Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance
Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod
Chapter 5: Constructing violence and resistance: the political economy of the construction industry and labour subcontracting system in post-socialist China
China’s economic rise has been accompanied by a new urbanism imbued with the dream of modernity and globality (Rofel 1999; Yan 2008). However, the process of constructing China’s new cities is spawning a culture of violence that is dramatically shaping the image and dynamics of the construction industry, an industry which is becoming dominated by labour practices that are perhaps more redolent of proto-capitalist systems of production than of what might normally be considered to be ‘modern’ work arrangements. This contradiction between modernist aspirations and proto-capitalist realities highlights the problematic nature of labour relations in post-socialist China, relations which have to be understood through the lens of the political economy of the construction industry and the politics of construction workers’ labour resistance. In particular, the rapid development of the construction industry and its recent structural transformations have given rise to a widespread system of labour subcontracting, one which is highly exploitative and which largely disappeared in the socialist period but which has now been reborn in the reform period. This chapter, then, aims to explore this culture of violence in the briskly changing construction industry, as well as how the industry’s labour subcontracting system is inducing widespread collective action amongst workers. No other single Chinese industry has experienced a boom comparable to that of construction in recent years. At the turn of the twenty-first century, construction was already one of the nation’s strategic industries, accounting for approximately 6.6 per cent of China’s GDP.
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