Understanding China workers’ rights ?

5 Feb

China Labour Bulletin has recently released its 14th report on Chinese workers’ rights, which, unfortunately, is only available in Simple and Traditional Mandarin. This means the report will only be accessible to a Mandarin speaking (and writing) audience. I suspect it is targeted at the Chinese authorities, workers’ rights advocates and academics in Hong Kong. I am not sure if the Hong Kong based NGO will come up with an English version but this is a precise document on ACFTU’s role in promoting workers’ rights (or lack thereof).

I have chosen to translate the summary (which was available on the Mandarin introduction page) and the preface of this report so that English readers are able to get the gist of the findings. By focusing the study on ACFTU, I believe we are able to come to a better understanding of how workers’ rights are regularly and systematically violated, even with the existence of a official national union body. Having said that, I am not in agreement with the report which seems to promote the idea of  ACFTU unionism within  the CCP’s social governance framework.

China Labour Bulletin Report No. 14

Assessing the politicisation of All China Federation of Trade Unions and prospects of a Chinese Workers’ Movement – the defenders of rights, defending whose rights?

Summary

For twenty years, since the adoption of ‘The Fundamentals of Revolutionizing Unions’ in October 1988 to the 15th National Representative Meeting in October 2008, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has never fulfilled its designated role as an overseer of workers’ rights in the evolving market economy.

This report analyses the discrepancies between the organisation’s official statements and actual actions when it comes to corporation – workers’ conflicts and its stance in promoting the latter’s rights in such situations.

The disparity is attributed to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) misinterpretation of the phenomenon whereby corporate – workers’ conflicts turn into larger- scale and widespread social unrest. Due to the misconception, the CCP has politically manipulated the ACFTU into becoming an organisation, which has further eroded its stated main responsibility of protecting workers’ rights.

This review also recommends measures with aims of de-politicising ACFTU to ensure that it would return to its stated goals of promoting workers’ rights.

——————————————————-

We need to promulgate the idea of ‘unemployed farmers and workers with difficulty seeking work should approach unions’

– an excerpt of a speech by ACFTU’s Deputy Chairperson, Mr Sun Chun Lan, in a televised conference

Reporters found workers and farmers discarding workers’ rights booklets distributed by 250 Guangzhou City Union promoters in a Guangzhou railway station on 27 February 2007. In less than half an hour, the entrance to the railway station is littered with these propaganda material. Some of them have even been torn to pieces.

Preface

Those who are familiar with Chinese policies are aware that once the authorities have come up with a slogan, the issue to be tackled must have reached an irreversibly difficult situation. As the CCP approved ACFTU endorsed the maxim of ‘unemployed farmers and workers with difficulty seeking work should approach unions’, it can only mean:

1. the problems faced by workers in our current relationship between capital and labour is derived from the former’s wilful abuse and pillage. These actions have exceeded workers’ tolerance, in turn causing capital- labour dilemmas to proliferate and intensify. The situation is dire as it has triggered negative social and political  repercussions;

2. very few workers will turn to unions for help when they are unable to cope with such abuses. Alternatively, they are unable to find unions who will fight for their rights;

3. ACFTU’s call is metaphorically and typically a prayer amidst a road junction. Its purpose is to present itself as a rights organisation when capital-labour relations are perilously close to becoming an explosive topic.

Within a time span of 20 years, from the adoption of ‘The Fundamentals of Revolutionizing Unions’ in October 1988 at ACFTU’s 10th EXCO (and 6th Meeting) to the 15th National Representative Meeting on 17th October 2008, ACFTU has sought to promote itself as a workers’ organisation through releasing official documents, spokespersons speeches and participating in legislative making. Nevertheless, it has rarely represented the interests nor fought for the rights of workers within the capital- labour relationship. Therefore, when ACFTU began to champion its appealing slogan, workers have grown immune to these calls, which appear vacuous and do nothing to advance their rights. In every city and on a daily basis, workers have begun to organise among themselves through strikes, roadblocks and petitions, embarrassing ACFTU’s role as a promoter of workers’ rights.

Within the CCP’s ‘management by type’ social governance framework, ACFTU is the only nation-wide legalised union. Nevertheless, throughout the thirty years of reforms, be it plans towards transitioning towards a market economy or the completion of this stated stage, ACFTU has never fulfilled its expected role in the market environment, whether structurally as an organisation or as an ideological propaganda machine for workers.

This report analyses the discrepancies between the organisation’s official statements and actual actions when it comes to corporation – workers’ conflicts and its stance in promoting the latter’s rights in such situations.

The main reason for the gulf is due to the politicisation of ACFTU’s  basic role as a defender and promoter of workers’ economic rights. The union views the promotion of workers’ economic rights as a necessity to promote its own political goals, but not to use political and other effective means to protect workers’ economic benefits. This reversal of aims and measures and politicisation of rights has resulted in ACFTU to relinquish its guardian role as the promoter of workers’ rights.

The report is divided into four sections. The first is devoted to CCP’s misinterpretation of the phenomena of social unrest which has been triggered by capital- labour conflicts. Furthermore, CCP’s ‘management by type’ social governance framework has elevated ACFTU’s political standing which has inevitably repressed its role as a promoter of workers’ economic benefits. This is also the root cause of the politicisation of ACFTU. The second section describes the process of this politicisation through the analysis of official documents released by CCP and ACFTU. The third section summarises the union’s rights mechanism and patterns, compares its responsibilities as a provider of ‘supply and demand’ of migrant workers’ rights, which has resulted in the current ’embarrassing’ situation. The last section is devoted to recommendations on how ACFTU can restore its position as a rights protection body within the current CCP’s social governance framework.

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