A strike at an enormous Honda transmission factory here in southeastern China has suddenly and unexpectedly turned into a symbol of this nation’s struggle with income inequality, rising inflation and soaring property prices that have put home ownership beyond the reach of all but the most affluent.
And perhaps most remarkably, Chinese authorities let the strike happen — up to a point.
In the kind of scene that more often plays out at strikes in America than at labor actions in China, print and television reporters from state-controlled media across the country have started covering the walkout here, even waiting outside the nearly deserted front gate on Thursday and Friday in hope of any news. All the Chinese reporters disappeared on Saturday morning, however, as the government, apparently nervous, suddenly imposed without explanation a blanket ban on domestic media coverage of the strike.
See also “Chinese workers swap angst for anger” from the Financial Times:
Suicidal angst is giving way to worker solidarity in southern China, as a factory strike that has halted the Japanese carmaker’s nationwide operations enters its second week.
Most worryingly for the Chinese government, the industrial unrest at Honda and other big employers in Guangdong province is raising questions about the nature of work itself on 21st century factory floors.
Alienated Chinese workers are signalling that they are determined to fight back.
“We’re different from our parents’ generation,” said Cha Jinhua, a Guangdong-based labour activist. “Their wishes were simple – earn some money and return to their home towns. We want to stay in the cities and enjoy our lives here. But we demand respect.”
Update: The Financial Times is reporting that Honda has offered a pay raise to striking workers:
Honda has offered Chinese workers a 24 per cent pay rise in a bid to end a strike that has crippled its operations across the country, according to a company spokesperson.
The offer would raise average monthly salaries at the Japanese carmaker’s transmission plant in Foshan, a factory town in southern Guangdong province, to Rmb1,900 ($280). Workers had been pressing for as much as Rmb2,500.
On Tuesday morning, it remained unclear whether enough workers would accept the offer for production to resume. While some boarded buses to report to work, others said the industrial action was continuing.
“The strike is still on,” one worker insisted. “There will be more negotiations today.”