Despite a lack of organized unions in China, 8,000 teachers in Zhaodong, Heilongjiang organized a three-day strike this week in response to unfulfilled government promises to increase wages and benefits. Christina Larson at Bloomberg Businessweek reports:
For three days in November, 8,000 schoolteachers in China’s northern Heilongjiang province refused to enter a classroom. They were on strike, demanding that the city government honor a pledge made in January to raise their salaries and benefits.
What’s remarkable about this demonstration is that there is no equivalent of the American Federation of Teachers in China; independent unions in any industry sector remain illegal. And yet, from factory workers to teachers, Chinese citizens are increasingly using the toolkit of collective action to push for fair labor practices.
[…] After delivering their open letter to City Hall, 8,000 teachers joined a strike that lasted from Nov. 17 to 19. On Nov. 20 the teachers returned to their classrooms after the local government promised to meet some of their demands, although the final wage settlement has not yet been made public. [Source]
At The Wall Street Journal, Olivia Geng and William Kazer discuss the strike’s connection with broader public sector retirement reforms:
Work stoppages are common in China’s manufacturing sector, but such labor actions are rare among teachers or other governmental workers.
Government officials could not be reached for comment. China has been trying to shift its retirement system to one that is more like the system for state and private companies where workers make larger contributions for their pension, medical care and financial support for housing purchases.
A report in the official Heilongjiang Daily reported that about 750 teachers had gathered peacefully in front of the Zhaodong government offices on Tuesday, adding that there were about 6,800 teachers in the city, which has a population of about 930,000. The newspaper said the teachers had complained of low wages and insufficient benefits but there was a “misunderstanding” over the calculation of some benefits. [Source]