CSC China Perspectives series
Edited by Beatriz Carrillo and David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 3: The making and re-making of the working class in South China
In Against the Law, Ching Kwan Lee (2007) points out that the migrant working class in South China has followed a different trajectory from that of the veteran state workers in the North in terms of its grievances, actions taken, subjective identity and pattern of mobilization. Working mostly in private, joint-venture and foreign enterprises in South China, the 100 000 000-strong migrant workers account for around 60 per cent of China’s industrial workforce. In the garment and textile industries, these migrant workers constitute 70–80 per cent of the total workforce (ibid., p. 6). Since the 1990s, these young migrant workers have engaged in protests and strikes (or what the Chinese authorities vaguely refer to as ‘spontaneous incidents’). In terms of grievances, the overwhelming majority of the conflicts for migrant workers in South China are about wages (such as unpaid wages, illegal wage deductions, substandard wage rates, or lack of injury compensation) and working conditions (extremely long working hours, arbitrary and unreasonable factory discipline). In contrast, the conflicts for state workers in North China are about collective consumption (such as housing, pensions, health care and other goods/services in the working class community that were previously given to workers that had been laid off).
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