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Some US Unions End Boycott of China's State-Run Labor Federation


Some U.S. labor union leaders are visiting China to end a long boycott on dealing with the country's state-controlled labor federation. The delegation will meet with Communist Party officials and give a seminar on collective bargaining. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Delegates from the Teamsters union and other members of the "Change to Win" federation are in China to meet with Chinese officials and the official All China Federation of Trade Unions.

The visit marks a change for U.S. unions, which previously shunned contact with China's government-run labor organization.

Critics say the Chinese federation, the ACFTU, represents the interests of management and government and seeks to prevent disputes rather than represent the interests of workers.

During their two weeks in China, the U.S. labor delegates will visit factories and ports, meet with academics, activists, and company representatives, and discuss collective bargaining at a seminar in Beijing.

Anita Chan is a research fellow at Australian National University's Contemporary China Center and an expert on labor issues in China. She says China's unions could learn from their American counterparts.

"You have very powerful pro-business interests. And, trade unions always have a problem with counteracting this," she explained. " And, with the help of foreign trade unions hopefully it will be able to strengthen itself and be able to help workers better to negotiate better terms."

China's Communist Party government does not allow unions independent of government control, and labor activists are often harassed and imprisoned.

Chan says China's labor union federation is slowly improving, but is still constrained by its socialist structure.

"In terms of grassroots activities it still needs to learn a lot," Chan said. "It does not have the capacity even if it has the political power [to do so]. And, there are constraints from the government and other bureaucracy that the ACFTU does not do more than necessary."

Change to Win was formed two years ago after the Teamsters and a major service workers union broke away from the main U.S. labor group - the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

The union officials visiting China say members in the United States work for the same multi-national companies that now employ Chinese workers in the service, transportation, and industrial sectors.

The U.S. labor group says its visit is designed to be a "solidarity-building mission" between American and Chinese workers to "help create good jobs in the global economy."