Unions organize Wal-Mart stores in China

is very interesting.

Wal-Mart workers in China have set up unions at all 62 outlets that the world’s biggest retailer operates here in what a senior Chinese trade union official described Thursday as a breakthrough for organized labor.

After overcoming stiff resistance from Wal-Mart, which has long fought to bar unions from its stores and distribution centers, the official All China Federation of Trade Unions now plans to focus on other companies in China it accuses of being traditionally hostile to unions, including Foxconn Electronics, Eastman Kodak and Dell.

Guo Wencai, a senior ACFTU organizer, told a press conference in Beijing that the success in unionizing Wal-Mart stores would be a springboard to similar campaigns aimed at these companies and others in China.

“We are going to exert very high pressure on all these types of companies until unions are established there,” Guo said.

“It is an irreversible trend.”

Yet the article also points out that the union movement has been encouraged by Chinese authorities as a way to mitigate the rise of militant labor movements and labor unrest. Under Chinese law, workers are barred from organizing independent unions:

Labor activists at times have accused the ACFTU of siding with management rather than acting as a champion of workers’ rights.

At best, they say the official union attempts to mediate in disputes.

Labor market analysts and human rights groups say that the Chinese authorities want to establish union branches in foreign companies in an effort to tighten control over the work force in the rapidly expanding private sector.

Labor unrest is now common in China, particularly among the 150 million-strong army of migrant workers, and some experts suggest that an improved network of unions could assist the authorities in defusing protests that could potentially pose a threat to Communist Party rule.

“They are afraid that public protests or strikes might get out of hand,” said Robin Munro, the Hong Kong-based research director of the China Labor Bulletin, a workers rights group.

“Hence the big drive to impose unions and provide greater union coverage. I think this is seen as a way of crisis management.”

Other political analysts have suggested that the Chinese authorities also want to expand the reach of the official union. That is because the decline of the state-owned sector has stripped away much of the Communist Party’s traditional power base in the Chinese economy, they say.

It will be interesting to see if the government can control the desires of workers to influence their own working conditions.


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