Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

The challenge of labour in China: strikes and the changing labour regime in global factories

By Chris King-Chi Chan


China has become a global manufacturing centre with its `unlimited' supply of low cost and unorganised peasant workers. The potential of Chinese workers to change this condition has significant meaning for global labour politics. This study offers an ethnographic portrait and a sociological account of the transformation of labour relations and labour politics in China from 2004 to 2008 focusing on workers' strikes, community and organisation. It reveals how wages and working conditions are bargained, fought over, and determined in the global factories. Geographically this study concerns the city of Shenzhen, China's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), where labour conflict is most prevalent. Historically, it is traced back to the late 1970s to explore how the pattern of labour conflict has changed over time. The author spent one year conducting participant observation based in a grass-roots labour non-governmental organisation (NGO) in an industrial zone from 2005 to 2006. A multi-case method is used to document workers' stories to strive for a higher wage and better working conditions and their relationships with management, NGOs, the trade union and the local state. The author suggests that benefiting from an expanding labour market, an escalating dynamic community, and the skilled and supervisory workers' network, workplace struggle has exerted significant challenges to the state authorities and the global capital. The capital responded to these challenges by work intensification, production rationalization, expansion and relocation. The local state reacted by better enforcement of the labour regulations and steady enhancement of the minimum wage rate, while the central state initiated a new round of labour legislation to better protect workers. The author refers to the changing labour regime in this stage as `contested despotism'. Its potential to give way to a new form of factory regime is dependent on the possibility of effective workplace trade unionism

Topics: HD
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2000b) 'Pathways of Labor Insurgency. '
  2. (2005a) '2004 American Sociological Association presidential address: for public sociology. '
  3. (2005a) Made in China: Women Factory workers in a Global Workplace.
  4. (2005b) 'The Neoliberal theory of society. '
  5. (2006a) 'Realities and possibilities of Chinese trade unionism. '
  6. (2008). [in Chinese] 415 Shen Zhen Municipal Statistics Bureau
  7. 1) Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class 1848-1914. Cambridge:
  8. (1927). 77ze Gang: a Study of 1,313
  9. (1990). 7he Condition of Postmodernity: an Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change.
  10. (1995). 7he End of Work.
  11. (1963). 7he Making of the English Working Class. Harmondsworth,
  12. (1982). 7he Umits to CapitaL
  13. (2003). A "race to the bottom": globalisation and China! s labour standards. '
  14. (2008). A Changing Arena of Industrial Relations in China: What is happening after
  15. (1920). A Constitutionfor the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. London: Longmans,
  16. (2004). A Critical Introduction to Corporate Labour Codes of Conduct. Hong Kong: Asia Monitor Resource Centre.
  17. (1989). A general framework for the analysis of class structure. '
  18. (1990). A Matter of Record.
  19. (2007). accessed 27
  20. (1998). Adjusting to Capitalism: Chinese Workers and the
  21. (2007). Against the Law. Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt.
  22. (1984). All Day, Every Day: Factory and Family in the Making of Women's Lives.
  23. (2004). An analysis on income distribution in China. ' Online. Available: http: fl www. opentimes. cn. to/laigao/2004/0222-03-002. htm. [accessed 25
  24. (2005). Assembling Work. Remaking Work Regimes
  25. (2008). Available: http: //www. 1m. gov. cn/gb/salary/2006-06/05/content-I 18530. htm. [accessed 27
  26. (1989). Beneath the Miracle: Labor Subordination in the New Asian Industrialism.
  27. (2003). Between the state and labour: The conflict of Chinese trade unions' double identity in market reform. ' 7he China Quarterly,
  28. (1982). Braverman, capital accumulation and deskilling. '
  29. (2005). British industrial relations paradigm: a critical outline history and prognosis. '
  30. (1978). Capital, fractions of capital and the state: "neo-Marxisf 'analyses of the South African state.
  31. (1967). Capital: Volume L-New York:
  32. (2003). Capitalist development, the labor process, and the law. '
  33. (1979). Central Problems in Social 77zeory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis.
  34. (1993). China Opens Its Doors: the Politics of Economic Transition.
  35. (2001). China Workers Under Assault: Exploitation and Abuse in a Globalizing Economy.
  36. (2002). China's contentious pensioners. '
  37. (1998). China's Trade Unions and Management.
  38. (1993). China's Transitionfrom Socialism?: Statist Legacies and Market Reforms,
  39. (2005). Chinese NGOs strive to survive. '
  40. (1992). Chinese society since the nineties of the twentieth century. ) Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Chubanshe. [in
  41. (1993). Class analysis, politics, and French labor history. '
  42. (2002). Class and classification: against, in and beyond labour.
  43. (1976). Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn.
  44. (1976). Class boundary in advanced capitalist societies.
  45. (2007). Class in construction: London building workers, dirty work and physical cultures. '
  46. (1974). Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution: Early Industrial Capitalism in 7hree English Towns.
  47. (1997). Class Struggle or Family Struggle? The Lives of Women Factory Workers in South Korea. Cambridge:
  48. (1989). Class theory: still the axis of critical social scientific analysis. '
  49. CLB (2005a) Deadly Dust. - The Silicosis Epidemic among Guangdong Jewellery Workers. Hong Kong: China Labour Bulletin.
  50. (2007). CLB (2005b) Zhongguo Gongren Yundong Guancha Baogao 2000-2004. (Standing Up: The Workers Movement in China, 2000-2004) Hong Kong: China Labour Bulletin. [in Chinese] CLB
  51. (2004). Collective consultation and industrial relations in China'.
  52. (1986). Communist Neo-traditionalism: Work andAuthority in Chinese Industry.
  53. (1986). Conflict at Work: a Materialist Analysis of Workplace Relations.
  54. (1976). Considerations on
  55. (2005). Contagious Capitalism: Globalization and the Politics of Labor in China. Princeton and Oxford:
  56. (1991). Contested Domains: Debates
  57. (1980). Contested Terrain:
  58. (1999). Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logic of the Market.
  59. (2007). Corporate facilitated trade union elections in Chinese factories-an evaluation. ' Paper presented at the conference on "Fair Trade, Corporate Accountability and Beyond: Experiments in 'Globalising Justice"'
  60. (2003). Corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship and the global compact: A new approach to regulating corporate social powerT Global Social Policy,
  61. (1998). Cultures of Solidarity: Consciousness, Action and Contemporary American Workers.
  62. (2005). Dalian ri qi bagong shijian diaocha. ' (A survey on workers' strikes in Japanese firms in Dalian). Feng Huan Zhou Kan, 203: 28-3 1. [in
  63. (2005). Dang Zhongguo Gaibian Shijie (When China Changes the World/ Quand la Chine change le monde). translated by
  64. (2006). Dangqian zhongguo shehui jiegou bianhua de xinqueshi" (The new trend on the change of the Chinese social structure),
  65. (1997). Deconstructing and reconstructing class formation theory: narrativity, relational analysis, and social theory, '
  66. (1984). Demographic Origins of the European Proletariat. '
  67. (2001). Dignity at Work Cambridge:
  68. (2004). Duanlie: Ershi Shiji Jiushi Niandai Yilai De Zhongguo Shehui.
  69. (1954). Econon-dc development with unlimited supply of labour.
  70. (2002). Ethnicity and labour history: with special reference to Irish migration. '
  71. (2000). Ethnography.
  72. (1970). Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Response to decline in firms, organizations, and the states.
  73. (1980). Farewell to the Working-Class: an Essay on Post-industrial Socialism.
  74. (1993). Fast Fooc4 Fast Talk. Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life.
  75. (2009). forthcoming) 'Strike and workplace relations in a Chinese global factory.
  76. (2008). forthcoming) 'The Subsumption of Class Discourse in China. '
  77. (1978). From Mobilization to Revolution.
  78. (1997). From native place to workplace: labor origins and outcomes of China's Danwei system. '
  79. (2002). From North-South to South-South: the true face of global competition. ' Foreign Affairs, September/October:
  80. (1999). From organized dependence to disorganized despotism: changing labour regimes in Chinese factories. ' 77ze China Quarterly
  81. (2002). From the specter of Mao to the spirit of the law: labor insurgency in China. '
  82. (1999). Gender and Power in the Workplace: Analysing the Impact of Economic Change.
  83. (1988). Gender and the Politics of History. NY:
  84. (1998). Gender and the South China Miracle: Two Worlds of Factory Women.
  85. (2008). General information: overview. ' Online. Available: http: //english.
  86. (1981). Girls, Wives, Factory lives.
  87. (2000). Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections, and Imaginations in a Postmodern World. Berkeley:
  88. (2005). Global production, company codes of conduct, and labor conditions in China: a case study of two factories.
  89. (2005). Global production, company codes of conduct, and labor conditions in China: a case study of two factories. ' Working Paper. Hong Kong
  90. (2002). Globalisation and Labour. the New 'Great Transforination'.
  91. (2005). Globalization and paradoxes of ethical transnational production: code of conduct in a Chinese workplace. '
  92. (2000). Globalization, china's free (read bonded) labour market, and the Chinese trade unions. '
  93. (2001). Globalization, Social Movements, and the New Intemationalisms.
  94. (2002). Gobalization of capital and class struggle. '
  95. (1996). Gonghui yu dang-guo chongtu: bashi niandai yulai de zhongguo gonghui gaige. ' 'Conflicts of trade unions and party-state: Chinese 398 trade union refonn since 1980s. ' Hong Kong
  96. (2006). Gongren j iej i xincheng: tizhi nei yu tizhi wai de zhuanhuan. ' (The formation of the working class: The transference inside and outside of the existing system). Xue Hai, (Academic world.
  97. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: towards a Radical Democratic Politics.
  98. (1920). History of Trade Unionism 1666-1920. London: Longmans,
  99. (1993). How native is a "native"
  100. (2005). HRM, Work and Employment in China.
  101. (2002). Huixiang Haishi Jingcheng? Zhongguo Nongcun Waichu Laodongli Huiliu Yanjiu. (Return Home or Entering a City? Research on the Return of Rural Migrant Labour Force in China). Beijing: China Financial and
  102. (2001). I-aodong guanxi de bianhua he zhongguo gonghui de jiben tezheng. ' (Ibe changing labour relations and basic characteristics of the Chinese trade union). Hong Kong
  103. (1898). Industrial Democracy.
  104. (2003). Industrial restructuring and workers' resistance in China. '
  105. (1966). Industrial Sociology and Industrial Relations: an Assessment of the Contribution which Industrial Sociology Can Make towards Understanding 395 and Resolving Some of the Problems Now Being Considered by the Royal Commission.
  106. (1977). Industry and Labour.
  107. (1998). Inside Stories: Qualitative Research Reflections.
  108. (1995). Insurgent Identities: Class, Community,
  109. (1990). Introduction. '
  110. (2005). Jinnian zhongguo zhusanjiao gongrenjiti xingdong ziliao souji. ' (The data collection of workers' collective actions in China' pearl river delta 401 in recent years). Unpublished research data,
  111. (1988). Keynesianism, Monetarism and the Crisis of the State.
  112. (1974). Labor and Monopoly Capital.
  113. (2000). Labor's new internationalism, ' Foreign Affairs,
  114. (2007). Labour activism and the reform of trade unions in Russia, China and Vietnam', paper presented at
  115. (1988). Labour and monopoly capital. '
  116. (2005). Labour disputes in China's pearl river delta:
  117. (2000). Labour Market Refonn in China. Cambridge:
  118. (2002). Labour movement renewal in the era of globalization: Union responses in the South. '
  119. (1968). Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  120. (2004). Lao Quan Lun: Dangdai Zhongguo Laodong Guanxi De Falu Tiaozheng Yanjiu (The Theory of Workers' Rights: Research on the Legal Regulation of Labour Relations in Contemporary China). Beijing: China Labour and Social Protection Press. [in Chinese] Chang,
  121. (2000). Late twentieth century workplace relations: class struggle without classes. '
  122. (1998). Life on the Line
  123. (1977). Living with Capitalism, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  124. (2004). Made In China: Labor as a Political ForceT Discussion Paper at Mansfield Conference,
  125. (1975). Managers and Workers: Origins of the New Factory System in the United States 1880-1920.
  126. (1979). Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process Under Monopoly Capitalism.
  127. (2006). Mapping worker collectivism: some evidence from river Tyne industries in the North East of England.
  128. (2001). Marx, international political economy and globalization.
  129. (1980). Marx's 'Grundrisse. selected and edited (and translated from the German) by D.
  130. (1977). Marxism and Literature.
  131. (1977). Me capitalist labour process.
  132. (1988). Micromobilization contexts and recruitment to activism.
  133. (2006). New Democratic Trends in China: Refonning the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. ' Institute of Development Studies Working Paper 263,
  134. (2001). New Hope or False Dawn? Voluntary Codes of Conduct, Labour Regulation and Social Policy in a Globalizing World. '
  135. (2007). Nongn-iingong de yinyu: wufa wancheng de wuchan j ieji guocheng. ' (The metaphor of peasant workers: the incapably finished process of proletarianisation) 21 shiji. (21th Century. ) Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  136. (1994). of Statistics of China (various years) Zhongguo Laodong Tongii Nianjian. (China Labour Statistical Yearbook. ) Beijing: China Statistical Publishing House [in Chinese] Zhongguo Gongyun (China Labour Movement)
  137. (1980). One-dimensional Marxism: Althusser and the Politics of Culture.
  138. (2006). Organising Wal-Mart: The Chinese trade unions at a crossroads',
  139. (1982). Party strategy, class ideology, and individual voting: a theory of electoral socialism. ' Paper prepared for the Colloquium on Class Formation,
  140. (1999). Paths toward Democracy: The Working Class and Elites in Western Europe and South America. Cambridge:
  141. (1983). Pathwaysfor the Periphery: The Newly Industrializing countries
  142. (2005). Post-socialist trade unions: Russia and China.
  143. (1982). Poverty of Philosophy. '
  144. (1989). Power and subjectivity at work: from degradation and subjugation in social relations.
  145. (2005). Preface to Taiwanese edition'. In
  146. (2006). Privatization and its discontents in Chinese factories. ' The China Quarterly.
  147. (1996). Putting Class in Its Place: Worker Identities in East Asia.
  148. (2007). Putting transnational. labour process in its place: the dormitory labour regime in post-socialist China.
  149. (2004). Quantity and Quality in Social Research. London: Allen and Unwin.
  150. (2003). Racing to the bottom: industrial trade without a social clause. ' Third World Quarterly,
  151. (1970). Reading Capital. translated by
  152. (1993). Regional identity, labour, and ethnicity in contemporary China. '
  153. (1989). Remaking the Economic Institutions of Socialism. Stanford:
  154. (1989). Research Office (SCRO) project team (2006) Zhongguo Nongmingong Diaoyan Baogao (a Research Report on Peasant Workers in China). Beijing: Zhongguo Yan Shi Chubanshe.
  155. (1980). Resistance and hidden forms of consciousness among African workers. 'Reviews ofAfrican Political Economy,
  156. (2002). Rethinking Industrial Relations: Mobilization, Collectivism and Long Waves.
  157. (1993). Rethinking Labor History.
  158. (2002). Revisiting the South China miracle.
  159. (1993). Revolution or corporatism? workers and trade unions in post-Mao China.
  160. (1999). Reworking China's Proletariat. London:
  161. (1977). Selected Writings.
  162. (1993). Shanghai on Strike: The Politics of Chinese Labor. Stanford:
  163. (2006). Shehui zhuanxing yu gongen jieji de zai xingcheng. ' (The social transformation and reformation of Chinese working class.
  164. (1995). Shekou Moshi. (Shekou Model. ) Beijing: ACFrU Policy Research Institute.
  165. (1977). Shop Stewards in Action: the Organization of Workplace Conflict and Accommodation.
  166. (1979). Shop-floor culture, masculinity and the wage form. '
  167. (1986). Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills,
  168. (1988). Smashing the Iron Rice Pot. - Workers and Unions in China Is Market Socialism Hong Kong: Asia Monitor Resource Centre.
  169. (1997). Social Research: Issues, Methods, and Process.
  170. (2005). Sociological futures and the sociology of work. '
  171. (1986). Solidarity and Fragmentation: Working People and Class Consciousness
  172. (1989). Strikes.
  173. (1990). Subjectivity and the dialectics of practice: opening up the core of labour process analysis. '
  174. (1994). Taucault, power, resistance and all that.,
  175. (2005). TDI and labour in China: the actors and possibility of a new working class activism. ' In
  176. (2006). Tepoliticized Politics, from East to West. '
  177. (1989). The changing international division of labour: migration of labour and capital in the Zhujiang delta region. '
  178. (1984). The changing nature of professional control.
  179. (1969). The Condition of the Working Class in England.
  180. (1989). The Debate on Class.
  181. (2006). The dormitory labour regime in China as a site of control and resistance. '
  182. (1963). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
  183. (2006). The Future o Organised Labour. Global Perspectives. f Oxford: Peter Lang.
  184. (1992). The Gang as an American Enterprise.
  185. (1957). The Great Transfonnation.
  186. (1992). The Industrial Revolution and Work
  187. (1997). The Infonnation Age, voL 2: 77ze Power of Identity.
  188. (1994). The Jobless Future: Sci-tech and the Dogma of Work Minneapolis:
  189. (1989). The Limits of Wright's analytical Marxism and an alternative'.
  190. (2007). The making of a global dormitory labour regime: labour NGOs and workers empowerment in South China. ' Working Paper. Hong Kong
  191. (1987). The New Helots.
  192. (1980). The New International Dvision of Labour. Cambridge:
  193. (1988). The New International Labour Studies: an Introduction.
  194. (2007). The nostalgia for permanence at work? Iffie end of work and its commentators! The Sociological Review,
  195. (1998). The politics of labour rebellions in China:
  196. (1985). The Politics of Production.
  197. (2005). The Post MFA Era and the Rise of China.
  198. (1995). The Poverty of Theory: or an Orrery of Errors.
  199. (1995). The Puzzle of Strikes: Class and State Strategies in Postwar Italy. Cambridge:
  200. (1982). The Question of Class Struggle: Social Foundations of Popular Radicalism during the Industrial Revolution. Chicago:
  201. (1984). The remaking of Chinese working class: 1949-198 L' Modern China,
  202. (2002). The resistance of Chinese laid-off workers in the reform period. ' 7he China Quarterly.
  203. (2000). The revenge of history: collective memories and labor protests in north-eastem China.
  204. (1999). The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain.
  205. (2003). The significance of a tripartite consultation in China. 'Asia Pacific Business Review,
  206. (2000). The social and political implications of China's WTO Membership. '
  207. (1959). The Sociological Imagination.
  208. (1979). The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union. '
  209. (1999). The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. translated by
  210. (1986). The Workers of Tianjin,
  211. (1995). The Workers' Movement in Russia.
  212. (2003). The Working Class in Britain:
  213. (1967). Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism. '
  214. (1993). Toward a post-materialist rhetoric for labor history. '
  215. (1999). Transforming Post-communist Political Economies.
  216. (2000). Transnational Labor Cooperation Among Labor Unions.
  217. (1993). What about the Workers? Workers and the Transition to Capitalism in Russia.
  218. (1954). Wildcat Strike: A Study in Worker-management Relations.
  219. (1980). Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848. New York:
  220. (1998). Work, Consumerism and the New Poor.
  221. (1995). Work, Self and Society after Industrialism.
  222. (1997). Workers in a Lean World.
  223. (1979). Workers'Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles. Cambridge:
  224. (1985). Working the System: the Shop Floor and New Technology.
  225. (1986). Working-class Fonnation: Nineteenth-century Pattems
  226. (2000). Working-class power, capitalist-interests, and class compromise',
  227. (1984). Worlds of Labour. Further Studies in the History of Labour. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  228. (2006). Xifang gongren jieji xingcheng lilun shuping --- lizu zhongguo zhuanxingqi de sikao. ' (Theoretical review on the formation of working class in the West: A rethinking of the Chinese society in transition.
  229. (2005). Xinkuai Bao
  230. (1992). Zai Wuchang, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shanghai dengdi de tanhua yaodian. ' (The main points of speeches in
  231. (1992). Zhongguo Gaige Kaifang Yu Zhujiang Sanjiaozhou De Jingil Fazhan Yanjiu Baodao. (A Study Report on Economic Development of the Pearl River Delta and China's Reform and Open. ) Hong Kong: Nanyang Commercial Bank.
  232. (2006). Zhonguo Gongren Jieji Zhuangkuang --- Anyuan Shilu. (The Plight of China's Working Class: An analysis of Anyuan). Hong Kong: Min Jing Chubanshe. [in
  233. (1995). Zhujiang Sanjiaozhou Gongren Quanyi Zhuangkuang (Condition of Workers' Rights in the Pearl River Delta). Hong Kong: Asia Monitor Resource Centre.
  234. (1993). Ziben, Laogong, Yu Guojia Jiqu: Taiwan De Zhengzhi Yu Shehui Zhuanxing. (Capital, Labour and State Apparatus: The Political and Social Transformation in Taiwan.

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.