Chinese workers are more confident in themselves and are adopting mature and rational approaches in addressing labour conflicts, according to the recently released workers’ movement report by China Labour Bulletin.

The Workers’ Movement Report, based on the analysis of 1,793 cases of workers’ industrial action from 2013 to 2014, observes that workers have become more aware of their rights and have started identifying themselves with the working class, and are more comfortable engaging with local government officials. This interaction is changing government officials’ attitudes towards workers’ collective actions.

The report says:

“This engagement (between workers and government officials) will help government officials get rid of their ‘maintain stability’ mindset, see labour conflicts from the economic perspective, and gradually accept collective bargaining as an effective mechanism to mitigate labour relations.”

However, the report points out that the official ACFTU and local official unions have yet to perform their responsibilities delegated  by the new central leadership, which is to ‘defend workers’ interests and promote social fairness and justice’. Trade union officials either refuse to play an active part in workers’ collective actions, or confuse their stance by taking the role of government officials. Therefore, it is very difficult for the official union to win workers’ trust and support. If ACFTU allows it to continue, it will further isolate itself from workers’ dynamic labour movement.

The report also highlights the important role of labour groups in workers’ strikes and protests. Since most of theactivists in these labour rights organisations used to be workers, they have a better understanding of workers’ concerns, and in the absence of a functional trade union, they are taking up the ‘trade union’ role by providing strategic consultations to workers.

“These labour groups are improving their capacities and expanding their influences through intervention with workers’ labour actions, while transitioning from service oriented to labour rights oriented NGOs.”

Key characters of workers’ collective industrial actions in the past two years:

  • Diverse backgrounds: while the majority are manufacturing factory workers, taxi drivers and construction drivers, there are also teachers, health care workers, civil servants, couriers, and cleaners.
  • Diverse demands : while the majority of requests are associated with economic interests, such as requests for back pays, higher salaries, better remuneration packages and severance pays, there are also demands for unpaid or underpaid social insurances, rights to know the factories’ health and safety standards, and even demands to set up or reconstruct enterprise-level trade unions.
  • Diverse approaches: while the majority of industrial actions take the formats of strikes, blocking roads, government petitions, workers also tried to put pressure on factories by blocking factory gates, watching over factory equipment and products. In some cases, workers are adopting ‘fashionable’ approaches such as organising ‘flash mobs’ and singing solidarity songs.
  • Diversified ways of mobilising an organising: QQ groups and WeChat groups played an important role; in some cases workers raised fund to cover costs during collective actions
  • Collective actions not limited to one enterprise: workers have coordinated strikes in chain stores across different cities, and industry-wide strikes are also possible
  • Strike information disseminated on social media: workers and labour groups have been using social media to garner public attention and support and form informal networks

Check out the report’s Chinese version here.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Jennifer Zhang

Jennifer Zhang is USi’s China coordinator based in Hong Kong.

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