Labor Unrest in China Leads to Rethinking

Many workers conditionally returned to work at a Honda Lock plant on Monday. According to a New York Times article, factory workers “are threatening to go back on strike later this week if the company does not improve its offer of a wage increase.”

The threat, which came hours after Honda said it had resumed operations here, ending a strike that began last Wednesday, suggested that labor unrest at the factory was not over and that workers would not easily yield to pressure from the factory’s owners and the local government.

“We are waiting for a final result,” said one 19-year-old worker, who asked not to be identified because of fear of retribution. “If the final result is unsatisfactory, we will keep striking.”

It was unclear Monday how many workers had returned and how many replacement workers had been hired at the Honda Lock factory here, which employs about 1,700 and makes locks, rear and side mirrors and other components for Honda assembly plants around the world.

Some employees who returned to work after being threatened with firing engaged in work stoppages and slowdowns on Monday, according to several employees who asked not to be identified.

A Honda spokesman could not be reached late Monday.

A Wall Street Journal piece looks at the challenges foreign companies face in China, as well as the hurdles to resolving labor disputes at the Honda Motor factory:

Koji Matsuyama, a senior general affairs manager of Honda Lock Manufacturing Co., the Honda unit that majority-owns the Zhongshan plant, said a majority of striking workers returned to their positions Monday, but “many of them are still sitting inside the plant, refusing to work.” The plant is producing locks and other components “only on a limited basis,” he said.

Interviews with Japanese managers and Chinese workers paint a picture of chaotic negotiations, with both sides operating in uncharted territory. There are no easy mechanisms for settling disputes, no formal channels of communication between managers and workers—or even a common language. The role of the local government is unclear, making workers nervous even though they have been emboldened by central-government policies that broadly support higher pay and better working conditions.

See also the Wall Street Journal for an opinion piece by Willy Lam, professor of China studies at Akita International University and adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, titled “Shaking Up China’s Labor Movement.”

Read more about labor strikes and Honda via CDT.

June 14, 2010 8:20 PM
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