China

Prosperity for the few, stagnation for the many

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Right-wingers are trumpeting the claimed prosperity of the US economy since Trump’s election, and of the British economy after Brexit. A closer look shows the prosperity as very partial.

Stock market prices in the USA have risen strongly since November 2016, though no more than their general rising trend since they hit bottom in March 2009. The slice of corporate profits in total US income is as high as it was at its pre-2008 peak, which in turn was the highest since 1965.

The world is seeing an economic recovery, but sooner or later the mismatches built into the system, and not at all mended since 2008, will bring a new crash.

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Any future for the steel industry?

Author: 

John Cunningham

I was born in a steel town – Stocksbridge, about 9 miles west of Sheffield. The steelworks were huge and employed at its peak 6,500 workers. The sirens which marked the start and end of shifts, the roar of furnaces, the clanging of shunting trains and machinery, were constant background noise to my early years.

In 1971, the steel industry employed 320,000. Today that figure stands at around 18,000.

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Ports and workers’ power

Author: 

Martin Thomas

"The RWG [container] terminal [in Rotterdam, 2.35m teu capacity], with its fully automated cranes, is operated by a team of no more than 10 to 15 people on a day-to-day basis. Most of its 180 employees aren’t longshoremen, but IT specialists” (Journal of Commerce, 4 Feburary 2016).

The managing director says: “We are in fact, an IT company that handles containers”.

Compare: in 1900 the Port of London was the busiest port in the world. It had 50,000 workers shifting cargo mostly by hand, as they had done for thousands of years. It handled 7 million tons of cargo.

Port work went through a technological revolution in the 1960s and 70s, with “containerisation”. Now it is going through another technological revolution, with automation.

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The good credit class

Beijing International Airport offers faster security screening if you have good credit rating. On the same criterion, Luxembourg and Singapore offer a fast-track visa service, Chinese animal shelters give preference for adopting a pet, and a Chinese dating website gives you better placement. (Financial Times, 20 January).

In principle, the capitalist market opens things out. If you can afford it, or if you choose to skimp on other things to splash on clothes, for example, you can wear what you want. But a new hierarchy may be emerging.

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Strikes on the rise in China

Author: 

Gemma Short

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.

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.

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China: the crash and the workers

Author: 

Colin Foster

The bill for the Chinese government’s gaudy response to the global crash of 2008 is now falling due.

Then, the government promoted the biggest surge of investment in roads, bridges, railways, and buildings ever seen in world history. China has built a high-speed rail network bigger than all the rest of the world’s high-speed rail put together in just the few years since 2007.

Total debt in the Chinese economy­­­ has soared since 2008, and is now equivalent to 282% of annual economic output.

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New centres of capital

Author: 

Rhodri Evans

As of 2014, “developing Asia” — China, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and other countries — became a bigger exporter of foreign direct investment than North America (the US and Canada) or the whole of Europe.

The United Nations agency which monitors such things, UNCTAD, reports that “developing economies” produced 36% of all foreign direct investment in 2014, up from less than 10% as recently as 2003 (UNCTAD World Investment Report 2015).

As of 2014, “developing Asia” — China, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and other countries — became a bigger exporter of foreign direct investment than North America (the US and Canada) or the whole of Europe.

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The urban dystopia

Author: 

Camila Bassi

“The Yankees have invented a stone-breaking machine. The English do not make use of it, because the ‘wretch’ who does this work gets paid for such a small portion of his labour, that machinery would increase the cost of production to the capitalist.” (Marx, Capital: Volume One)

My recent visit to Shanghai was the last of nine in which I have glimpsed urban development “the China way”. My photo story captures themes present in each of my visits that have haunted me.

If one sits in a taxi at night driving through the dazzling skyscrapers of Pudong, the Special Economic Zone just over the river from downtown Shanghai, one feels like one has entered Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. The scale of Pudong is a frightening mash-up of the might of global capital and the muscle of Chinese totalitarianism — this is urban development, the China way.

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How Chinese economic wobbles hit workers

At the end of November, two Chinese government researchers published an estimate that over the past five years US$6,800 billion of investment in China has been wasted on bridges to nowhere and homes and offices with no one in them.

The estimate is disputed, but few doubt that huge excess capacity has been built. The Chinese government is trying to slow down the investment surge gently, and producer prices in China have been deflating since mid-2011.

An interview with Anita Chan, a researcher into Chinese labour conditions and author of China’s Workers Under Assault: Exploitation and Abuse in a Globalizing Economy.

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Backlash against Hong Kong democracy protests

Author: 

Charlotte Zalens

Talks between protestors and the government in Hong Kong reopened on Thursday 16 October.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will not be attending as protesters have refused to talk to him!

On Tuesday 21 Leung said that while Beijing would not back down on vetting candidates (for 2017 elections for the Chief Executive), the selection committee could become more democratic. This has been described by the government as an “olive branch”. It is a long way from the core demands of the protesters for full democracy.

Protesters in Hong Kong continue to be attacked by China-loyalist thugs.

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