Monthly Archives: December 2014

Translation: Collective Actions by Chinese Migrant Workers Drive Union Reforms

09labor-inline-articleLargeBelow is my translation of a Caixin piece summarizing a report on how protests by Chinese migrant workers (sometimes involving gangs), are pushing reforms to China’s government-controlled labor unions. The original report was done by sociology researchers at Tsinghua University in partnership with the China Youth Development Foundation (中国青少年发展基金会).

The usual disclaimers apply: I’m not a professional translator and I’d love to hear suggestions for improvement. I’ve inserted the original Chinese where useful or where I’m unsure, and pasted the original text below. The original Caixin piece was by intern reporter Liu Jiaying (刘佳英);  I can’t find the original Tsinghua report online, so please let me know if you do.

Report: Collective Actions by Migrant Workers Drive Union Reforms

As industrialization and urbanization gain momentum, strikes by migrant workers continue to make the news. Recently a report by a Tsinghua University task force indicated that the new generation of migrant workers are expressing a strong desire to organize, and they’re using collective protest actions (体抗议等行为) to push forward reforms to collective bargaining and democratic elections at low-level unions. However, under the current union system, it’s very difficult for unions to represent the demands of migrant workers.

The report was jointly produced by Tsinghua University’s Department of Sociology and the China Youth Development Fund. Tsinghua sociology professor Shen Yuan (沈原) and Ph.D. Wang Jianhua (汪建华) together with other researchers used field research in the Pearl River Delta as well as large survey samples from Tsinghua University’s “New Generation Migrant Worker Research” (清华大学“新生代农民工研究”大样本抽样调查数据). Their research revealed new trends in the organization of migrant workers born after 1980, as well as the impact of these trends on reforms to unions.

The reported indicated that with employers effectively breaking up the interpersonal networks of this new generation of migrant workers, workers have been forced into a state of “atomization,” (原子化) making attempts to seek help from unions and other official organizations futile. Instead, workers rely on gangs (帮派)and other unofficial power centers in carrying out collective protest, demanding the creation of “democratic” unions capable representing the workers’ interests. Although this has driven reforms to some low-level unions, it has yet to create a stable and reliable mechanism to represent the interests of migrant workers.

Gangs enter migrant worker protests

Different from their predecessors, the new generation of migrant workers place greater emphasis on relationships among co-workers. The older generation of migrant workers primarily sought advice from relatives, kinship networks, and people from their hometown. However, when members of the new generation of migrant workers encounter problems, 40.7% will choose to first discuss the problem with friends, a 19.5% increase over the older generation. In addition, 25.1% of the new generation see their classmates and co-workers as their primary cell phone contacts, a 14.2% increase over the older generation.

These changes are connected to the educational experiences of the new generations. The report showed that 53.7% of the new generation of migrant workers received some middle or high school education. 40.2% directly entered the workforce upon graduation, with 6.6% being placed in a company by their school. Particularly for those workers who were recruited as part of “student work groups,” (学生工群体) co-worker networks are increasingly more important than traditional kinship or regional networks.

  However, the existing structures of production that migrant workers interact with (现行的“农民工生产体制”) constantly weaken co-worker networks, forcing them to seek help in gangs, “local toughs” (混混团体, really don’t know how to translate that) and other unofficial groups. The report states that the transient nature of living accommodations, the widespread use of worker placement groups, the staggering of workers’ work-rest shifts, and other structural arrangements limit socializing and group unity. This forces workers into a situation where they are “atomized” and separated, generating strong feelings of frustration.

This has only strengthened the demand of the new generation of migrant workers to organize. In addition to committing suicide by jumping off buildings and seeking vengeance outside of the workplace, workers rely on the strength of gangs in collective protest, demanding democratic union elections and collective bargaining. As an example, the report cites the 2011 riots in the Guangdong city of Zengcheng: members of Sichuan gangs (川籍帮派) were mobilized, overturning police cars and destroying stores, among other violent acts.

Limitations on reforms to low-level unions

Under pressure from the increasing number of collective protests by migrant workers, a portion of low-level unions have pushed reforms for democratic elections and collective bargaining in their area of jurisdiction. The report cites Shenzhen as an example of such reforms: in 2012 the Shenzhen Federation of Trade Unions (深圳市总工会) pushed 163 low-level unions to directly elect union chairpersons. Guangdong province and Xinzhou district in the city of Dalian also executed reforms following collective actions by migrant workers.

Despite these moves, the current system of unions has made it exceedingly difficult for reforms to move forward. The report argues that China’s company unions (企业工会) are organizations for protecting rights in name only (具有“形式化维权”的本质). The administrative structure means that low-level unions are controlled by higher-tier unions, and union representatives are frequently company managers. Because of this, reforms to low-level unions will never push beyond the limitations set by the union system and higher-tier unions. In this system, it remains difficult for low-level unions to change their fundamental function: as a “buffer” to defuse the contradictions between labor and capital (难以摆脱缓解劳资矛盾的“缓冲器”这一基本定位).

In addition, the loss of the “right to strike” limits reforms to low-level unions. The report argues that without the legal right to strike, low-level unions will never gain individual strength and or turn into leaders in collective actions by workers. Reforms advanced by the government and higher-tier unions remain essentially an attempt to dissipate collective protest by migrant workers, contributing to the goal of “social stability.”

The report states that only when the demands of the new generation of migrant workers are both recognized and respected, when channels are opened for effective protection of worker rights by unions, will the contradictions between labor and capital be eased and social stability protected. Overlooking or even suppressing the demands of migrant workers to organize will only force them to rely further on gangs and other unofficial sources of power, leading to more violent and disruptive forms of collective protest.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics’ 2013 “National Migrant Worker Monitor and Survey Report,” China already has approximately 269 million migrant workers. The new generation of migrant workers make up 46.6% of that total and primarily cluster in the eastern part of the country and in major cities.

Original Chinese:

报告称农民工集体行动推动工会改革

伴随着工业化和城市化的加速推进,农民工罢工事件屡见报端。近日,清华大学课题组的一份报告表明,新生代农民工的表现出强烈的”组织化“诉求,通过集体抗议等行为推动了地方工会的民主选举、集体协商等变革,但在现行的工会体制下,工会仍难以代表农民工诉求。

这份报告由清华大学社会学系和中国青少年发展基金会联合撰写。清华大学社会学系教授沈原、清华大学社会学系博士汪建华等研究人员,依据珠三角地区田野调查的资料及清华大学“新生代农民工研究”大样本抽样调查数据,揭示出1980及以后出生的新生代农民工组织化的趋势特点,及其对工会改革的影响。

报告指出,由于企业打散了新生代农民工的人际关系网络,他们被迫处于”原子化“的分离状态,寻求工会等正式组织帮助而不得,便依靠帮派等非正式力量进行集体抗议,要求建立能代表自身利益的“民主”工会。此举虽推动了部分基层工会的改革,但没有为农民工建立稳定且有效的利益表达机制。

帮派介入农民工抗议

与老一代农民工不同,新生代农民工对同事关系的重视程度有所增加。以往的老一代农民工更依赖家人、亲属、老乡作为最重要的意见咨询者,但新生代农民工遇到问题时,40.7%的人会首先选择与朋友讨论,比老一代高19.5个百分点,还有25.1%的新生代农民工把同学、同事视为最主要的手机联系人,比老一代高出14.2个百分点。

这些特点的形成与新生代农民工的教育经历有关。报告显示,53.7%的新生代农民工接受过中高等教育,40.2%在毕业当年直接进入企业工作,6.6%由学校组织入职。尤其对于被成批招入企业的“学生工群体”,超越传统亲缘、地缘的业缘网络日益重要。

然而,现行的“农民工生产体制”正不断地削弱新生代农民工业缘关系网络,使其不得不求助于帮派团体、“混混团体”等非正式关系网络。报告分析称,企业临时性的宿舍,大量使用劳务派遣工,相互错班的工作与休息时间等制度安排,限制了农民工的社会交往和集体团结,使他们陷入“原子化”的分离状态,产生巨大的心理挫折感。

这使得新生代农民工的“组织化”诉求更加强烈,他们除采取跳楼自杀、厂外报复等方式外,依靠帮派力量集体抗议,要求工会民主选举、集体协商。报告举例称,2011年广东增城的骚乱事件中,珠三角周边的川籍帮派即被动员起来,进行推翻警车,捣毁店铺等打砸行为。

基层工会改革受限

迫于农民工集体抗议行为的增加,部分地方工会开始在辖区内推动工会的民主选举和集体协商制度化改革。报告举例称,2012年深圳市总工会推动163家工会直接选举企业工会主席,即是改革例证。此外广东省总工会和大连市金州新区总工会也根据地方农民工集体行动的状况作出了变革。

但即便如此,囿于现行的工会体制,改革步履维艰。报告分析称,长期以来,中国的企业工会仅具有“形式化维权”的本质,在行政关系上受制于上级工会,工会代表往往居于企业的管理层,因而基层工会的改革仍旧不能僭越现有的工会制度以及总工会的底限,难以摆脱缓解劳资矛盾的“缓冲器”这一基本定位。

另外,“罢工权”的缺失也限制了基层工会的改革。报告进一步解释称,没有合法的“罢工权”,基层工会绝不会有自身的力量,也不可能成为工人集体行动的领导者。政府和上级工会推动的变革,实质上仍然是为了消解农民工的集体抗议,进而实现“维稳”目标。

报告指出,只有承认并尊重新生代农民工的诉求,尽快疏通工会等维护劳工权益的渠道,才能有效化解劳资矛盾、维护社会稳定。一昧的无视乃至压制农民工的组织化诉求,只能使其更加依赖帮派等非正式组织的力量,使集体抗议呈现出暴力和无序的倾向。

根据2013年国家统计局发布的《全国农民工监测调查报告》,中国农民工总量已达26894万人,新生代农民工占比46.6%, 且主要集中在东部地区及大中城市务工。