Strikes and other forms of industrial action are on the increase in China, as an economic slowdown leads to lay-offs, withheld wages, and factory closures.
China Labour Bulletin (CLB), an independent labour rights organisation based in Hong Kong, reports 593 strike incidents in the third quarter of 2015. There were 372 in the same period of 2014, and 185 in 2013 Q3. 37% of these were in manufacturing and 31% in construction. CLB notes that many of the disputes in the past months were due to large scale lay-offs.
In August 2,000 workers held a week-long protest outside their paper making factory in Yongzhou, Hunan, after management failed to organise a compensation scheme for the impending closure of the factory. Workers in industries as different as coal mines and breweries have become victims of the economic slowdown. In September a state owned coal mining company announced the lay off of 100,000 workers over three months. Workers at the company had been involved in strikes over non-payment of wages in April. China’s National Coal Association says 70% of its companies are facing a loss, and the last year has seen 57 strikes in the industry, including a strike of 3,000 miners in Chongqing over the sudden closure of their mine.
Figures are unclear, but it seems that large-scale manufacturing for export concentrated in areas such as Guangdong Province is being scaled-back or relocated. CLB reports that there have been wide-spread layoffs and factory closures in Guangdong Province as a result of government initiated restructuring. Many companies are relocating their factories to new areas or decentralising production over a number of new areas. It is highly likely that this is a deliberate response, by the government and companies, to the increasing level of working class militancy and organisation in the Province.
Guangdong has been the area with most working-class organisation and strikes in the recent past. It also has the highest frequency of police intervention in industrial disputes. On 9 October four workers were beaten by police and eight arrested during a strike at an electronics factory in Dongguan. Yet workers are learning and organising ways of protecting themselves and fighting against victimisations. They have been organising mass protests at and petitions of police stations to get activists released. Though Guangdong still has as many strikes, its share of the national total continues to decline, down from 34.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2013 to 19.1 per cent in 2014, and probably less in 2015.
Strikes are spreading geographically and into different industries, either as a result of deliberate restructuring on the part of industry bosses and the government, or as a result of the increased use of social media spreading organisation. It is likely to be due to a combination of both. The increased use of social media by Chinese workers and activists to plan activity and communicate across the country may increase reporting of strikes, and also increases the number of strikes. Sadly it also seems more workers are becoming desperate. The number of workers climbing on to rooftops and threatened to jump has increased, with six such incidents in Dongguan alone in the third quarter of 2015. In Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, there were three incidents in the span of just ten days, causing some to dub it “the jumper city.”