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PARPCC # 5 – Negotiating social benefits in communist land: the impossible quest for Chinese trade unionism

PARPCC # 5 – Negotiating social benefits in communist land: the impossible quest for Chinese trade unionism

Panda, Rice Alcohol and PCC

Panda, Rice Alcohol and PCC is a column of Camille Brugier, aimed at introducing scientific articles to a wider audience. His publications can be found on his thread Twitter.

While in France the pension reform was passed by means of the “ 49-3 », the central committee of the CPC calls on the Chinese provinces to put in place by 2025 (either tomorrow !) a medical and social assistance system for the elderly. If the unions were very visible during the pension reform in France, what role do they play in china, where the strike is not a right ?

Negotiating social benefits in communist land: the impossible quest for Chinese trade unionism

Chloé Froissart and her colleagues show that in response to the many strikes over the years 2010 in China, the Chinese trade union monopoly – le All-China Federation of Trade Unions – China Federation of Trade Unions – trying to evolve. The debate is increasingly centered on the interests of workers – wage increases – rather than their formal rights (often minimal) prescribed by Beijing.

In Guangdong Province, civil society organizations seize the opportunity of this “reconnection” between trade unions and workers. Ces ONG, active for years 1990, train and mobilize employees and local unions in collective bargaining, through awareness campaigns, legal aid, etc. They succeed in bringing about a change of strategy among workers and unions : it is the advent of collective action to the detriment of individual remedies. And it works !

The results are impressive : the study by Chloé Froissart of 40 case of collective bargaining reveals that in 5 years are obtained hundreds of billions of yuan, compensation for layoffs, the best social protections, and not that ! NGOs promote the opening of the Chinese “closed” trade union system and the “codification” of the successes achieved so that Chinese labor law evolves in favor of employees. Who would have believed it in authoritarian China ?

Of course, this phenomenon is local. There are several Chinas, to see 1000 Chine, but the experience of Guangdong reminds us that all are under the watchful and severe eye of Beijing. The province indeed attracts the wrath of the CCP: shovelful judgments and imprisonments. Confronted with this, in the whole country, some organizations become disorganized, change fight, or go underground.

While Xi Jinping himself had in 2013 called for the trade union movement to return to its roots, he clearly “changed gear” : in 2019, he makes new arrests in these militant circles, when people were no longer even directly involved in the new social movements. Xi establishes a regime of fear.

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The weakness of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions therefore results from an equation impossible to solve. In “Leninist” terms, the union must both be the transmission belt of the CCP, in particular to ensure continuous production to guarantee the survival of the Nation (and of course the Party), while representing the interests and upholding the rights of proletarians. It's actually impossible for him to do both..

Froissart's articles & co testify to a Chinese trade unionism unfortunately unable to transmit the demands of the employees, to do “their job” in short. Workers then turn to other forms of action, as witnessed the increase in strikes and demonstrations, yet still illegal.

References : Froissart, Chloé (2018), “Negotiating authoritarianism and its limits: Worker-led collective bargaining in Guangdong Province”, China Information, Vol. 32(1), pp. 23-45. Froissart, Chloé & Franceschini, Ivan (2021), “2015”, in Franceschini, Ivan & Sorace, Christian (eds.), Proletarian China : A Century of Chinese Labour, Made in China Journal, 684-691.

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