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Insurgency Trap

Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China

Eli Friedman
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press,
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  • Book Info
    Insurgency Trap
    Book Description:

    During the first decade of the twenty-first century, worker resistance in China increased rapidly despite the fact that certain segments of the state began moving in a pro-labor direction. In explaining this, Eli Friedman argues that the Chinese state has become hemmed in by an "insurgency trap" of its own devising and is thus unable to tame expansive worker unrest. Labor conflict in the process of capitalist industrialization is certainly not unique to China and indeed has appeared in a wide array of countries around the world. What is distinct in China, however, is the combination of postsocialist politics with rapid capitalist development.

    Other countries undergoing capitalist industrialization have incorporated relatively independent unions to tame labor conflict and channel insurgent workers into legal and rationalized modes of contention. In contrast, the Chinese state only allows for one union federation, the All China Federation of Trade Unions, over which it maintains tight control. Official unions have been unable to win recognition from workers, and wildcat strikes and other forms of disruption continue to be the most effective means for addressing workplace grievances. In support of this argument, Friedman offers evidence from Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, where unions are experimenting with new initiatives, leadership models, and organizational forms.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7051-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-28)

    On the night of June 6, 2011, migrant workers rioted in the southern Chinese town of Guxiang. The protesters were furious over an incident in which a fellow worker had been violently attacked while seeking back wages. On June 1, Xiong Hanjiang, a nineteen-year-old migrant from Sichuan province, went to demand 2,000 yuan in back pay from the ceramics factory where he was employed. Rather than give him his wages, some of the bosses’ relatives attacked Xiong with knives, cutting tendons in his hands and feet. Between June 3 and June 6, workers demanding justice for the victim protested in...

    (pp. 29-60)

    The headquarters of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions (GDFTU)—the most important provincial-level union organization in China—is situated directly between two buildings, each respectively imbued with profound and seemingly diametrically opposed symbolic values. On the left is the East Garden, the building that housed theshenggang(Guangdong-Hong Kong) strike committee during the revolutionary upsurge of 1925–27. Initiated in June of 1925, theshenggangstrike remains the longest continuous general strike in history, and it played a crucial role in the development of the Chinese revolution. Today the site is closed to the public, although there is a...

  8. 3 GUANGZHOU: At the Forefront of Union Reform?
    (pp. 61-91)

    We now shift our focus from the historical development of the ACFTU to its current activities in Guangdong’s capital of Guangzhou. This metropolis of over 12 million¹ anchors the Pearl River Delta, the most significant manufacturing center in China and indeed the world. There are a number of good reasons to believe that this city would be most likely to experience the emergence of the institutional moment of the countermovement: its relatively long experience with marketization, high levels of worker insurgency, self-professed openness to international cultural and intellectual currents, and most important, the prolabor inclinations of the leadership of the...

  9. 4 OLIGARCHIC DECOMMODIFICATION? Sectoral Unions and Crises of Representation
    (pp. 92-130)

    Thus far we have seen cases where ACFTU-subordinate unions have, despite pressure from their membership, not played an active role in the realization of decommodification. While the details of the specific cases vary, the general point is that oligarchy has blocked incorporation and therefore stood in the way of the unions’ participation in institutionalizing the countermovement. Worker unrest has failed to produce a realignment of political power in society, and so the countermovement remains stalled at the insurgent moment.

    When we turn to the case of Zhejiang, we find very different economic and political dynamics from those in Guangdong. These...

    (pp. 131-160)

    In previous chapters we have seen how union responses to worker resistance have encountered severe challenges in realizing decommodification or the realignment in power relations at the point of production necessary to politically incorporate migrant workers.¹ Each case has revealed the state and union’s deep-seated fear of social instability—a fear so profound that they would rather have laws go unenforced than devolve organizational capacity to workers. Even when higher levels of the state are interested in promoting decommodification in the service of rationalizing production, these efforts have been confounded by the non-enforcement of laws and contracts within the enterprise....

    (pp. 161-180)

    This book has provided an analysis of the dynamics of labor politics in China during capitalist industrialization.¹ I began with an empirical observation: during the decade after the Chinese central government began making symbolic and material moves toward class compromise in 2002, migrant worker insurgency grew rapidly. Although there are a number of factors behind this, the overarching reason is that while the country experienced an economic boom of historic proportions, migrants’ relative socioeconomic position stagnated or declined. For China scholars intimately familiar with the internal tensions and conflicts within the state apparatus, this phenomenon may not have come as...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-192)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-206)
  14. Index
    (pp. 207-214)