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Harmony on whose terms? Putting the (working) class back into class compromise. Tim Pringle SOAS, University of London tp21@soas.ac.uk. Outline. To demonstrate that it is strikes and the threat of strikes that remain the key impetus for collective bargaining

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harmony on whose terms putting the working class back into class compromise

Harmony on whose terms?Putting the (working) class back into class compromise

Tim Pringle

SOAS, University of London

tp21@soas.ac.uk

outline
Outline
  • To demonstrate that it is strikes and the threat of strikes that remain the key impetus for collective bargaining
  • To chart the progress of collective bargaining in China generally and Guangdong specifically
  • To identify the responses of key actors to the emergence of collective bargaining
main arguments
Main arguments
  • That ‘actually existing conditions’ in China provide an opportunity for the development of forms collective bargaining
  • That class struggle is a main driver of change
  • That collective bargaining is a class compromise used to promote industrial ‘harmony’
  • Thus ‘social harmony’ is nota prerequisite for collective bargaining – it is an outcome
  • That the ACFTU is beginning to recognise this
methodology
Methodology
  • Fieldwork conducted in the summer of 2013 and summer of 2014 – some it ‘supervised’
    • Workers
    • LNGO activists
    • Academics
  • Academic research published in Chinese and English journals and books
  • Traditional and social media
  • Accumulated participant observation in labour issues for 30 years….
context
Context
  • Transition from a command economy to a market economy
  • 15th Party Congress
  • SOE restructuring
  • Private capital and the ‘peasant worker’
  • Particularities
    • Household registration
    • Absence of freedom of association
rising forces of labour
Rising ‘forces of labour’
  • Labour shortages
  • Accumulation of knowledge
    • Factory system
    • Labour laws
    • Access to social media
  • Role of LNGOs (Chan 2012; C.K. Lee and Yuan Shen 2011)
  • Aspects of global production chain management
    • Just in time ordering
    • Connected production
    • Structural Power to Associational Power (Pringle and MengQuan: forthcoming)
  • Relaxation of 户口制度
  • From rights to interests(Clarke et al 2007)
changing forms of protest
Changing forms of protest
  • From protests to strikes
    • Length of strikes
  • Emergence of picket lines
    • From rights to interests
  • Demands for representation
  • (Re) Collectivisation of labour relations
  • Phasing out of the victim narrative
  • From ‘place’ to ‘class’ loyalties
  • Emergence of ‘game-changing’ disputes
state response
State response
  • Develop legal framework for governing labour relations (Gallagher 2011)
    • Slowing of informalisation (Kuruvilla et al 2011)
    • The collectivisation of labour relations
    • Inclusion of collective negotiations 12th Five Year Plan
  • Renewed emphasis on tripartite institutions
    • Centralised
    • Regional and local
  • From repression to concession
    • Repression still happens
employers response
Employers Response
  • Class interests of employers challenged by
    • Labour law
    • Labour shortages
    • Skill shortages and job-hopping
  • Increasing diversity in autonomous local employers associations (Lee, Chang-Hee 2013)
    • Provision of ‘collective goods’ to meet employers’ class needs
  • Generalised absence of enthusiasm for collective bargaining but:
    • Challenge from ACFTU for regional/sectoral bargaining
    • Response from ACFIC affiliates
    • Response from ‘bottom up’ FIE employer associations
acftu
ACFTU
  • Huge!
  • Party led
    • The main problem?
  • Politically powerful
    • Organisationally weak
  • Lack of experience in capitalist labour relations
    • (Probably) never led a strike
  • Under pressure from below and above
    • Not a monolith
response of acftu to labour unrest
Response of ACFTU to labour unrest
  • Balancing 维稳with 维权
  • Recruitment campaign
  • The importance of pilots
    • Isolates risk
    • Diversity of labour markets
  • Sector-level bargaining in clustered sectors
  • Bargaining as dispute resolution
    • Closure bargaining
  • Gradual introduction of annual enterprise level bargaining in some sectors
  • Direct elections – an important change
    • Policy level
    • Implementation level
  • From direction to ‘qualified’ representation
back to my main arguments
Back to my main arguments
  • That ‘actually existing conditions’ in China provide an opportunity for the development of forms collective bargaining
  • That class struggle is a main driver of change
  • That collective bargaining is a class compromise used to promote industrial ‘harmony’
  • Thus ‘social harmony’ is nota prerequisite for collective bargaining – it is an outcome
  • That the ACFTU is beginning to recognise this
sanitation workers strikes formalising informality
Sanitation workers strikesFormalising informality?
  • Weak structural position due to extensive outsourcing
    • Landlords, street committees and private companies
    • Rotation of contracts
    • Loss of seniority
  • Strikes emerge in 2007
  • Sector-level union established to little avail (YangchengWanbao)
analysis of interview data
Analysis of Interview Data
  • High level of fragmentation
    • Difficult to develop organisation
    • Conditions for solidarity weak and transient
  • Strikes have produced a basic trade union consciousness
  • That sanitation work should not be subject to market forces
  • That the state should move to discipline employers in this sector
borne out
Borne out….?
  • Yes! Recent strike in University Town, Guangzhou
  • Contract-seniority based dispute
  • Considerable public
  • Two week sit-in – no arrests
  • Involvement of labour NGOs and labour lawyers
  • Agreement in favour of workers
working class identity
Working class identity -

The local government is the beneficiary of our hard work and it is in their interest to stand with us when the employer changes. We love the expression Yu proposed: “Steel-forged workers and ever-changing companies.” This is our community, and we are here to stay. (Wu Naiyang – Sanitation worker and organiser).

harmony class and conscious collective bargaining
Harmony, class and conscious collective bargaining
  • Harmony is the desired goal of states balancing the class needs of employers and employees
    • It is not a level playing field
    • Globally collective bargaining has been hammered by neo-liberalisation
    • China is different?
  • Strikes are a working class weapon
    • Weapon of last resort?
    • Economic versus political strikes
  • Collective bargaining is an instrument of compromise and conflict containment
    • Class identity and shared interest
    • ‘trade union consciousness’ is privileged over Leninist ‘class consciousness’
    • Sector-level collective agreements will be key to promoting labour-friendly agreements
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