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Reuters/Alex Lee
More than 1,000 IBM workers went on strike at a factory in Shenzhen in March 2014 over the terms of their factory’s transfer to Lenovo’s control.

Newly empowered Chinese factory workers are striking and protesting in record numbers

By Lily Kuo

Last year, Chinese construction workers, miners, teachers, truck drivers, and factory workers went on strike or protested at least 1,378 times, according to new data from the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. That’s nearly twice the number of strikes and protests the previous year, and the increase is even more dramatic in the fourth quarter, which saw at least 569 protests, more than three times as many as the same period in 2013.

As we’ve reported, Chinese workers are increasingly opposing factory closures and demanding higher wages, back pay, and owed pensions. Through the use of cheap smartphones and social media platforms, these strikes have quickly spread from factory to factory. And Chinese authorities, faced with a slowing economy and a shrinking labor force, are less eager to crack down than they have been in the past.

The result is a dramatic increase in strikes across sectors and a growing awareness of workers’ rights, giving many Chinese their first taste of civic activism. In the manufacturing-heavy province of Guangdong, where some factories are holding genuine union elections, some workers are also getting their first state of grassroots democracy.

 

Moreover, the protests are spreading beyond Guangdong, which has long been the epicenter of Chinese worker unrest. More workers strikes have been taking place in wealthy eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong, as well in central China in the poorer province of Henan. (The following is a screenshot of this interactive map from China Labour Bulletin.)

China Labour Bulletin
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