Living Conditions Become New Labor Flashpoint

Following the major brawl at a Foxconn factory campus in Taiyuan, individual workers are speaking out about living conditions there which may have contributed to the unrest. From Bloomberg:

The campus used by 79,000 workers in Taiyuan in northern Shanxi province showed the damage caused by the Sunday clash among laborers that left more than 40 people hospitalized. Windows in a bathhouse, supermarket, arcade and parked cars were shattered.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou has moved in recent years to improve conditions at his factories after a spate of suicides. The company’s largest customer, Apple Inc., pressured Foxconn to make the changes.

But some improvements had not reached Taiyuan, workers said. They charged that the facility has inferior food, poor sanitation and overcrowded dorms, while security guards are young, poorly trained and too aggressive.

“The guards here use gangster style to manage,” said Foxconn worker Fang Zhongyang, 23, outside campus gates. “We are not against following rules, but you have to tell us why. They won’t explain things, and we feel like we cannot communicate with them.”

Reuters also talks to workers at the Taiyuan plant:

Wang, who did not want his full name published, is among thousands of workers housed in a vast complex where tensions aggravated by regimented and cramped living conditions boiled over on Sunday into a violent mass riot.

“The bathrooms are simply disgusting and people are constantly stealing things,” Wang said as he stood outside of the factory in the northern city of Taiyuan, owned by Apple Inc’s largest contract manufacturer, Taiwan firm Foxconn.

Until the riot, which turned from a personal dorm squabble into battles between police and about 2,000 workers and spilled over into Monday, the focus of labor discontent in China had been on production lines, especially those making products for Apple.

The unrest, which left about 40 people injured, metal factory gates flattened, cars overturned and windows smashed, shifted the focus on to broader living conditions, particularly for migrant workers who live in thousands of factory dormitories around the country.

Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin reports on online discussions between workers about the incident:

Workers’ sentiment on China’s online forums was divided, some angry, some joyful. Workers were eager to post photos and make comments on the events. And some workers from other Foxconn plants in Henan, Shandong, and Shenzhen posted letters praising the Taiyuan workers for their courage to start a riot.

Amid the general exuberance, there were a few voices calling on workers to stay calm and be rational. A worker, who said he had been employed at Taiyuan Foxconn for three years, highlighted the failure of the Foxconn trade unions to properly represent workers’ interests. This he said had complicated the longstanding conflict between management and workers. He hoped workers could handle the conflict in a rational manner in order to avoid unnecessary casualties.

This post was immediately challenged by another worker, who responded that workers had not meant to instigate a riot but that they had no other way to address injustice. When they called a hotline to complain about the abusive security guards, for example, they were told their complaint could not be handled.

For more on the Foxconn incident, read “Foxconn Closes Plant After Worker Brawl” and “Foxconn Plant Open, But Broader Issues Persist” via CDT.

September 27, 2012 10:18 PM
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