As Orders Dry Up, Factory Workers Head Home
For Huang and many others, the trip begins at the crowded station in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, often called the world’s factory floor because it’s China’s key manufacturing base. This is where a huge number of China’s 160 million migrant workers churn out Nike shoes, iPods and Nokia mobile phones.
“Lots of factories have been closing. The toy factory I was working at is about to go under, so the boss just told us to leave early,” added Huang, a wiry 32-year-old native of central Hunan province.
Many migrants also hit the road early because they were worried about the weather. Last year, ice storms paralyzed the transport system in southern China during the peak holiday season, forcing millions to delay or cancel their plans. About 200,000 were stranded at Guangzhou’s station and spent nights outside in a freezing drizzle.
As part of a series on how the financial crisis is affecting workers around the world, Der Spiegel also looks at China’s migrant workers:
China’s global factory is shedding its slave-like workers, cost-effectively and efficiently, almost as if they too were products on an assembly line. They sit in long rows, shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for the trains that will take them back to their home provinces, to the places they once left for China’s industrial east, lured by the promise of prosperity. Xiaoju (her name means “Little Chrysanthemum”) finally has time to catch her breath and look around. She has a few more minutes left before her northbound train to Hengyang, in Hunan Province, is scheduled to depart.
The station is busy as it would normally be before the Chinese New Year, when companies in Guangdong Province — the enormous export factory that borders Hong Kong and includes the burgeoning large cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan — collectively send armies of migrant workers home on vacation. But this time the exodus is involuntary and unforeseen, and likely to last for an extended period of time — and the mood is understandably gloomy.
Read also about how a charity is helping migrant workers fund their trips home.