Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Behind the bamboo curtain...

The rise of the Chinese 'dragon economy' and the opulence and extravagance that have followed in it's path in China's large cities have received much media attention: Shanghai is reliving it's excessive 'glory days' of the 1930s, while cities like Beijing, Qingdao, Shenzhen and Nanjing have huge construction projects and booming internal economies. Economic growth is said to be 9.7%, with millions of dollars of investments flowing in from overseas. One could easily be led to believe things were looking up for China's residents, under the supposedly benevolent gaze of the aggressively pro-business 'market socialist' Gongchandang (Chinese Communist Party). Things, however, are definitely not all rosy for most of China's inhabitants and especially for the 120 million plus 'peasant workers' or 'wai bao gong': these workers are men from the economically sleepy countryside who are looking for work in the booming urban, commercial and industrial areas of the booming coastal main cities. These waibaogong are generally given utterly pathetic wages equivalent to a few New Zealand cents a day, are given meagre food and terrible shanty-town like housing. Not exactly the company flat and Mazda you're offered at that $100,000 job you could get down in Wellington any other day, is it ? Additionally, as the Chinese Communist Party 'is' the workers of China, trade unions are banned along with strikes: the logic being you don't protest against yourself. But, as things have hugely changed since the times of Mao Zedong, this only means that the peasant workers in the cities have effectively zero legal protection. Chinese authorities for years have been turning a blind eye in order to allow businessmen with good guanxi (connections) cheap labour to in turn continue to fuel and stoke China's rocketing economic growth. In this context, workers' militancy becomes inevitable, and with the increasing importance of China's working population, they have received a major confidence boost. Illegal strikes have been exponentially increasing all over China, with over 60,000 in the year 2004 alone, viewing some more knowledgeable commentators to suggest that this is something of a Tiananmen Mark Two, the only difference being that the 1989 uprisings were centralised in main cities and were primarily anti-government, whereas in this case there is an extremely widespread grass-roots movement that challenges the Government but is not by nature anti-Governmental. Defenders of waibaogong are emerging in earnest though, with people like 'The Peasant Hero' and others who are strongly trying to re enfranchise these poor souls.

In conclusion, even this phenomenon is only temporary, the Chinese Government ought to urgently intervene to make sure that peasant workers are not being severely mistreated by their employers. It would be naive to think they could give all these workers an apartment and a higher wage, considering over a hundred million in China still live below the poverty line, but a little help goes a long way.

4 Comments:

Blogger Mellie said...

Yes, the peasants are at an incredible disadvantage, with American imports flooding the local markets and driving much neded profits down in order to compete. Poverty is rising and worker malcontent is clearly documented to be on the increase.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Joe Hendren said...

interesting post :)

Yet our Labour government is eager to rubber stamp all of this and be 'first in the que' to sign a free trade agreement with China.

They may try and negotate some weak employment agreement to go alongside the free trade deal, in the unlikely event the chinese will have a bar of it. The key problem with such 'arrangements on labour', is that they are legally unenforceable.

As long as our sheep make it to Tiananmen square, the human rights violations don't matter.

9:18 PM  
Blogger STC said...

The trading relation China has with the western world is generally beneficial to them; it is the internal standards of the Chinese labour market that need addressing. We perhaps need to look at the human element in signging free trade legislation, but wholesale trade barriers being set up by China and the US against each other will badly affect the both of them, potentially to the point of a worldwide economic bust.

One thing little commented on is that China's regions are actually in recession, with all that labour migrating to the coastal boom towns.

I think that trying to force those people to return to the countryside will not be beneficial in the end for China or those workers; what is needed is better support of migrant workers living conditions.

1:27 AM  
Blogger Oliver said...

I believe the Free Trade Agreement with China is going to be negative: China's farming will become more competitive, whereas our manufacturing sector will be ripped to pieces.

11:35 PM  

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