A strike at an auto-parts factory owned by Honda in southern China has unexpectedly become a cause célèbre in the nation’s struggle with income inequality, with Chinese media reporting extensively on the workers’ demands and calling on the government to do more to increase wages nationwide.
Strikes have occurred before at Chinese-owned factories and on rare occasions at foreign-owned plants. But the authorities have typically hushed them up and either sought a quick deal or sent in the police.
The 1,900 workers at the Honda factory here have been on strike to demand higher pay since early last week, and on Friday there was no resolution in sight. The resulting shortage of transmissions and engine parts has forced Honda to halt production this week at all four of its assembly plants in China, with one closing on Monday and the other three on Wednesday.
The work stoppage is the clearest sign yet of growing labor unrest in a country that is now the cornerstone of many companies’ global supply chains.
According to the Financial Times, the workers have organized themselves independently of the official trade union, the ACFTU:
"They have organised this themselves," said an executive at the Foshan factory's union office.
While the ACFTU has been more aggressive in establishing chapters at multinational companies, notably Walmart , it shies away from confrontation with management.
...Strikes are also rare at multinationals, which tend to pay higher wages and offer better conditions than their Hong Kong, Taiwan and domestic counterparts.
Honda employees in Foshan earn about Rmb1,500 ($220) per month and are demanding a rise to Rmb2,000-Rmb2,500.
Honda is the second multinational investor confronted by a labour crisis in recent weeks. Foxconn, a contract manufacturer for Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, is struggling to contain a spate of suicides at a plant in Shenzhen employing 300,000 people.
See also another New York Times report: "Workers Squeezing Honda With Especially Costly Strike."