In 2005-2006, while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was seeking to create a “harmonious socialist society,” factory managers withheld wages and forced employees to work excessive overtime for little or no additional pay. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) called for migrant workers to “come to the union with their problems,” but millions of migrant workers and others ignored the call and took to the streets to demand their rights.
In China Labour Bulletin’s second report on the workers’ movement, which follows on from our 2000-04 study, we examine the continuing discrepancy between the government’s stated policy of “upholding a fair and equal society” (weihu shehui gongzheng), the ACFTU’s promises to protect workers’ rights, and the outbreak of numerous and widespread protests by Chinese workers in defence of their rights. Why, if the Party, the government and the official trade union are all focused on improving the lives and protecting the rights of workers, should so many workers feel the need to strike, stage public demonstrations and block the highway in protest at violations of their rights? CLB contends that it is the lack of genuinely representative trade unions and the inability of workers to engage in real collective bargaining that is the root cause of the problem. For as long as workers are denied these basic rights, there will be no way to effectively implement laws, regulations and policies designed to protect workers’ rights, and China’s “harmonious socialist society” will remain illusory.