Are conditions for Chinese workers improving? In a fascinating article for Counterpunch, Behzad Yaghmaian, author of The Accidental Capitalist: A People’s Story of the New China, looks at some of the complexities of the current situation for Chinese labour. He notes a number of recent improvements in working conditions and levels of pay, but also highlights the continuing harsh realities of life in Chinese factories:
While China’s labor practices improve, the pressure to deliver on time remains inescapable for most subcontractors. With the option to shop around and contract with the most reliable and cheapest supplier, the American buyers demand uninterrupted and on time delivery. Late delivery is costly to the subcontractors. American buyers make the local producer pay for the air freight if they are late in their delivery, an employee of a Chinese trading company told me.
The demand for timely and fast delivery is more acute for those supplying major brands like Apple. The maddening race to meet delivery deadlines for iPhones, iPads, and similar products puts Foxconn workers under insufferable stress. The spate of workers’ suicides in the past couple of years is revealing. Foxconn responded by installing safety nets in some of its establishments in Shenzhen. It recently increased the wage of some of its workers to $400 a month, more than $100 above the government-set minimum in Shenzhen. The nets prevent death, but do not remove the underlying causes of the suicide attempts. Higher wages matter a lot, but they don’t change the militaristic management style that has been pushing workers to the edge.
“A factory needs discipline. It would seize to exist otherwise,” the owner of the chemical company told me. For this, he relied on factory guards. They maintained order, and gave a “good beating” to those workers who stole from others and caused problems. I told him that the thieves are handed over to the police in the United States.” In China, we beat them up first, and then give them to the police,” he said laughing.
Visit Counterpunch to read the article in full.
A People’s Story of the New China
Based on extensive on-the-ground research, reveals the human stories behind China’s extraordinary growth.
“This remarkable book paints intimate portraits of some of the faceless millions of migrant workers who have made China’s economic miracle possible. Through their stories of hope and heartbreak, Yaghmaian takes readers beyond the statistics to show the revolutionary changes of the last generation. “ – Ivan Watson, CNN Foreign Correspondent
“A new account of China’s epic transformation, told through the personal biographies of men and women working in factories and construction sites. A fascinating, moving and highly readable book.” – Jeff Crisp, Head, Policy Development and Evaluation Services, UNHCR