China: 134 million potential union allies
Published Jul 22, 2005 9:36 PM
Why isn’t the AFL-CIO, the central
labor organization in the United States, extending a hand to China’s
unionized workers in a collaborative effort to demand better wages and working
conditions from the transnational corporations that are trying to play the
workers of both countries off against each other?
There are 134 million
Chinese workers in the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. That’s more
than 10 times the number of unionized workers in the United States.
are organized into 1.713 million locals. Chinese trade unions have established
relations with more than 400 national trade union centers in over 130 countries.
Why isn’t the AFL-CIO one of them?
Many of the same corporations
that exploit workers here are trying to do the same in China. For example,
Motorola has opened plants in China. Its workers in the U.S. are not organized,
but in China they are members of the ACFTU. Wouldn’t it be helpful to the
Motorola workers here if the U.S. labor movement could pursue a joint strategy
with China’s unions to make sure that every Motorola employee was
organized and enjoyed union wages and benefits?
Almost all of
China’s workers in the state sector are in unions. But, in addition, one
third of the foreign-owned companies in China are now organized. Even Wal-Mart,
which spurns any union organizing in the United States, has had to agree that if
its workers there vote in a union, it will recognize it. That’s the law in
The ACFTU’s web site says that “Trade unions in
overseas-funded [companies] do whatever it takes to protect workers, actively
coordinate labor relations, help the development of enterprises and seek
benefits for workers. However, trade unions still face a lot of difficulties in
organizing workers in overseas-funded enterprises. Some multinational companies
defy the country’s laws and refuse to allow trade unions in their
enterprises using one pretext or another. Their defiance has prompted public
outrage in China.”
It should prompt outrage here, too, among
unionized workers. It’s to our benefit that these corporations be forced
to respect China’s labor laws.
China has been struggling for decades
to overcome underdevelopment. In recent years, it has opened its doors to
foreign investment. Many U.S. corporations flocked to China to take advantage of
the low wages in such a large but undeveloped country. Nevertheless, as
China’s economy continues to grow, wages are rising and workers are able
to demand, and get, more for their labor.
The position of the U.S.
government toward China, however, is one of hostility. It has surrounded China
with U.S. military bases. It supports a separate government on Taiwan, the
off-shore island that is recognized everywhere as part of China. It foments a
separatist movement in Tibet. All this reflects the strong anti-communism and
desire for world domination on the part of the corporate ruling class
It is important that workers’ organizations in this country
recognize that the corporate agenda for China is no more friendly to the workers
there than it is to U.S. workers, who sell their labor time each day in the most
anti-union environment in the whole industrialized world.
Labor has no
stake in China-bashing by any U.S. administration, be it Republican or
Democratic. Unionists have no place sitting side by side with corporate
executives in committees to decide policy toward China.
The reason is very
simple. Their interests are directly opposite. The corporations promote policies
that would weaken China’s sovereignty and allow the corporate sharks free
rein to gain control over the economy for the purpose of maximizing their
The workers here, however, are interested in preventing these
same corporations from running all over the globe in search of cheaper labor.
They want to keep their jobs and their benefits, which have been achieved over
decades of labor struggle as the economy grew more productive.
rise in U.S. productivity, however, has accrued mostly to the benefit of the
bosses. They have a huge pool of capital—which they extracted from the
labor of U.S. workers—that they want to invest wherever they can get the
biggest return. China is a huge country, and they want to exploit it. But they
want to keep it weak and poor, which is against the interests of both U.S. and
China-bashing by U.S. big business, which has been
rampant ever since its socialist revolution in 1949, is restrained today only
because these bosses hope they can penetrate China’s economy and carry out
a complete capitalist counter-revolution. But lately they have had to
contemplate another possibility: that China will grow strong enough that their
dreams of swallowing it up will turn into dust. China’s new economic
strength can be seen in its huge trade surplus with the U.S. and its ability to
invest billions into infrastructure projects that lay the ground for its future
Yes, there are capitalist bosses in China. And the dynamic
working class there needs strong unions to fight for labor’s rights. But
unlike here, the Chinese government still reflects its revolutionary origins and
last summer passed legislation spurring on union organizing in foreign-owned
businesses. When was the last time that Congress here passed any significant
The point is this: U.S. unions should get past the
cold war mentality that has pitted them against workers in other countries,
especially those where revolutionary change has antagonized the transnational
It’s time to build real solidarity with workers abroad
and reject the phony “solidarity” that has allowed U.S. unions to be
used as a cover for CIA-type operations. Already, there is a movement among
progressive trade unionists to reject funding from government groups like the
National Endowment for Democracy, which promoted a coup against the popularly
elected government of Venezuela.
It will be a great breakthrough when U.S.
unions also reject those forces pushing an imperialist agenda toward China and
cooperate with Chinese workers and their unions in the struggle to get the upper
hand over the arrogant transnational corporations that are trying to transform
the whole world into one big sweatshop.
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