News / Economy

IBM Factory Strike Shows Shifting China Labor Landscape

IBM workers shout slogans and hold banners as they protest at an IBM factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, March 7, 2014.
IBM workers shout slogans and hold banners as they protest at an IBM factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, March 7, 2014.
Reuters
A wildcat strike at an IBM factory in southern China illustrates how tectonic shifts under way in the country's labor market are emboldening workers to take matters into their own hands, raising risks for multinationals.
 
More than 1,000 workers walked off the job last week at the factory in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, after managers on March 3 announced the terms of their transfer to new ownership under Chinese PC maker Lenovo Group Ltd.
 
Lenovo agreed in January to pay $2.3 billion for International Business Machine's low-end server business.
 
The strike, which continued into Sunday, fits a growing pattern of industrial activism that has emerged as China's economy has slowed. A worsening labor shortage has shifted the balance of power in labor relations, while smartphones and social media have helped workers organize and made them more aware than ever of the changing environment, experts say.
 
“Chinese workers, after being exploited for so long, are now more and more aware of their rights and united. They have more of an idea of collective action,” said labor lawyer Duan Yi.
 
A report by the advocacy group China Labor Bulletin last month said it had talled 1,171 strikes and protests from the beginning of June 2011 to the end of December 2013.
 
Many worker protests during that time in Guangdong province, a manufacturing hub where the IBM server factory is situated, were sparked by the closure, merger or relocation of factories.
 
In November, hundreds of employees stopped work at a Nokia factory in Dongguan, near Shenzhen, complaining of changes following Nokia's sale of its mobile phone business to U.S. software giant Microsoft Corp.
 
Lawyer Duan is seeking arbitration for a group of 70 Nokia workers who were laid off at the time.
 
Last August, 5,000 workers in eastern Shandong Province went on strike to protest Apollo Tires Ltd's proposed $2.5 billion acquisition of U.S.-based Cooper Tire & Rubber Co . The deal was eventually scuttled and Cooper reported this month that the work stoppage in China had cut operating profit by $29 million in the third quarter.
 
The labor shortage has pushed up wages, impelled employers to cast a wide net to find employees and enhance benefits to retain staff. Workers have gained leverage.
 
“Workers know they have greater power,” said Geoffrey Crothall, a China labor expert with China Labor Bulletin.
 
IBM said last week the terms offered to the workers at the International System Technology Company factory in Shenzhen were “comparable in aggregate to what they currently are receiving” and severance packages would be “equitable”.
 
Lenovo has declined to comment.
 
Technology uniting workers
 
Technology has helped China's workers.
 
When the Nokia factory employees took to the street, they organized through the online chat system QQ and other social media, one worker told Reuters by telephone from Dongguan.
 
In the IBM case, the workers had all read about prior strikes, including Nokia's, and suspected ahead of time that they might have to make a similar stand, said a 28-year-old worker surnamed Chen who has worked there for three years.
 
“We were basically prepared and expected in advance there wouldn't be a good deal,” he said by telephone from Shenzhen. He declined to allow his full name to be published out of concern he might face repercussions.
 
In both cases - and many others, experts say - the impetus for a strike was underpinned by the fact that the factory branch of the state-backed union was seen as a farce.
 
Independent unions are banned in China. The state-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions and its affiliates have a reputation for being ineffectual and often siding with management.
 
“Because there's no real channel of communication at these workplaces just about the only thing the workers can do is go out on strike and demand that management address their grievances,” Crothall said.
 
“In most cases the union plays no positive role and sometimes it's even a negative role,” he said.
 
Chen, a striking IBM factory worker, had stronger words.
 
“The union exists in name only. It's useless,” he said.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7768
JPY
USD
108.84
GBP
USD
0.6124
CAD
USD
1.0999
INR
USD
61.042

Rates may not be current.