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 Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had warned storm could be one of worst in city history More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8893
JPY
USD
118.31
GBP
USD
0.6660
CAD
USD
1.2459
INR
USD
61.427

Rates may not be current.