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Relocation of factories, unpaid wages and closures lead to strikes, protests in China

By Harsh Thakor  
Strikes and protests in China are simmering in full wind like a galleon in full sail, with economic turmoil in ascendancy and conditions deteriorating day by day. Many sectors are being penetrated with relocation, closures and unpaid wages. China Workers’ Bulletin (CWB) declared that 741 workers’ strikes and protests occurred in the first half of 2023. In 2022, there were a total of 830 strikes and demonstrations per year.
In the view of CWB, the number of strikes and protests, which was 10 in January, rose to 59 in May, with the largest escalation seen in the manufacturing sector. In the construction industry, workers consistently protested due to wage delays, with around 50 demonstrations per month. In the service sector and transport sector, approximately 10 and 5 actions per month were recorded, respectively.
In May, the CWB reported a steep rise in worker protests sparked by a series of factory closures and relocations, particularly in coastal areas.
The reports illustrate how China is plagued by the crisis of capitalism, like many third world countries. It confirms how it only camouflages itself as a Socialist State.

Factories relocating in manufacturing industry

The electronics industry and the ready-to-wear and apparel industry were most affected sectors. with protests. These industries engulf the Guangdong province. In the first half of this year, 66 protests by electronics factory workers were accounted for while. Ready-to-wear and apparel workers undertook 38 actions.
In the electronics industry, workers not only battled wage delays and economic grievances, such as the lack of compensation due to the factory relocation and closure, but also expressed discontent with company management’s decisions and the terms of their contracts. These demands were governed by practices where the factory transferred workers to other positions, asked them to sign new contracts, or undertook masked forced resignations—rather than terminating workers’ contracts and paying compensation.
An example is the case of Foxconn workers, who protested in Zhoukou, Henan province, in May 2023. The CWB found that “about 40 percent of protests in the electronics industry involved 101 to 1,000 workers, with the majority involving fewer than 100.people.” Unsatisfied with unpaid wages and the closure and relocation of factories, workers often assemble in open areas of the factory site or in administrative offices to protest. In some cases, workers besieged factory entrances.
In the textile and apparel industry, the frequency of protests was less than in the electronics industry. “The majority of the events were sit-ins with less than 100 workers. Of the 38 actions, 31 were related to unpaid wages.”

Construction workers unpaid

In China’s construction industry, in the first half of this year, more than 50 actions were recorded each month. While China’s real estate market weakened, contractors were unable to fully make payments. This was illustrated with wages unpaid to workers. Housing construction protests (111 protests) accounted for one-third of the total protests recorded so far this year, followed by shopping malls (79 protests) and infrastructure projects (22 protests).
Territorially, construction workers’ protests were most rampant in Guangdong province (83 protests), followed by Shaanxi (39), Henan (22), Zhejiang (19), Shandong (18) and Sichuan (16). Many of these states have been affected by population boom over the past decade and are now facing surplus of property.

Layoffs and unpaid wages in service industry

“Protests by service industry workers ranked third, with an average of 17 protests per month in the first half of 2023. The most common demand was payment of workers’ wages. Actions concentrated on sanitation (22 actions), retail and wholesale (21 actions), and hotels-food and beverage (15 actions).”
“The traditional retail industry is facing cut-throat competition from e-commerce platforms, and the impact of the pandemic over the past two years has led to the closure of brick-and-mortar hypermarkets and many supermarket outlets, which has been cited as a reason for non-payment of workers.”
“Carrefour continues to close some of its individual stores and issue wage debts to its employees since January. Mandatory layoffs and delays in payment of severance pay are reported at Carrefour stores across China.”
In May, Better Life supermarkets in several cities in Hunan province announced that they were closing one after another. “Better Life, which was prosperous in the past, “it can’t even pay basic wages now,” the workers said. Some of the workers, who assembled in front of one of the closed stores and protested, threatened to jump from the roof if denied social security and pending wages.
Cleaning companies complain that they do not receive funding from contracting parties, which in most cases is the government. Thus do not pay wages of subsistence.

Protests in transportation

The protests of taxi drivers made a powerful impact. A total of 26 such protests were registered in the first half of this year. Taxis are affected by competition from unlicensed taxis and online ride-hailing platforms and protested the spread of shared electric bikes.
As for other transport and logistics industry protests, the CWB investigated three strikes by couriers in March and April, including Meituan food delivery drivers in Shanwei city, Guangdong province.
Drivers of Huolala (Lalamove), an online shipping platform, launched several strikes in May.
Huolala drivers in Chengdu, Chongqing and Liaocheng in Shandong province were embittered with Huolala’s four consecutive cuts in freight prices and the cumulative reduction in drivers’ incomes from other policies. These policies were formulated to attract customers onto the platform, but placed the driver’s survival at risk, from the union and the authorities were not enough to protect workers’ rights.
China Workers’ Bulletin (CWB) notified that some levels of the All China Trade Union Federation (ACTUF), the official trade union of China, garnered forces in some collective action. However, it’s intervention was s superficial with the procedures down played by the bureaucracy.
In some cases, it was projected that the actions of the unions diametrically opposed the interests of the workers. For example, during the Welfare Electronics Factory relocation protest in Shenzhen in April 2023, the official union agreed to negotiate with the factory on behalf of the workers; but, when the official union pleaded for support from the street-level union, it defiantly refused.

Police attacks and detentions

It was highlighted that there was a substantial elevation in the number of actions in which the police were deployed against workers’ strikes and protests. In the first half of this year, the CWB” recorded 82 police dispatches; which is almost double the number of 49 events last year. In seven of these actions, workers were detained for merely protesting wages and other compensation.
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Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has studied liberation struggles. Thanks information from Yeni Democraci, Red Herald and China Workers Bulletin

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