoyed relatively high pay, the workers
decided to ask for at least four days of rest a month and an overtime rate
six times higher than the illegally low rate of 3 RMB an hour. That the
strike started on 1 May was a strategic choice to select a date crying out
with socialist symbolism. It was not an unplanned, spontaneous action.
Workers elected their own representatives to negotiate with management,
while the Shenzhen trade union served as mediator, urging management
to concede to workers’ ‘reasonable’ demands quickly. The results of the
bargaining were not made public, but appear to have been favourable for
the strikers as they resumed work after two days. Both the Nanhai Honda
workers and these dock workers showed an enormous self-con dence in
the worth of their labour in demanding such high wage increases.
Nanhai Honda workers asked to have a new election for the trade union
committee. Others had tried this before. In 2008, a group of workers at
a Nestlé factory in Dongguan, led by a worker who had worked there
for 13 years, started distributing lea ets to fellow workers calling for the
trade union, which had been in existence for 12 years, to be replaced. The
trade union chair was the manager who had continued to worsen work
conditions. The news story was covered by the Chinese press, including
China Daily. It was used as an example to illustrate the consequences of
management violating the Trade Union Law in not having a regular union
re-election (‘Juechao Dongguanchang . . .’, 2008; Zhan, 2008). Despite
the publicity, the leader of this protest was dismissed by the company on
grounds of misconduct. When a labour NGO tried to contact him, he had
left the area.
It is interesting that though management-controlled unions are inactive,
on rare occasions their formal existence can inspire workers to ask for a
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 95
union re-election. This was what the Nanhai Honda and Nestlé workers
did. A higher level of consciousness, however, is when workers ght to set
up a new union – trade union consciousness, to use Lenin’s expression.
Normally the leaders of these ghts already have some sense of trade
unionism and take legal channels. This means taking an application with
at least 25 co-workers’ signatures to the district union that expresses the
desire to have an election to set up a trade union (Article 13, The Trade
Union Law of the People’s Republic of China, 2001).13 In 2003, Liu, a
29-year-old worker who worked in a Hong Kong supplier factory that
made aquatic sportswear for a New Zealand rm, collected 182 signatures
(out of 2000 workers) and went to the district union to apply to set up a
union. He then called a New York Times reporter in Beijing asking him
to come to Shenzhen to cover the story (Kahn, 2003). This strategy was
initially useful in that it put pressure on the New Zealand buyer, who in
turn put pressure on the Hong Kong supplier, to hold an election to set up
a new union. But as in other similar cases, the union and factory manage-
ment manoeuvred and controlled the union election and the e ort came to
naught. Liu then went to another factory to try to do the same but did not
succeed.14 Liu’s consciousness was quite high: he wanted to set up a new
union and was willing to take the risk of confronting management and the
local government. Collecting signatures requires planning and courage.
The case that we think exempli es a high level of trade union conscious-
ness, coupled with organizational ability, ghting spirit and solidarity
in the face of massive police suppression and violence, was a strike at a
Uniden plant. The struggle began in December 2004 and lasted for about
ve months. This Japanese-owned plant had 16 000 employees, of whom
1000 were men (mostly o ce, technical and research sta ) and more than
14 000 women (mostly production workers). Management culture was
harsh and suppressive. Workers’ demands were rights-based due to the
large number of legal violations. The organizers of the protest issued a
number of open letters to local government bureaucracies and manage-
ment, and made good use of the Internet to report on the latest develop-
ments to fellow workers and the public, coordinating daily and hourly
actions. These reports and open letters provided a vivid picture of the
scale and intensity of the struggle within and outside the plant for several
months. It was quite clear that the core group of leaders were technical
sta members, headed by someone who had studied in Japan. The call-to-
action bulletin listed 15 demands related to wages, work hours, penalties,
dismissals and social bene ts, and one demand was to set up a trade union
(‘Riqu Shenzen . . .’, 2004). Japanese management quickly gave in to many
of the demands, but not the demand to set up a union. After that man-
agement tried to isolate the leaders, humiliated them in public and had
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96 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
security sta beat them up. This provoked three days of large-scale erce
confrontations between strikers and police. A letter to the city mayor,
reverberating with emotion, describes the violent strike scene:
This morning our workers cried and some policemen also cried. These were
not ordinary tears; these were bitter and painful tears. This morning at 7 a.m.
worker representatives were scheduled to assemble on the courtyard, but the
moment they appeared security guards came to grab them and cordoned o
the stage to prevent the women workers from coming close. But our women
workers rushed up to protect them. There was kicking and pushing . . . Screams
and cries lled the air and echoed inside and outside. Our Uniden women
workers were so determined and strong. Many men workers were just standing
there looking on. The women with tears in their eyes broke through the cordon
and stood next to the representatives. They screamed, ‘running dogs, running
dogs’ at the security people and drove them out . . . Now everyone sat down
and sang the Internationale, and when they reached the phrase ‘without the
Communist Party there would not have been a new China’, all 10,000 people
sang with tears in their eyes . . . After that they signed their names to support
the representatives. 4700 people signed to demand a union.
A union election was promised, but similar to what occurred in the Nestlé
factory, the Uniden factory quickly got rid of the strike leaders, workers
became demoralized and they lost control over their union election.
The workers displayed a high level of trade union consciousness in the
Uniden case. They realized that only by having their own unions could
they have an institution to genuinely represent their interests in the long
term, even if management had conceded to their economic demands. The
protest was planned, but strike leaders made no attempt to solicit support
beyond the workplace before beginning the struggle. The labour struggle
was partially motivated by nationalism. The strike took place at a time
when anti-Japanese rallies were springing up across the country and in
Guangdong Province it was in the third week of anti-Japanese street
All these examples, together with the Nanhai Honda strike, were led
by intelligent and courageous individuals. Some of them exhibited great
workers’ solidarity; at times the strikes were staged with strategic plan-
ning, and a small number were aware of the necessity of setting up their
own trade unions if their hard-earned struggle was to be sustained.
In three of the above cases, workers wanted to elect their own unions.
But this kind of demand is extremely rare. As a whole, the concept of
unionism is non-existent or vague among workers. In this sense, the
strike leaders who applied to form unions are a kind of vanguard of class
consciousness. However, since there has been no upsurge of workers
in other factories using the same strategy to apply to form workplace
unions these isolated, individual e orts are unlikely to succeed. And as
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 97
has been seen, none of these attempts to form unions have yet succeeded.
Workplace unions cannot exist in isolation. Unfortunately, in not even
one case was there an attempt to link up with workers in other factories
to organize a bigger, collective protest for democratic elections of o cial
unions. The absence of such a movement is a re ection of low trade union
One of the tasks of this chapter has been to locate the level of conscious-
ness of the migrant workers in South China along a historical continuum
of consciousness. Based on the empirical evidence presented here using the
Marxist-Leninist theoretical schema, we conclude that migrant workers
in South China as a class are at the level of ‘embryonic trade union con-
sciousness’. Breaking down the development of consciousness into stages
and phases since the mid-1990s, we can see that their consciousness has
been hovering at the rights-based level. The workers’ main concern is
still their own personal and immediate economic conditions, and only
occasionally is there a breakthrough into the interest-based level. At times
sparks of union consciousness might icker.
Thus far, those who have asked for a union have been willing to register
with the o cial union. This could have been strategic, but we think it is
because workers continue to have the illusion that they can place their
trust in authority. For instance, the Nanhai Honda workers allowed the
provincial union to take over the organization of a union re-election.
Their trust turned out to be misplaced. Their trade union representa-
tives are now mainly management sta . One of the International Labour
Organization’s (ILO) core labour rights is freedom of association, which
means allowing workers to have their own independent unions. The reality
of the situation is that the Chinese state is not going to let go of its grip on
labour. And, the migrant workers are also not ready to form independent
unions. The hope of the state and the ACFTU is that, if their version of
‘collective consultation’ can take place on a large scale in China, industrial
relations can be regulated on their own terms, and social stability can be
maintained. But without truly representative unions there cannot be real
collective bargaining. The campaign for workplaces to conduct ‘collec-
tive consultation’ will only be another bureaucratic exercise. Presently
the litigation route is not viable either. The number of litigations since the
passing of the Labour Contract Law of 2008 has multiplied and there is a
big backlog of cases to be processed. Workers’ trust in the legal system will
soon vanish in frustration when they came to realize that the legal system
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98 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
is not on their side. They will have to look for alternatives – the next big
step to take could be recalling management-controlled unions and electing
their own union representatives and trade union chairpersons.
The solution to the problem comes back to workers having their own
representation. Workers will have to struggle for it. But how long it will
take for migrant workers to acquire a trade union consciousness is not
easy to predict. After all, using history as our guide, it took many decades
for European workers in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth cen-
turies to organize themselves into mature trade union structures and,
when strong enough, to ght to gain recognition from capital and state.
Only then would the latter agree to negotiate with unions. At present, no
such collective action has surfaced in the Pearl River Delta region. The
process may take another two decades. The process of maturation may be
quickened if, for example, there is a drastic economic downturn, run-away
in ation, an even more rapid widening of the income gap (which has not
stopped widening) and if migrant workers rise up again and again.
The chapter has shown the factors constraining the development of
class consciousness. One factor is that the material conditions of migrant
workers have been rising, though they have not kept pace with the condi-
tions of the prospering Chinese middle classes. Despite all the complaints
about in ation, long work hours and poor housing, the conditions of the
migrant workers of 2011 have improved since the days of the Zhili letters,
when migrant workers endured hunger pangs because their income was so
low and their conditions so poor. That was the era of bondage and physical
punishment inside factory compounds and, outside, the high risk of being
thrown into detention centres by police and local government militia, of
being beaten up, extorted for ransom, or being sent back to where they
came from – a suppressive situation not dissimilar to the pass system that
operated under South African apartheid (Alexander and Chan, 2004). In
Vietnam in the past few years, there have been press reports of migrant
workers going hungry because the raised minimum wage could not keep
up with the high in ation. In Dacca, Bangladesh, thousands of garment
workers have risen up time and again to demand that the state raise the
minimum wage because they cannot survive on such a meagre income. In
India, where 93 per cent of the workers work in the informal sector, which
is excluded from legal protection and rights, workers have organized them-
selves to demand legal recognition as ‘workers’. In September 2010 there
was a one-day general strike (Ali, 2011). In India, Foxconn workers went
on strike and struggled hard to ask for a signi cant wage rise, the ‘regu-
larization’ of contract workers and union recognition (‘India: victimized
Foxconn . . .’, 2010).15 These were big, organized protests and the trade
union leaders and strike leaders were quickly thrown into jail. The Chinese
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 99
government has avoided such mass protests by raising the minimum wage
high enough to catch up with in ation. As least Chinese migrant workers’
material conditions are relatively good in comparison to workers in quite
a number of Asian countries. This can partially explain why Chinese
workers have not felt the desperate need to organize themselves to demand
the state to raise the minimum wage.
Material and social conditions in China have been rising gradually in
the past two decades. It is a popular belief that the second generation of
migrant workers is better educated. They want a better life. They want to
stay in the cities. As a result, they are more prone to protesting. This line
of argument regards generational factors as important in causing a rise in
class consciousness. However, earlier in the chapter we argued that even
30 years is too short a time frame to fully understand class formation and
class consciousness. By lengthening the timeframe we gain a historical per-
spective. The emergence of a class for itself takes longer than one or two
generations. Thus, despite the expectation that this second generation of
migrant workers will push through to a new stage of class consciousness,
reality militates against this expectation.
The state worries that workers’ economic demands can turn into politi-
cal demands, and because of this it is suspicious that labour NGOs and
‘citizen agents’ could be potential sites from which a political vanguard
might emerge. Their existence is tolerated because their activities actually
help to maintain social stability. They are at the same time distrusted and
closely monitored, and sometimes harassed by the authorities. However,
as we have demonstrated, these groups are cautious not to over-step the
scope of their activities beyond economic rights-based demands. They do
not impart political ideology to the workers. In a state-controlled society
in which the political climate is kept non-ideological (except for some for-
malistic slogans, such as ‘market socialism’, which is devoid of ‘socialist’
content) migrant workers have little to inspire them to understand their
own class position. One very practical drawback is the absence of reading
materials on trade unions and labour movements in general bookstores
and libraries. Young Chinese migrant workers and students with curious
minds often have to look back to the pre-1949 period for ideological inspi-
ration. For instance, one of the two strike leaders of the Nanhai Honda
strike told a reporter he liked to read Mao’s poems (‘Shoudu Maozedong
. . .’, 2010).16
Production line workers’ ability to mobilize thus far has been limited.
It seems that those who can organize better and communicate more e ec-
tively are either technicians (C. Chan, 2010, pp.43, 86) or sta members,
as seen in the cases of V-tech and Uniden.17 Without an intelligentsia
vanguard, the vanguard of the next stage of consciousness may ultimately
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100 China’s peasants and workers: changing class identities
emerge from within the working class. Not the less educated and exploited
production line workers, but these better-educated members of the ‘second
generation’ working class may be the labour movement actors. They may
be the ones to take on the challenge to propel their own labour history
* A shorter version of this chapter was presented as a paper at a conference held by
the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) at Nanjing University in April 2011. A very short
version was published in the German-language journal Das Argument in March/April
1. This newly coined expression has become popular among Chinese academics. For
instance, see the edited volume, The Problem of the Country’s New Generation of
Peasant-workers Melding into Towns and Cities: An Academic Forum, organized by
the Guangzhou Social Science Association, the Guangzhou Development Research
Institute and the Guangzhou Human Rights Research Centre, held at Guangzhou City,
November 2009 (Guangzhou Social Science Association, 2009).
2. Pun and Lu de ne the second-generation peasant-workers as migrant workers who
‘were born in the late 1970s and 1980s and who entered the labour market in the late
1990s and 2000s. This category includes the children who were born to the rst genera-
tion and who grew up in either urban areas or rural communities’ (2010, p.495).
3. In fact, di culty in collecting strike gures is a problem in all countries, not just in
China. Even in the US, only work stoppages of 1000 workers or more are recorded in
o cial statistics (see United States Department of Labor we bsite: http://www.bls.gov/
wsp/). Also see Dave Lyddon (2007, p.27).
4. For instance, Chris Chan (2010) focuses on two cases.
5. These labour NGOs include: China Labour Bulletin, China Labour Watch, SACOM
and Globalization Monitor.
6. This kind of hidden resistance is particularly well-portrayed in Ngai Pun (2005).
7. Initially the main NGOs were the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee
(HKCIC), Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) and Chinese Working Women
Network (CWWN). Many of the idealists who founded these organizations shared a
common experience: they were Hong Kong university students who went to support the
student movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989. After the movement dissipated, these
young idealists wanted to understand Chinese society in the hope of getting involved in
social movements in China. The founding of these labour NGOs was one of the ways
they thought suitable at a time when there were serious constraints on political rights
and freedom of association.
8. All foreign companies setting up assembly plants in China have to be joint ventures. The
Chinese partners of these joint ventures are all local state enterprises. In Guangzhou,
the auto company is the Guangzhou Automobile Group, which has a number of auto
joint ventures. The CEO is an important government o cial. He plays three roles: as an
employer, a mediator and as a government o cial whose job is to protect the workers
from foreign exploitation.
9. We regret not being able to disclose more details than this for reasons of con dentiality
and security. One fact we know is that these leaders have never read the Trade Union
10. Based on information from a Zhongshan University student who has been in touch
with the workers, no election had been held by September 2011.
11. The information was provided by several Zhongshan University students who con-
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Factors concerning the emergence of class consciousness 101
ducted follow-up research on the post-strike development of the plant. They went to the
plant and the dormitories several times in 2010 and were able to talk to workers quite
freely. The interpretation that the strike has failed is ours.
12. Information came from the Chinese labour activist who went to Nanhai to nd out
more about the strike and who met with some strike representatives.
13. A translation of this law is available at http://www.novexcn.com/trade_union_law.
14. One of us was able to track down Liu and met with him in 2007 in Shenzhen.
15. In China, Foxconn workers have not staged such protests. The big Foxconn contro-
versy was over the suicides of more than a dozen workers in the rst part of 2010.
16. Another example is Li Qiang who now heads the labour NGO China Labour Watch,
based in New York. He told me he read a lot about the early period of the Chinese
trade union when he was a labour activist in China. Yet another example is the worker
who got the largest number of votes in a democratic trade union election organized by
Reebok in one of its supplier factories in 2001. See A. Chan (2009).
17. Another example is the Walmart employees. After the Walmart trade unions were
set up in all Walmart stores in China, the one case in which employees collectively
negotiated with Walmart was the one in which some management sta , rather than the
ordinary workers, negotiated when they were laid o in 2008. Information from Gao
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