After Suicides, Scrutiny of China’s Grim Factories

The New York Times looks at working conditions for China’s migrant laborers in the wake of the the Foxconn suicides:

The rash of suicides has intensified scrutiny of the working and living conditions at Foxconn, the world’s biggest contract electronics supplier. Responding to the clamor, Foxconn has raised salaries steeply twice in the last five days. The company announced the latest increase on Sunday, saying that after a three-month trial period, the basic salaries of many of its workers in China could reach nearly $300 a month, more than double what they were a few weeks ago.

Sociologists and other academics see the deaths as extreme signals of a more pervasive trend: a generation of workers rejecting the regimented hardships their predecessors endured as the cheap labor army behind China’s economic miracle.

Rather than take their own lives, many more workers at Foxconn — tens of thousands more — have simply quit. In recent interviews here, employees said the typical Foxconn hire lasted just a few months at the factory before leaving, demoralized.

They complain about military-style drills, verbal abuse by superiors and “self-criticisms” they are forced to read aloud, as well as occasionally being pressured to work as many 13 consecutive days to complete a big customer order — even when it means sleeping on the factory floor.

While the Washington Post looks at the role that demographics play in the dissatisfaction of this new generation of workers:

Shifting demographics, including years of effective population control through the government’s “one child” policy, have left China short of younger workers, particularly in the crucial 15-25 age group that many factories rely on most. These young workers don’t have to travel far from home like their parents did to find work. They are more aware of their rights. And having grown up in a more prosperous China, they are demanding a fairer share.

“The first generation of migrant workers made a lot of money compared with their poor life before,” said Cai He, dean of sociology at Sun Yat-sen University. “But right now the majority of migrant workers are in their 20s. They were born in the 1980s. Most of them have no farming experience” and “are more sensitive to the disparity between the wealth of the city and their own poverty.”

Cai added: “The younger people received a better education. They surf the Internet, use mobile phones and watch TV. Their awareness of their rights is much stronger than the older migrant workers.”

These young workers are asserting those rights in the form of work stoppages, slowdowns and demands for higher wages and shorter hours. The unrest was highlighted by a strike that began May 17 at Honda’s transmission factory in the city of Foshan, where hundreds of workers walked off the job.

Listen also to the latest Sinica podcast on “Suicides, Strikes and Labor Unrest in China.”