If you believe the hype about living in the “Pacific Century,” then the new millennium is bound to be a pretty rowdy one.
A few days ago about 1,000 workers in the heart of China’s manufacturing belt walked off the job at the Taiwan-owned Jingmo Electronics Corporation, saying they were tired of being cheated by overtime pay. Around the same time in the Guangdong boomtown known as Dongguan, thousands of shoe factory workers protested over overtime pay and marched with their grievances to a local government office.
This may seem like a reprise of the powerful 2010 strike wave that rippled through big-name manufacturing plants, including Toyota and Honda. Last year, workers’ newfound militancy yielded some significant gains—mainly in the form of pay hikes and other concessions. But whether they’ll be able to wrest a fairer paycheck from the management this time around hinges not so much on workers’ will, as on the global economic house of cards that’s getting rocked by countless factors that the labor force can’t control. Though concessions could be coming down the pipeline for some workers, in the backdrop is an alarming slowdown in China’s exports, which drive the country’s development and stuff consumers in rich countries with an endless stream of cheap goods.
November brought news of a a sharp drop in exports to Europe, coinciding with a burgeoning financial crisis in the Eurozone, as well as premonitions that China’s housing market might soon start to go pop.
According to the watchdog organization China Labour Bulletin, the state has worked with the companies to squelch protests, and even management staff is feeling the pain: