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Taking China's Labor Union Seriously

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on April 1, 2009

The China Labour Bulletin (based in Hong Kong, hence the British spelling) has come out with a report on the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Chinese government’s official union for workers in China. Not surprisingly, the Hong Kong-based activists, often critical of the Beijing government, don’t think too highly of the ACFTU. “The organization has become increasingly passive and subservient to its political masters over the last two decades, to the point where it is now unable to satisfy even the most basic demands of migrant workers – decent pay for decent work,” the CLB says in a statement.

CLB then asks of the ACFTU: “Is it a defender of workers’ rights or a servant of the Chinese Communist Party and government?” Not a hard one to answer, that. Defending workers’ rights and being a servant of the Chinese Communist Party is supposed to be one and the same thing - but when there’s a conflict between the two, it’s obvious the union is going to throw workers under the bus. I’m surprised CLB is willing to take the official union seriously enough even to ask the question.

More from CLB: “[W]orkers feel left out in the cold and are now increasingly bypassing the union altogether in their attempts to defend their rights. As evidenced by the wave of taxi strikes that swept the country late last year, workers now stage strikes and protests in a deliberate attempt to force local governments to intervene in their disputes with management.”

CLB concludes: “[T]he ACFTU is now in real danger of losing its identity as a union altogether and becoming just another branch of government.”

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