After 30 years of reform and spectacular economic growth, the cracks are beginning to show.
The workers who have created China’s economic miracle are tiring of being treated like cogs in a machine, working long hours in dangerous conditions for derisory pay. They are now saying enough is enough, staging strikes and protests across the country to demand not just their basic legal rights but a better standard of living, better working conditions and a better future.
Strikes and worker protests are not new in China. In the manufacturing heartland, the Pearl River Delta, there are up to 10,000 labor disputes each year. Indeed, back in the spring of 2008, a high-ranking local union official described strikes as “as natural as arguments between a husband and wife.”
But what we are seeing now is an intensive phase of worker activism that reflects the rapid recovery of the Chinese economy and, more importantly, the failure of the government to tackle the fundamental issues that give rise to these disputes: low pay, the lack of formal channels for worker grievances and demands, and the exclusion of migrant workers from education, health care and social services in the cities.