Strikes & Protests Surge in China

The Los Angeles Times’ Barbara Demick examines the continuing rise of “mass incidents” as a means to address specific grievances such as pollution and land seizures.

These demonstrators have a narrow agenda and concrete demands: Farmers want a stop to confiscations of their land or to get better compensation for lost property. Homeowners want to stop demolitions. People want cleaner air and water and safer food. Truckers and taxi drivers want relief from soaring fuel prices ….

The number of reported “mass incidents” rose from 8,700 in 1993 to more than 90,000 in 2006, according to the Chinese Police Academy. A professor at Tsinghua University, Sun Liping, has told Chinese reporters he believes the figure last year was up to 180,000 ….

In China, it is impossible to go to court to get a temporary restraining order if, for example, a factory is spewing harmful sustances into the water supply or somebody starts building on your land. Petitioning, an archaic practice dating to imperial times, requires the aggrieved to travel to Beijing and wait for months, if not years.

Rioting gets results. Quickly.

A new China Labour Bulletin report, meanwhile, focuses on the growing number of strikes and other labour protests, as young migrant workers become increasingly assertive in demanding wage increases. From Reuters:

Although migrant workers have often won pay rises in recent years, they feel poorly served by China’s official, Communist Party-run trade union, which has often sided with management in factory disputes, the China Labour Bulletin said in the report.

Instead, strikes and labor protests have spread through informal channels, with workers often using mobile phones and Internet message sites to coordinate, it added.

“They are giving each other in real time updates of their protests, and this has allowed workers’ rights groups, lawyers interested in workers’ rights, to offer advice, help them push their demands,” said Crothall, the Labour Bulletin spokesman, speaking of these digital tools.

The China Labour Bulletin report estimates that in 2009 China experienced about 30,000 collective labor protests, and adds there is “certainly no reason to suspect that the number of strikes is decreasing.”

A common theme is the conviction that official channels offer little chance of satisfactory resolutions: see Mainland Justice Blind to Plight of the Powerless on the widespread lack of faith in China’s legal system. See also Velvet Glove Trumps Iron Fist in South China Land Riot, on a possible change in approach to riot response in Wang Yang’s “Happy Guangdong”.

October 11, 2011 12:42 PM
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Categories: Law, Society