Disaffection with trade unions in China Case Study from Three

Document Sample
Disaffection with trade unions in China Case Study from Three Powered By Docstoc
					Disaffection with trade unions in China:
     Case Study from Three SOEs
          in the auto industry
                  ZHAO Wei
         China Labour Studies Centre
          Beijing Normal University
   Despite the growing research into China’s
    industrial relations system there is remarkably
    little research into how China’s workers regard
    their trade union.

   This article draws on over 500 interviews
    conducted in three SOEs in the auto industry in
    Hubei Province to examine this question
   It examines workers’ disaffection with their trade
    union in relation to a range of personal and job-
    related characteristics
   and finds that the most important predictor of
    disaffection with trade unions is an underlying
    conception of management having different
    interests to workers,
   this suggesting the potential for a different form of
    trade union consciousness to that currently catered
    for by the All China Federation of Trade Unions
   The ACFTU is the biggest trade union federation
    in the world with a claimed mbership of nearby
    200 million.
   All trade unions in mainland China must belong to
    the ACFTU and whereas all workers enjoy the
    freedom to join a union, any union must be
    approved by and under the leadership of the
   The basic political principle of Chinese trade
    unions is to accept the leadership of the
    Communist Party at all levels.
the mainbuildings and the ensign of
           the ACFTU
Case study
   Hubei province
   Data collected in 3 car facoties blongs to a
    big SOE auto group.
   532 workplace interviews (structured and
   424 manual workers
   88 office staff and supervisors
Map of China
1. The development of the auto industry in
China and the three car factories in context
   Since the 1980s, technology for auto production
    has been imported;
   home market demand has increased significantly;
   China has become the largest car market in the
   Almost all the major international auto
    manufacturers have set up facilities in China.
The Chinese workers in auto industry
    Very brief history of auto industry in
               Hubei Province
   The 1950s saw the setting up of the First Auto
    Works. Designed by Russia technicians, this was
    situated near the Russian border.
    In the early 1960s, China pursued two decades of
    independent auto production development.
    Dongfeng Motor Group was located in Hubei in
   Since then the auto industry has been regarded as
    an important pillar industry by Hubei Province
    government and has become one the most
    important automobile industrial bases in China.
    1.2 The three car factories and their
   AutoA: traditional SOE
       The chair is also vice-secretary of the party committee.
       Union officers see it as their most important task to
        help management to promote production.
       Social activities have fallen away as workers have to
        work overtime and lack the time to engage in them.
       No collective contract has been signed.
       The migrant workers who work in a subcontract
        workshop on site are not members of the union.
Auto B
   Part SOE; managers own 20% of stock; ‘private
    management style’.
   The Party Committee, the Youth League Branch
    and the trade union offices have been merged into
    one department. The current chair of the trade
    union holds four positions and says he has ‘no
    time to think about the work of the union’.
   Almost no union activities of any kind have been
    undertaken recently.
   No collective contract has been signed.
Auto C
   SOE
       The union mostly concerns itself with the
        organisation of social activities, making suggestions
        to help management and running emulation
        Collective contracts have been signed since 1997
        and the trade. However, few workers know there has
        been such a contract.
       Less than half the migrant workers have joined the
        union. The chairman is also secretary of the party and
        performs yet other functions, and there is no full-time
        trade union staff.
                Labour Control
   Control via Contract:
    -Fixed-term contracts renewed on the basis of
    performance, sickness and absence records.
   Control via wages:
    - AutoA: 20-30% basic wage, 70-80% piecework
    - AutoB: 15% basic; 85% individual performance
    - AutoC: 100% piecework.
   Heads of Department/Supervisors decided flexible element
    of workers wages. (eg, AutoC piecework divided 80%
    output/20 % quality, variable)
   Worker discipline through wage deduction.
      The extent of the disaffection

   Almost half of those employed in each of these
    factories rate their union as poor or very poor,
    which suggests widespread disaffection.
   But around 7 out of 10 think that trade unions are
 Overall assessment of the union and of the
     necessity for a union Percentage

                  Auto A   Auto B   Auto C   All

Rate the union
as poor or very
                    48       48       43     46

   Agree or
strongly agree
 trade union        66       79       71     72
 is necessary
The individual characters of the workers and
       the dissatisfaction of the union

   The old, with open-ended contract workers, and
    also less ability in free labour market workers,
    who are dissatisfied with the unions seriously.

   The experience of such onerous working
    conditions is significantly associated with
    disaffection with the trade union. Those who
    experience greater insecurity are also more likely
    to be disaffected.
                Worker Experiences
   ‘Every day, the head of workshop told us to pay attention
    to the quality. And he told us the factory had introduced
    the foreign management methods to control us. I don’t
    know the foreign stuff. The only thing I know is that if you
    make any mistake, you will be punished.’ (Female
    production operator, AutoB)
   I think there are a lot of workers’ complaints about the
    intensity of work. Actually, it is true. I remember last
    month, the factory got a big order from abroad. In order to
    finish the work, we always worked 12 hours a day and 6.5
    days a week. We can have a rest on Sunday afternoons. I
    felt very tired every day. (Production Worker, AutoB)
Social activities, voice and union
   Chinese unions commonly ‘organised not much
    more than dance parties and sports events’. In
    some cases the lack of such provision is part of the
    workers’ complaint and represents a minimal
    expectation of what the union should do.
   Sometimes the failure of the trade union to behave
    in an oppositional way leads to the judgement that
    the union is ‘not necessary’—meaning that it is a
    waste of time.
Good or bad union?
   Ask workers, they find it difficult to answer
    whether they think their union is a good union—
    difficult because what some of them would like a
    union to be is not attainable under the present
       Trade union officials' payment
   Trade union officials are paid by the companies;
    they typically either perform or have performed
    management functions, and they are charged with
    the duty of assisting management.

   It makes sense, therefore, that those who think that
    management has different interests to workers
    should be the most disaffected with the trade union,
    for there is an important sense in which to be
    disaffected with the management is to be
    disaffected with the trade union.
   The workers' extensive disaffection with the
    ACFTU has not led to disaffection with all trade

   Why workers are disaffected?
       Almost half of the workers are dissatisfied with their
        involvement in decision making,
       and such dissatisfaction at their lack of voice is
        significantly associated with disaffection with the
       the interest dissonance is the most powerful predictor of
        disaffection with the trade union.
   It is conceivable that the ACFTU might develop
    some sort of (officially controlled) increase in
    worker involvement in decision making in an
    attempt to highlight workers’ sense of
    involvement. However, it is difficult to see how its
    version of trade unionism could fulfil an
    oppositional conception of management–union
   It would be easier to take a more optimistic
    view of future union politics in these
    particular factories had migrant workers.
   However, it is not inevitable that migrant
    workers will keep quiet, and there is
    certainly evidence of their militancy,
    especially in some cities in the south, albeit
    outside of the ACFTU.

Shared By: