Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Chinese unions: nugatory or transforming? An 'Alice' analysis

By David Metcalf and Jianwei Li

Abstract

China has, apparently, more trade union members than the rest of the world put together. But the unions do not function in the same way as western trade unions. In particular Chinese unions are subservient to the Partystate. The theme of the paper is the gap between rhetoric and reality. Issues analysed include union structure, membership, representation, new laws (e.g. promoting collective contracts), new tripartite institutions and the interaction between unions and the Party-state. We suggest that Chinese unions inhabit an Alice in Wonderland dream world. In reality although Chinese unions do have many members (though probably not as many as the official 137 million figure) they are virtually impotent when it comes to representing workers. Because the Party-state recognises that such frailty may lead to instability it has passed new laws promoting collective contracts and established new tripartite institutions to mediate and arbitrate disputes. While such laws are welcome they are largely hollow: collective contracts are very different from collective bargaining and the incidence of cases dealt with by the tripartite institutions is tiny. Much supporting evidence is presented drawing on detailed case studies undertaken in Hainan Province (the first and largest special economic zone) in 2004 and 2005. The need for more effective representation is appreciated by some All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) officials. But reasonable reforms do seem a long way off, so unions in China will continue to echo the White Queen: “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today” and, alas, tomorrow never comes

Topics: HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Publisher: Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Political Science
Year: 2005
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.lse.ac.uk:19879
Provided by: LSE Research Online

Suggested articles

Citations

  1. (1998). (1865) and (1872) Centenary Edition, edited by Hugh Haughton
  2. (1872) Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, doi
  3. (2002). ACFTU and Union Organising”, China Labour Bulletin,
  4. (2003). Between the State and Labour: The Conflict of Chinese Trade Unions’ Double Identity in Market Reform”, The China Quarterly, doi
  5. (2004). China Labor Market Policies Review, Advisory Report for World Bank,
  6. (2005). China, doi
  7. (2000). Chinese Trade Unions and Workplace Relations in State-owned and Joint-venture Enterprises”,
  8. (2001). Chinese Trade Unions: Statistics Yearbook,
  9. (1998). Chinese Unions and Management, doi
  10. (2004). Collective Consultation and Industrial Relations in China”, doi
  11. (1999). Collective Contracts in Chinese Enterprises: a New Brand of Collective Bargaining Under Market Socialism”, doi
  12. (2003). Emerging Paradigms of Human Resource Management in One of China’s Special Economic Zones”,
  13. (2004). Empirical Analysis of Industrial Relations
  14. (2003). Employee Stock Ownership Plans and Organizational Integration among Workers in the People’s Republic of China”, doi
  15. (2005). Human Resource Management, Work and Employment in China, doi
  16. (2000). In Pursuit of Flexibility: The Transformation of Labour-Management Relations in Chinese Enterprises”,
  17. (2005). Income Disparities and Income Mobility in China”, unpublished paper, doi
  18. (1897). Industrial Democracy, first edition,
  19. (2003). Industrial Relations in China, doi
  20. (2000). Industrial Relations versus Human Resource Management in the PRC: Collective Bargaining ‘with Chinese Characteristics’”,
  21. (2006). Informal Employment and Gender Implications in China: doi
  22. (1995). Labour Law and the Individual: Convergence or Diversity”,
  23. (1976). Labouring Men, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  24. Lewis (1865) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, doi
  25. (2000). Local or Global? Human Resource Management in International Joint Ventures”, doi
  26. (1997). Looking Beyond Incorporation: Chinese Trade Unions in the Reform Era”, Mondes en Development,
  27. (1994). Management in China During the Age of Reform, Cambridge: doi
  28. (2003). of Statistics of Labour and Social Security (2003) China Labour Statistical Yearbook doi
  29. (2002). Ownership Change and Reshaping of Employment Relations in China: doi
  30. (1998). Personnel Economics for Managers, doi
  31. (2005). Post-Socialist Trade Unions: China and Russia”, doi
  32. (1988). Smashing the Iron Rice Pot Workers and Unions in China’s Market Socialism, Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Hong Kong.
  33. (2002). Strategic Human Resource Management in Western Multinationals in China—The differentiation of practices across different ownership forms”, doi
  34. (2003). The Bluebook of Chinese Trade
  35. (2000). The Origins of Chinese ‘Industrial Relations’”
  36. (2003). The Regulation of the Employment Relationship in Russia: the Soviet Legacy”, doi
  37. (2002). The Signifigance of a Tripartite Consultation in China”, Asia Pacific Business Review,
  38. (2004). The Struggle for Worker Rights in China,
  39. (2004). The Struggle for Worker Rights in China, Report by The Solidarity Center,
  40. (2003). Trade Unionism in China: Sinking or Swimming?”,
  41. (2000). Unions and the Sword of Justice: Unions and Pay Systems, Pay Inequality, Pay Discrimination and Low Pay”, Discussion Paper 452, April, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics. doi
  42. (1991). Wild Swans, doi

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