Chinese workers taking action against major Western companies

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THE Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy and its big business friends are under attack from the Chinese working class, which is insisting that the super-exploitation of Chinese workers by Western companies, in the Special Economic Zones, must stop.

Workers are demanding trade union rights and agitating for the establishment of free and independent trade unions.

Meanwhile, the Stalinist bureaucracy and its state trade union federation (ACFTU) are being forced to bring in new Labour laws to provide some protection for Chinese workers from the western capitalist exploiters, and even Wal-Mart has been forced to accept trade union organisation.

The bureaucracy is frightened of the masses of workers and is bemoaning its policy of ‘one state-two social systems’ is under attack from the left.

Sons and daughters of the bureaucrats, who have become bourgeois, are being told to moderate their conduct and displays of wealth while the US-based corporations are opposing legislation to give Chinese workers new labour rights.

US-based global corporations like Wal-Mart, Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T, and Intel, acting through US business organisations like the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and the US-China Business Council, are actively lobbying against the new legislation.

They are also threatening that foreign corporations will withdraw from China if it is passed.

China’s Draft Labour Contract Law would provide minimal standards that are commonplace in many other countries, such as enforceable labour contracts, severance pay regulations, and negotiations over workplace policies and procedures.

The Chinese government is pushing these reforms in response to rising working class discontent.

Corporate opposition to the law is designed to maintain the status quo in Chinese labour relations. This includes low wages, extreme poverty, denial of basic rights and minimum standards, lack of health and safety protections, and an absence of any legal contract for employees in the new Economic Zones.

A major debate is underway in China on the proposed Draft Labour Contract Law.

When the Chinese government opened a 30 day public comment period this spring, nearly 200,000 comments were received, the vast majority from ordinary workers.

But some of the comments were from big US and European based global corporations and their lobbying groups that came out squarely against the new law.

Wal-Mart’s recent agreement to recognise unions in China has made headlines worldwide.

But Wal-Mart and the other corporations, including Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T, and Intel, acting through the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai (AmCham) and other industry associations, are trying to block the legislation that would significantly increase the power and protection of workers.

This corporate campaign contradicts the justifications that have been given for public policies that encourage corporations to invest in China. US based corporations have repeatedly argued that they are raising human and labour rights standards abroad.

But US based corporations are trying to block legislation designed to improve the remuneration, treatment, health and safety, and other standards of Chinese workers.

The proposed legislation will not placate the Chinese workers movement since it does not provide for trade unions outside of the control of the bureaucracy, with leaders elected by the workers.

But foreign corporations are attacking the legislation not because it provides workers too little protection, but because it provides them with too much.

Indeed, the proposed law will encourage workers to organise to demand the rights that they are entitled to under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The big business campaign is being conducted directly by large corporations like General Electric and Procter & Gamble, which have directly addressed the bureaucracy.

This campaign is promoted publicly by three major organisations representing foreign corporations operating in China.

These are: the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai which represents over 1,300 corporations, including 150 Fortune 500 companies; the US-China Business Council which represents 250 US companies doing business across all sectors in China, and the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China which represents more than 860 members.

All three have sent the Chinese government extensive attacks on the proposed law.

These organisations have also issued barely veiled threats that foreign companies will leave China if the new legislation is passed.

As AmCham comments on the draft legislation put it, the law may ‘reduce employment opportunities for PRC workers’ and ‘negatively impact the PRC’s competitiveness and appeal as a destination for foreign investment.’

Business is attracted to China not only because of its labour costs but also because of its efficiency. If regulation starts to affect that and flexibility, then companies could turn to India, Pakistan and South-East Asia.

The affection of American corporations for the status quo in China is revealed by the emphasis in the AmCham document on the desirability of maintaining present Chinese labour law.

AmCham criticises the proposed changes in the law for making it harder to fire workers and for ‘rigid’ restrictions on ‘business administration of enterprises.’ It concludes, ‘we doubt whether it is necessary to carry out such significant changes.’

The Stalinist bureaucracy abandoned its so-called ‘iron rice bowl’ cradle-to-grave social security system in the 1980s when it ended traditional central planning and embarked on its wide open, laissez-faire, development model in an attempt to end a situation where it was illegal to sack workers.

During the 1990s state enterprises were closed, private enterprises mushroomed, foreign investment skyrocketed and the working class was pushed back.

Now the working class is pushing forward once again, both on the economic trade union front and politically, with left trends emerging demanding the abandonment of the policy of ‘one state two social systems’, and calling for the expropriation of the giant western monopolies.

The Chinese Communist party now contains both open bourgeois and revolutionary workers.

Trotsky’s writings are also being studied and the need for a political revolution to overthrow the capitalist roaders of the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy and to establish rule through workers, peasants and soldiers soviets is now being discussed.

It will not be long before there is a section of the Fourth International in China.