News / Asia

Strikes, Suicides Sign of Growing Labor Tensions in China

Strikes, Suicides Sign of Growing Labor Tensions in China
Strikes, Suicides Sign of Growing Labor Tensions in China

Striking workers demanding better wages have shut down four Japanese-owned Honda Motors assembly plants in southern China.  The dispute comes as Honda sales recorded a 30 percent jump in sales in China in four months of this year, to 219,514 vehicles.

Company officials say they hope to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.

Strikes are rare in China, largely because laws are not clear about the right to strike for better working conditions or pay.

"Strikes are not illegal nor are they completely legal. There's no right to strike in the Chinese constitution," said Jeffery Crothall, who is with the China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong. "That was removed from the constitution in 1982 but it's not illegal to strike. It's a grey area.


But, he adss, unions are weak and are not independent, which helps make strikes rare.

"There's only one union, the government's All-China Federation of Unions, and every enterprise union has to be affiliated to it and they are heavily influenced by management. I can't think of one trade union branch in a factory in China that really whole heartedly represents the interest of workers," said Crothall.

In another sign of labor troubles, a worker at the world's largest electronics maker, Foxconn, attempted suicide Thursday, the third unsuccessful attempt this year. 10 workers at the factory in southern China have taken their own lives this year.

Crothall believes the suicides at Foxconn contrast greatly with the collective action of Honda workers.
He says this reveals the inconsistency in management skills in Chinese factories and is the result of the lax laws governing workers rights and unionism.

Foxconn, a Taiwan company, manufactures mobile phones and electronic equipment for top brands including Dell computers and Apple. Its employs more than 400,000 people at its plant in Shenzhen.

It has been criticized in the past for its military-style discipline, long hours and low pay.

The Chinese media has been reporting about the Honda strike and the Foxconn suicides, but is banned from reporting about labor action at domestically owned companies.

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