Han Dongfang, the worker turned labor activist who led worker protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, has changed his view of the official union, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which he has long opposed. He writes in an op-ed in the Guardian:
This new era of activism has forced China’s official trade union, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, to re‑examine its role and look for ways to become an organisation that really does represent workers’ interests. Already this year the ACFTU has introduced initiatives designed to boost workers’ pay through negotiations with factory managers and business federation leaders.
How should the international trade union movement respond to the changes in China? It has long been divided between those who refuse to talk to the ACFTU because it is not a real trade union and those who are willing to engage, but only on a superficial level, avoiding fundamental issues like freedom of association and collective bargaining because they think them too sensitive.
Times have clearly changed, and the approach of the international trade union movement needs to change too. It now has the perfect opportunity to reach out. Constructive engagement with the ACFTU at this point in history could produce real benefits – not just for the union itself but for China’s workers’ movement.
See also another article in the Guardian about Han’s statement. Han is founder and director of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin.