Chinese Workers Grow Bolder in Exerting Clout

Dan Levin at the New York Times looks at how workers at the Yue Yuen shoe factory in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, organized themselves to strike over the past two weeks, forcing the owners into compensating unpaid social security contributions:

Although played down by the state-run news media, the mass walkout illustrates the growing might of Chinese workers amid a shrinking labor pool, a slowing economy and the Communist Party’s fears of social unrest. The strike also highlights the increasing potency of social media despite the government’s best efforts to limit news and information that might inspire workers to stand up to employers who can fire troublemakers at will — or call on the police to jail labor organizers.

[…] “The factory director told us, ‘If you’re looking for us to repay, I can tell you it’s not going to happen,’ ” said Liu Hai, 52, an assembly line worker who attended a morning meeting of management and a group of employees. “That afternoon, people just started walking off little by little.”

Fueled by social media, the trickle became a flood. Huge crowds gathered outside the factory gates, while others just sat idly at their workstations. Mr. Liu, who earns a monthly base wage of $210 after 20 years with the company, was careful not to protest outside, where thousands of police officers stood guard.

Though the police interrogated Mr. Liu for his online comments, forcing him to sign a document promising not to cause trouble, he remained defiant. “We’re fighting for our rights,” he said recently over a plate of stir-fried pig intestines. “Even if I go to prison I won’t regret it.” [Source]

One activist who was involved with the strike has been charged with “disturbing social order.”